I don’t know about you, but I find inspiration whenever I see a space dedicated to writing. Judging from the great writing we publish in Room, I knew there had to be some great rooms we could peek into. I asked five Room writers—two past contest judges, one past contest winner, and two commissioned writers—to share their spaces with us and tell us about how they work in each space. I hope these rooms inspire you to make your own, if you haven’t got one already.
“Comfort is everything.”
Before she judged Room’s CNF contest this year, Ayelet Tsabari had multiple publications in Room. She recently authored the short story collection, The Best Place on Earth (HarperCollins, 2015), which was nominated for the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award. Here she shares a little about where and how she writes.
Pre- and Post-Motherhood Writing
Ayelet has been writing in her space for about two years: “Ever since I gave up my office for the baby’s room.” Before motherhood, she would mostly write in the mornings and edit in the evenings, but now she writes “whenever I have childcare and when my toddler sleeps.”
She also recently joined a shared space not far from home . . . “when my child is at home with her care provider, there’s no way she’ll let me write. The place I go to is not as pretty or cozy as my own space, but it is quiet and convenient, and it professionalizes my practice. I almost never waste time on the Internet when I’m there.”
Although some writers prefer not to have a window, Ayelet loves the light and view facing the street, where she can see roofs, a small section of Bloor Street (in Toronto), and a big, old Eritrean church. “I like to be reminded of the world outside my head. I find it inspiring.”
On the other hand, she misses having a door. “My current office is actually an alcove in our living room, separated by a big bookshelf.”
Comfort is Key
When we asked Ayelet if she has any rituals to prepare her for a day of writing, she said, “I need to have my yoga pants and a loose shirt on because comfort is everything.”
“Spaciousness for thinking.”
Back when we were known as Room of One’s Own, we wrote the following about Betsy Warland’s work, “Her honesty is astounding. Where one page reads like an open wound, the next blooms with insight.” She is the author of Bloodroot: Tracing the Untelling of Motherloss (Second Story Press, 2000), about which our book reviewer said, “Warland achieves something unexpected—an inspiring story of mother-daughter reconnection.”
Her book on writing, Breathing the Page: Reading the Act of Writing (Cormorant Books, 2010) is a best-seller that offers practical advice to inspire writers—something she does a lot. In fact, Betsy has been mentoring writers formally for over two decades at The Writer’s Studio at SFU and through her own program, the Vancouver Manuscript Intensive. Many Room past and present collective members (myself included) have benefited from this mentorship.
Currently, she’s at work on a creative non-fiction manuscript, Oscar of Between. She posts excerpts from it on her website alongside guest writers’ and artists’ work and readers' comments. Read on to learn more about the space where she has been writing this book, ever since she moved into her new apartment eight months ago.
Light, Big Trees, and a Standing Desk
Betsy’s space has lots of natural light, a corridor view of big trees in Stanley Park, books and works-in-progress surrounding her, wood floors, and “spaciousness for thinking.” She has a standing desk that she co-designed with poet, and furniture maker Ivan Antoniw. (“I’d been wanting [one] for twenty years!”)
She hangs literary-related wall art on her white walls. A bpNichol print that reads “BIRDS FLEW OVER THE MOUNTAINS/SEA THE UNDER SWAM FISH.” She keeps objects, some for memory/anchoring (“a glass paper weight I purchased in Murano a long time ago”) and some to guide her, like the immature eagle feather in this photograph (“[it] floated to me as I stood on shore at Haida Gwaii”).
Preparing to Cross the Threshold
Betsy always writes in the mornings, “almost always in the afternoons; seldom in the evenings (if I do, good-bye sleep!).” Before she starts each morning, her ritual to prepare “to ‘cross the threshold’ (literally and figuratively) is pivotal. My main ritual is to drink one of my favourite green teas quietly in the sitting room while I look out the window at bird, tree and sky life.”
Other Writing Spaces
Once a year she does an apartment sit in Montreal and writes a great deal there. At home, she will jot down ideas and do editing in her siting room.
A temporary downside to her current space are renovations going on above her. “The construction sounds are trying sometimes as is the dust (I write with the window open year around). Right now, it’s closed due to a strong adhesive chemical smell. Fortunately, I learned to help my concentration decades ago by using a comfortable set of earplugs.”
Photos of Betsy and her space by Ingrid Rose.
