Early in my writing career, I discovered Perkins. Life was complicated then. I was a full-time teacher with a young family and hardly a minute to spare. To add writing to the mix meant that I had to squeeze an extra hour or two from an already crowded day, so I started getting up earlier than normal, well before the rest of the family.
Each day for the first week of my new routine, I woke up at 5:30, brewed a pot of coffee, then slipped into an empty room that I had converted into a makeshift workspace. The house was quiet, the air still, and there were many distractions that seemed more compelling than writing. For an hour and a half, I stared bleary-eyed at the computer screen, stalled before even starting.
For a change of venue one morning, I headed to a nearby Perkins restaurant. There the tables were large, the coffee hot and plentiful, and the restaurant was mostly deserted, save for five grizzly men, all retired I assumed, who had gathered to debate politics and lifeâ€™s sad state. I chose a table near a window far from them, and was soon lost in a caffeine-fueled world of my own. With the comforting hum of voices in the background and with few distractions to impede my progress, I made headway for the first time.
Since then, Iâ€™ve started my mornings in much the same way. The setting changes, but the pattern doesn't. Seven days a week, even on vacations, I walk, bike or drive to the first of my daily writing stationsâ€” a cosy cafe or inviting restaurant.
My later-in-the-day, second writing station is at home. Its location has changed with time and shifting circumstances. I wrote my first two books in the basement sharing space and time on a 64K computer with our two kids. For my third book, I packed up everythingâ€”files, crates of research material, printer, newly purchased laptopâ€”and moved into my tiny workshop. I set up a folding card table between the table saw and drill press, strung sheets of plastic from ceiling joists to zone off the area, and hunkered down to work.
Other books followed, all written in coffee shops I frequented and in different locations around the house. When my 24-year-old son made what I considered to be his final move away from home, I claimed his room as my own. I peeled off ancient wallpaper, painted, bought some new office furniture, and custom-made other pieces in my workshop. I threw pictures on the wall, erected shelves, rolled out a rug, and moved in.
Having a space of my own where I could write unencumbered was a dream come true. It's taken a while to figure out the configuration that works best. The most dominant feature in the room is a towering bank of drawers and shelves along one wall that I constructed myself to accommodate the reams of research materials I need for each non-fiction project. I can work surrounded by clutterâ€”and often doâ€” but having references neatly filed and accessible is a necessity.
It seems to me that one secret to a successful writing career is not that we all have the same habits, but that we have structures of some kind that work for usâ€”a place, a time, a favourite pen, a comfortable chairâ€”whatever greases the writing machine and helps us to put words on the page. Having two writing studios may not work for others, but they do for me.