My laptop sits open on the foot of my bed, waiting, the cursor blinking in the white, blank space of Word. I sit cross-legged in front of it, and then I lay down on my stomach to stare at it. I roll over onto my back to contemplate the ceiling instead and after about fifteen minutes I pick up the laptop and sit at my desk.
The document watches me.
My room is a fairly wide space with an ornate, black fireplace laden with books, two large windows to welcome the spring light, one simple wooden wardrobe, one little white desk and one bed with black and white sheets. Day-old tulips droop over the laptop screen, a record player in the corner scratches against the end of the vinyl and I look at my mug with the kind of disappointing despair you only experience when you realize you forgot to drink your tea while it was hot.
I contemplate this scene as I wonder where all of my words and all of my ideas have gone. I force my hands to rest over the keyboard and they hover, my fingertips waiting for guidance. I give up with a sigh, closing my laptop. I grab a leather-bound notebook, a plain, chewed up biro pen and my keys. I slip my shoes on and flee.
I take a deep breath outside, as if I can inhale inspiration from the air. I walk around the corner and down the hill and seek out my favourite spot on the stone wall where I can sit, dangling my feet over the beach or over the sea depending on the tide. To my frustration, the sun has called out flocks of fish-and-chip and ice-cream guzzling tourists and my wall has been seized by them. I walk past, as if I don’t care. I spot the pier looking empty and shrug as I decide to check it out. I walk the long stretch of the pier until I reach the very end where nothing but a thin rail lies between me and the sea, dazzling like shattered shards of silver glass in the sun. I sit in the shade of the lighthouse and look out to where there is nothing but water and I feel like I’m sitting at the very edge of the world. There is nothing but shades of blue: the pale turquoise of the sky, the deep navy line on the horizon, the sparkling sapphire of the sea.
Here is the world, and it is a blank canvas.
This is one such journey I have taken in my desperate hunt for a place of inspiration. Unfortunately, I returned to that spot the next day when it was slightly colder and grey and an elderly couple were slowly walking each other across the pier. There was still beauty in it but, for some reason, the words had fled from the scene. I haven’t yet discovered one consistent place where I can write, or where I’m most inspired to write. I keep expecting to come across The One – the place that is perfect. One place that I can map out and return to and discover that all my words are safely kept there.
I hear about authors who have particular locations where they love to write, like J.K. Rowling and the cafe in Edinburgh that now harbours a shrine to her in the bathroom. Cafes seem to be a popular choice. A place where you can consume liquid stimulation, watch the people around you and write about them, lose yourself in the constant buzz.
I walk into a cafe early one morning. I have to be early because I know that later in the day any place that sells coffee will be overflowing, and if I’m going to write here I’ll need the perfect seat. It should be comfortable, and secluded, with a plug socket for my laptop, and definitely not underneath a speaker. I throw by bag onto the seat of my choice to save it from any other vultures and then order my breakfast. I set up my laptop, pull out my notebook and pens, switch my phone to silent and seal it in my bag.
Ah, but here’s my food now. And I am starving.
So I push my laptop to the other side of the table and flip through my notebook as I eat. I need time to look at all my ideas first anyway. I wash my hands quickly after eating and return to my seat. Someone has already cleared my empty plate away. Well, I can’t just sit here without food or a drink in front of me.
So I order a tea as well.
I hold the teacup in my hands as my laptop and I watch each other.
I look around.
It’s starting to get busy now, most of the tables are filling up. The conversations sound like wordless buzzing accompanying the quiet, neutral music. The more I listen, the more I hear. The man on the table nearby is talking about his Art History lecture and the girl with him is offering the occasional ‘mmm’. I can’t see them, but three people behind me are arguing about what’s going to happen on Game of Thrones. I fish out my headphones from my bag and slip them on. The world is muffled and then filled with nothing but the crescendo of violins from a Tchaikovsky ballet.
I scribble a few notes.
I type out a paragraph.
I type another. Read it. Edit a few words.
Change my mind.
I look at the clock on the bottom right of the screen.
It’s been two hours.
Another day, my friends drag me to the library, their arms balancing towers of books and a crazed the-deadline-is-tomorrow look in their eyes. Some inhabit downstairs so they can eat and chat. Some create nests for themselves in the silent section, glaring at every footstep, cough or zip. I’m not sure which of the two extremes I’d prefer to work in. I try downstairs first, headphones on, laptop up. I see and feel people moving around beside me and behind me. I start to feel self-conscious, like people are peering at my screen as I type. With a sigh, I decide to search for a seat upstairs, a task I succeed in after about thirty minutes. I watch the people around me silently tearing their hair out, rubbing their temples, and furiously flipping through pages and pages of books.
Of course, sometimes searching for the ideal location to write is just one more form of procrastination. Sometimes, I write a good few hundred words in one sitting, in one place. Sometimes, I write well for a while but then words fail me and I have to get a change of scene in order to write more. Some of the better ideas I have are scribbled messily in notebooks, sleepy words from 2am inspiration. Sometimes, I lie down on my bed during the day and see if ideas wave over me, just because I’m there. I think about how strange it is to feel that I need to move; I need new places and familiar places, I need music and silence, indoors and outdoors.
Then I came across this passage in Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones:
It wasn’t the physical accommodations that were perfect, but when we are in the heart of writing it doesn’t matter where we are: it is perfect. There is a great sense of autonomy and security to know we can write any place. If you want to write, finally you’ll find a way no matter what
I realized that this was exactly what I needed to hear. I could spend the rest of my life searching desperately for The One, my location soul-mate, my unique writing space where statues will be erected. Or, I could get over it.
I could write as much as I could, whenever I could, wherever. I can change up the scenes around me, but the most important thing above all else, was just that I was writing.
No matter how much I’d frustrate myself trying to write in different locations, when the words were ready, they would come, no matter where I was.
[This is an edited version of a personal essay I wrote during University]