Over the past few years I’ve been blessed with having a space dedicated for my self-indulgent and, ultimately, fruitless task of writing.
When I lived alone, despite the whole flat being a single room (en suite, mind), the prime spot was given over to a desk for my computer while eating was relegated to a separate, smaller table in the corner. The writing desk took pride of place, at the end of my bed and by peering around the monitor I could see out the window. The view wasn’t spectacular, being mainly of the first floor flat next door and a narrow strip of terrace between the two buildings. If I angled my head I could also see into the flat on the floor above mine, but that served little purpose except to freak out the Argentinean woman who lived there mere months and caught by gaze more than once. Still, it was a space in which to work and those years were my most productive in terms of hours spent creating words, if nothing else. Of course, that was probably more to do with living alone and doing whatever I wanted whenever I wanted rather than the desk itself, but having somewhere which was permanently ready to write at was a bonus.
When my fiancée was still only my girlfriend and we moved in together, she generously allowed this practice to continue. Despite her new job expecting her to work at home a couple of days a week, it was I who bagged the dedicated space while she borrowed the dining table each time. This spot didn’t have a view, being plugged in behind the kitchen door and needing a lamp to be lit at all times to alleviate the gloom. Still it was mine, covered in a scattering of messy papers, notes to self and scrawled ideas. I’d come home from paid work, charge up the laptop and be away back where I’d been the night before without having to rearrange my space.
All of this is just so many excuses for my lack of productivity in the past year. I write this sitting at the kitchen table, not because there isn’t a desk I can use elsewhere in the house, but because it is early on a Sunday morning and I am trying not to disturb my sleeping fiancée, who prefers to spend those hours in bed, sensible girl. It should be fine, but the words are a struggle. I have to fight to out, retch each sentence up onto the white screen. Blaming the space rather than my lack of inspiration seems easy.
My writing tailed off while we were homeless last year. Finding the mental and physical space to open up my laptop and connect was difficult in other people’s houses. Asking someone to keep the noise down when they were offering me somewhere to sleep would have been out of order. Configuring a space so I felt comfortable, or co-opting it so that I had priority of access for one week would have been excessive. Then, when we finally got into the house it was a dust fogged ruin for three months with hardly any opportunity for either space or time in which to write.
Clearly, if I’m being rational, then it is the mental, emotional and physical pressures which have kept me from producing anything of worth not the lack of a special spot. The need for a writing desk is rubbish. I took my novel to Turkey, where we escaped to last October, and so while my fiancée enjoyed the sunshine and devoured books, I drank tea and wrote. A writing retreat in January to a house in Sussex saw the most productive weekend I’ve had in years, getting a whole short story out in three days even though there were people around, wine to be drunk and the chairs were distinctly uncomfortable. So practice supports the theory that it really shouldn’t matter where I am. It’s all just an excuse.
Real writing space is mental space.
I love the study we’ve set up, especially the view out over Lewisham. Not the most picturesque, you could argue, but I enjoy the sight of the houses tumbling down the hillside, the distant spires, the multi-storey car-park, the occasional glimpses of the trains on the raised tracks nipping between buildings, and in the far distance Oxleas Woods climbing the sides of Shooters Hill, beyond which is Kent. The desk sits square with the window and on the wall a clock reclaimed from an East German factory ticks the seconds away I spend writing, failing to progress with, aptly enough, a novel set partly in Berlin. Behind me bookshelves are packed. The cat comes and sits on the windowsill, sharing the view. It should be my sort of paradise.
And yet nothing happens.
We share the desk this time, which is a little more challenging. I have to be more considerate. I have to tidy away my papers at the end of a session, lest she tidy them away for me. All of which is fine, if a little stuttering. In fact, I appreciate the enforced tidiness. I like the traces of her left on the desk. Her phone charger. Her iPod. Occasionally her diary, forgotten. A work report, partly read, partly annotated. It all reminds me that I have another, especially when she’s away.
Sharing isn’t the problem, it’s my head. Getting momentum going, finding that sweet spot where the words and narrative just flow through my fingers, almost without thought, as though the story has been inside me the whole time just waiting to come out: It won’t happen and I don’t know why.
My fiancée recently, rightly, corrected me when I referred to two days’ leave I’d taken from paid employment to write as work. It’s something I choose to do and something I love, but also something I hate. I can’t stand my words at the moment (including these ones). I find them trite and uninteresting; bland and boringly dreary. Originality escapes me, but I have to keep believing it is inside somewhere. I’ve gone too far to give up now.
I don’t know what else to do except keep typing, even if that’s not strictly speaking writing.