As part of Harper Impulse Fortnight, I’m thrilled to host Lynn Marie Hulsman, Harper Impulse author, on the Book Nook today, talking about writer’s space. (Check out Books With Bunny for more about Harper Impulse Fortnight, or follow the #HIfortnight hashtag on Twitter!)
The first day I sat down to write at the Writer’s Studio at New York’s Center for Fiction, it was like a religious experience. It felt like a monastery filled with acolytes, all serving at the altar of the written word. “Hold on there, Cowgirl,” I can hear you saying. “Isn’t that a little over-the-top?” Well, yes and no.
Before I joined The Center for Fiction, which provides quiet space for writers to work in Midtown Manhattan, I had hit a rough patch as an author. And as a person. Make that a crisis point. Better yet, a black hole. I’ll confess to you (since I know you won’t tell anyone) that I had spent nearly three months going to bed each night with the full intention of putting in a full day’s work when I awoke. Fear whispered in my ear, and delighted in keeping me paralyzed. Fear of what, you ask? I’m not sure. Success. Failure. Not starting. Not finishing. That kind of fear.
Instead of taking advantage of the empty apartment during my kids’ 7 hours away at school by filling page after page with glorious words, my days went something like this:
- Grab coffee and sit down to do half an hour of emailing/social media
- Feel creeping fear, so put off starting to write and instead clip my nails and tweeze my eyebrows
- Cave into the dog’s judgmental stares, leash them up and take a spin around the block
- Run into a fellow school-mom and stand on the corner of 42nd and 9th for an hour talking about the middle-school admission process
- Decide to get serious about writing. Open up a blank document, only to hear my stomach rumble.
- Make and eat lunch. Sneak a peek at Facebook and spend an hour scrolling through. Get distracted by photos of baby bats. Watch several videos of said bats being bottle fed.
- Do dishes. While in kitchen, decide to organize Tupperware. Where did all those lids come from, anyway? Why are there no bowls?
- Panic that I haven’t written 3K words yet. Everyone on FB and Twitter has. I know it. They said so. They also said they have glorious date nights with their husbands, and run for an hour every morning. Feel fat.
- Put on my shoes and go down to the gym. Walk on the treadmill and lift light weights. Start to look on the bright side. “I can do anything I set my mind to!”
- Go home and open laptop. Decide if I don’t shower now, I won’t get to, so dive in and shampoo hair. Feel tentacles of self-loathing and failure creeping up my spine as I rinse. Vow to buckle down and do twice as much work as originally planned.
- Get dressed.
- Open laptop.
- Hear the key in the lock. Greet husband and kids.
- Answer the question, “What’s for dinner?” by getting up and scrambling into kitchen to boil water for pasta.
- Help with homework, do dishes (again), put kids to bed, fall asleep with computer on lap, only to wake to burning sensation on thighs.
- Get into pajamas, fall into bed, exhausted from the anxiety of not writing, and vow to write a novel tomorrow.
- Repeat from Step 1.
A few weeks ago, after a long, grim, snowy winter, the sun finally poked out its head. Spring brought me, as it usually does everyone, renewed hope, energy, and drive. After years of telling myself that it was silly to invest money in writing space when I ostensibly have writing space at home, I bit the bullet, filled out an application, presented my credit card to The Center for Fiction.
Getting out of my home and into a dedicated workspace has cleared my cobwebs and renewed my energy. In particular, The Center for Fiction provides the perfect setting conducive craft and productivity. It’s heart-wrenchingly romantic, with its skylight, and marble bust of some guy who must have been a writer, and its rickety, lurchy elevator plastered with inspirational quotes from famous writers and old, typed-out notecards from ancient card catalogues. The eight-story building was founded in 1890 as a private library for merchants. It features a lovely bookstore on the ground level, and hosts reading groups and craft classes on the upper floors at night. I feel downright Dickensian when I use my personal key to let myself in the heavy iron sidedoor in the dewy hours of the morning, then make my way up the creaky old stairs to fill my water bottle before ascending to the Writer’s Loft.
And in addition to antique features such as heavy wooden tables, sparkling chandeliers, and leather wing chairs, The Center offers modern conveniences to the writer. We also get desks and cubbies, a personal locker, an up-to-date reference library, a lounge area, ergonomic chairs, electrical outlets, WiFi internet, a wireless printer, a pod coffee maker and… M&Ms.
For me, and by the looks of the rapturous faces of my fellow writers, this is a place of serenity, of escape. It is a place, above all else, of words already written and yet-to-be written.
It’s comforting to be surrounded, or on a slow day, accompanied by people who are fighting the good fight, just like I am. We’re all pushing past the demons of fear, lethargy, doubt, and distraction. At home boundaries between work and non-work blur, and I find that I’m either working all the time, and not giving myself permission for downtime in the form of reading or cooking or hanging out with my kids. After all, there’s work to be done. In truth, there will always be another novel to be written, but all work and no play make Jane a dull girl.
Conversely, all play and no work means Jane doesn’t get a paycheck.
When I’m home, people don’t respect that I’m working. Everyone just thinks I’m playing on the computer. I enjoy packing my lunch, putting on my walking shoes and crossing midtown Manhattan to The Center for Fiction during the morning rush. I feel like I’m on my way to the office. It gets my blood pumping, and puts me in the headspace to create and achieve.
The money I am spending to rent space is going to come back to me in spades. You can’t sell blank pages, and previously, those were all I had to show for myself at the end of the day. Now, seated among the Georgian furniture, the shelves of hardbacks, and the earnest writers in this hallowed sanctuary of words, I’m typing and typing and typing. My fear has melted away, and been replaced with hopeful drive. Perhaps it’s the competitive feeling I get when I hear the fast typists at the desks surrounding me, or the idea that my next book will be shelved among the other delicious-smelling tomes here in the stacks. It might simply be the morning walk in the spring sunshine. Regardless, I feel free. For a writer like myself, being unhindered by blocks, be they real or imaginary, is essential. I’m grateful that finding The Center for Fiction has helped me relocate my center.
Lynn Marie Hulsman is proud to have published two novels with HarperImpulse Books. She lives and writes 26 floors about 42nd Street in New York City, where she shares an apartment with a husband, two kids, an elderly Schnoodle and a very opinionated Bedlington Terrier.
Summer at Castle Stone
Shayla Sheridan’s a New York native born into big city luxury, but she’s never really fitted in with the “it” crowd. Desperate to make it as a writer and to finally step out from her famous father’s shadow, Shayla decides to take on a tricky assignment across the pond… Swapping skyscrapers and heels for wellies and the heart of the Irish countryside, Shayla must go about ghost-writing a book of recipes by the notoriously reclusive and attractive head chef of Castle Stone, Tom O’Grady. The only problem? He has no idea that she’s writing it.
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