“I need to feel alone”
Not only is Christa Couture a working singer-songwriter with three critically acclaimed albums to her name, she is an accomplished prose writer who won honourable mention in our 2014 Creative Non-Fiction contest. Her indie-folk music faces grief with vulnerability, beauty, and wit. She won a Canadian Aboriginal Music Award for her album The Wedding Singer and the Undertaker.In addition to being a touring and recording artist, she is the managing editor of RPM.fm “Indigenous Music Culture.”
Table, Musical Instruments, a Cat
Christa’s current writing space is multi-use and she has a table and playing instruments in the same room. “I dream of a room of one's own.” It's in a new home after a big cross-country move, three months ago.
“I like that my cat sits in the window, I like that I can watch the human traffic of my neighbours from above, I like the bright sun in the afternoon and the reflection of the lamp in the windows at night.”
Morning to Late
While she doesn’t have fixed times or days to write (“it depends on mood and other obligations”) she spends a handful of hours a week writing or songwriting. She often writes songs while driving. In terms of time of day, she writes both in the morning, in bed (“just the scribbles of dreams and morning thoughts, stuff that's never reread, the stuff to clear my head of”). She’s more inspired in the late hours of the day: “For the writing that matters to me, I need to feel alone—so other spaces don't usually offer that, outside of my little apartment.”
No to Rituals
“I don't have any rituals with writing! I like the idea of them, but I don't have the discipline.”
"Intimate and spacious at the same time.”
Author, poet, activist, and educator Carmen Rodríguez was born in Chile and moved to Vancouver after the Chilean Coup of 1973. Her writing is often based on her life as a political exile in Canada.She is the award-winning author of Guerra Prolongada/Protracted War (Women’s Press Literary, 1992), a volume of poetry; De cuerpo entero/and a body to remember with (Arsenal Pulp Press, 1997), a collection of short stories; and Retribution (Women’s Press Literary, 2011), a novel. She writes by “travelling between the two languages” of Spanish and English. I interviewed her about this for Room 38.1 (“In Translation”).
Light, Space, and the Kitchen Table
We interviewed Carmen for Room about a year ago, when she had just moved into her new home and started working in this writing space. Carmen is a fan of light in her writing room, which, she says, “makes it intimate and spacious at the same time.”
When she’s not working in her dedicated writing room, she’s at the kitchen table, “when there’s nobody else in the house and I need a change of scenery.”
When she’s in her writing space, she can’t live without the books she has written and the books she is reading at the time.
Maté in the Morning
Carmen dedicates her writing time from Monday to Friday, and mainly in the morning. Before she starts, she makes herself a maté and likes to “sip on my straw as I write.”
The ritual is working for her, as is the space itself; asked whether she’d change anything in her writing space, her answer was “no.”
“I love my familiars.”
Cecily Nicholson’s work, both creative and social, engages conditions of displacement, class, and gender violence. She is the administrator of Gallery Gachet and has worked in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside neighbourhood since 2000. She is the author of Triage (Talonbooks, 2011) and From The Poplars (Talonbooks, 2014). Christina Cooke interviewed her for Room 37.4 about the threads that pull her writing and her activisms into harmony. She’s been working in this writing space for four years.
Sounds and Scents
Early morning and in the evening most days is when she’s writing and working in her space, when she enjoys the view from her space, the flow of air, and the sounds, which vary through the day from: “neighbours, school yard, industry, construction, trains, fog horns, birds.” She also likes the scents: “grown, bloomed, burned, cooked, steeped.”
“I love my familiars. It’s calm here generally--quiet early morning and evenings.”
Library, Skytrain, and Night Emails
She also will work at the library when she needs the books or is in another city, and sometimes on the Skytrain. “Trains are good generally. I take notes everywhere; when I wake in the middle of the night with a stream of thoughts, I've taken to writing myself an email (as my hand writing can be illegible in that state).”
She also writes in other people’s spaces. “I have finished both of my books while staying with friends out of town.”
“I don’t have rituals, just habits I think.” In the morning Cecily will tend to her plants, prepare coffee, have a light breakfast.
“First, I work on correspondence, work and volunteer commitments and then I dip into some poetry. I like to read through a work in progress the morning after.”
In the evening, once activities and work are cleared away, she plays or listens to music and sometimes she dances, “[This] changes all the time though music is a constant. I write after that in the quiet.” She will transcribe notes and research, “which I amass from outside of this space” and, “this tends to devolve into reading, then sleeping, if all goes well.”
Quiet and Books
Cecily says the space is, “fine when it’s quiet and it’s quiet enough these days.” One thing she cannot live without in her writing room? “Books.”