Friday, April 20, 2018

The Writing Room

If you are lucky enough to have a dedicated space for writing, you have to decide what goes in that space. Sometimes the space dictates that - if you're working in an empty closet, you have room for a small desk, a chair, and maybe a picture or two. If your space has to pull double duty as a guest room, there's going to be a bed (or at least a pullout couch). If you have to share you office space with your spouse, that's a whole different issue. You're better off consulting an Ikea and a marital counselor than this blog.

But sometimes what goes in (and what stays out) is important. When we moved  few years ago, I went from working at a desk that straddled the living room and dining room in a 900 square foot house to having a room with a door that I could fuck off to and spend all day working. The first thing that went in were bookshelves, and books. Almost every room in our house (including the kitchen) has a bookshelf in it, and my office would be no different. I picked my favorites, arranged them autobiographically over too long a period, and moved on to hanging cool art, old posters, and finding the right pull out couch (it does, after all, occasionally have to double as a guest room). I made my office a small wonderland complete with a coffee machine and action figures on the shelves to provide both decor and something to fiddle with when I'm trying to sort something out. There's no TV, because I can't see what purpose it would serve, to plug a third distraction machine into my writing room (my phone and laptop are temptation enough).

The only thing I didn't have, that I wanted, was a stereo of some sort. I love music, and it plays a big role in my writing routine. It's the one thing I can take with me even when I'm writing on the road, or in a hotel. The books, the couch, the ambience - all stay in the office. I got by with my phone and a Bluetooth speaker, or sometimes just playing music through my computer with headphones. My office contains one last thing, which is a cabinet holding assorted music I should have gotten rid of a million years ago. A plastic tub full of cassette tapes, a suitcase full of CDs, even a couple of VHS tapes with performances on them, and, three or four records.

I haven't had access to a record player in so long I don't actually remember the last time I played vinyl, but I had records. Some of them came as extras when I ordered other stuff, some of them were thrift store finds I couldn't pass up - but all of them were unplayable in my house. I started thinking - if my office is my little wonderland with coffee, books, and cool art, shouldn't I have a record player?

This internal debate went on for years. Crosley makes cheap record players in cases - one of which matches the color scheme in my office perfectly. It's small and unassuming and wouldn't take up much space. But then, I would think about how it only had the built in speakers, and wouldn't I want better sound quality out of it? I didn't have room for something much larger...

Without filling you in on four years of justifying the purchase and then not buying the damn thing - I eventually got a record player.

Me, picking out the right record for a bank robbery

I set it up in the kitchen.

What stays out of the office is as important as what goes in. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that a record player was too participatory for a writing room. When I put on music to write, I make long playlists with songs I already know well enough that I don't perk up trying to understand the lyrics. I don't play DJ, going through my list of songs, picking the exact right one, and then pausing again in a few minutes to do it again - who could write like that?

Every interruption costs at least twice the amount of time. You have to stop and deal with the interruption, and then find your place in the writing, get your head back in the game, and try to hit flow again. So each time I had to flip a record, each time I had to put one away, sliding it into it's sleeve and then the jacket, pick a new one, etc. Look - don't get me wrong, all of this is what makes listening to records a different experience than just plugging your phone into a speaker and hitting "shuffle."  The fact that you have to pay attention is a big draw for someone like me who loves music. But it's not for writing.

Having the record player in the office would have been more about set design than functionality. It would have taken time I already waste on other crap, and multiplied it by how long it takes to decide which record best fits the mood of the scene I'm writing, since my writing playlist can't be easily pressed on vinyl.

So my wonderland is missing one thing - but that's what makes it a writing wonderland. My shitty Bluetooth speaker isn't going to retire any time soon.

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