Deploying What’s in Arm’s Reach into Your Creative Process
I restored our barn last fall and finally learned how to make a door, pictured above (it all starts with a perfectly square frame). Since I built my door I admit I can’t quite get enough of it. A few times I’ve caught myself lacing up my boots, going out to the barn, just to open and close my new barn door. Doors, as thresholds that unveil and allow passage from one space into the next, have some undeniably magical qualities.
In pandemic or post-pandemic life, working from home may now be an indefinite reality for many of us. In the last year of domestic confinement, you’ve probably acquired a new appreciation for space (or lack thereof). If you’re one of the many coming to terms with this new reality then you’ll want to pick up a copy of architecture’s cult favorite, A Pattern Language. Its author Christopher Alexander presciently writes:
The problem: No one can be close to others, without also having frequent opportunities to be alone. The solution: Give each member of the family a room of his own, especially adults. A minimum “room of one’s own” is an alcove with desk, shelves, and curtain.
Stephen King would also agree. As he admits in his book On Writing, that he writes in a room of his own, behind a closed door. The door to his writing room has to be firmly shut every morning, and he doesn’t open it until he has written 2000 words. This is one of his mandatory rules of writing. Closing a door is the analog ritual that enables King to create a space where he conjures up the magic.
Having a room of your own may not be in the cards. The door to my office is broken, and so I have a partial room of my own (I’m nowhere near 2000 words a day). So before I sit down to work every morning I commit to another ritual: just turning on my desk lamp. I know it may not compare to Stephen King’s door, but I invested in the task lamp of my dreams, a writing tool I’d always overlooked. And so when I flick that switch my writing space is enclosed in a lovely glow. I angle the arm of the light til it’s just right. And with any luck, the words begin to flow.
Closing a door, turning on a light: these objects got me thinking about other “miraculous devices”, things within arm’s reach that may serve a higher purpose if we need them:
A dictionary: Picking up a real dictionary is a tangible commitment to the word at stake and a much-needed break from the screen. I keep my three-volume Webster’s Third on my desk at all times. Just having a dictionary in my peripheral view is comforting.
A pencil: I normally write on a computer, but sometimes if I’m truly stumped I’ll pull out my notebook and pencil. Before I start I take the time to sharpen my pencil, and in doing so I make it mine. Pro tip: invest in a good sharpener, the two go hand in hand.
A squash ball: I keep a squash ball (Dunlop yellow dot) on my desk at all times. It’s a stress reliever, a playful distraction when I’m blocked or on a long call, and a fond memento of my years on the high school squash team.
Everyone’s tools will be different. Some have more tangible outputs, others more fleeting and ephemeral. But the important part is to take the time to determine which ones are the most meaningful. Then put them to work, incorporate them into your daily routines, make them part of your creative process.