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Write On

Room to Write

I’m writing this at a corner table at a coffee bar near my apartment. For me, this is so unusual, it’s practically freakish. I’ve always written at home; even when I was young and broke, I wrote at home. Back then, I was so poor, I didn’t have a desk and instead balanced my keyboard on an open dresser drawer. These days, I not only have a desk, I have a nice desk, a battered antique that a late friend of mine, a friend who was admittedly something of a lush, used as a bar. The writing surface is still covered with round white circles where various wet highball glasses and vodka bottles once stood and on humid days, I swear you can almost smell the bourbon.

I like writing at home. I like the quiet, the books, the food. I like being able to walk around in the ugliest t-shirt imaginable and take a nap (right on the floor if I ever wanted to!) whenever I have the urge. I don’t take my situation for granted. I know for many writers — people with young kids, roommates, impossibly tiny apartments – find it difficult if not outright impossible to swing this. A writer friend of mine shared a minuscule studio with an actress wife who was often home; he rigged up a circular shower rod in one corner and behind the heavy curtain was his laptop, the tiniest desk imaginable, and a pair of earplugs. Having a place where one can be alone with one’s thoughts, the proverbial room of one’s own, is so essential for writers, many of us have had to jerry-rig a few cubic feet and the illusion of privacy out of whatever’s at hand. And so while I’ve lived with my boyfriend (also a writer) for many years, I’ve always held onto my tiny Village apartment as an office. I once complained to a friend about all the artists’ colonies and writers’ retreats she’d been to that I wish I had gone to as well, and she seemed honestly taken aback. “But you don’t need to get away to write,” she pointed out. And she’s right.

Jean Kerr, author of Please Don’t Eat the Daisies, was so hard-pressed as a suburban mother to carve out any kind of privacy for herself that she would regularly pile her manuscript into her station wagon, drive a few blocks away, and covertly write against the steering wheel, hoping none of her brood would bike by and find her. My maternal grandmother was a novelist in Korea who supported a gigantic family (ten kids!) writing serialized stories in various newspapers. She regularly took refuge in the various tea rooms of Pusan, scribbling longhand, and handing the finished sheets to a trusted child (i.e. my mother) to hand-deliver. According to my mother, hers was a top-secret mission; but her siblings would invariably find out, the jig would be up, and my grandmother would be forced to move on and find a new refuge. I have a photo of my grandmother in one such restaurant, glasses on, holding a pen and focused absolutely on a stack of papers in front of her despite the guy sitting across from her, virtually no room to move in, and the noise of a city so obviously pouring in through open windows. I used to look at the picture and wonder: how did she do it? Then I became a writer myself and realized: she just did. This, after all, was a woman with deadlines, serious mouths to feed, and the compulsion to write. When she needed a break, she would head out and grab a bus, any bus, and ride along its entire route – staring both blankly and observantly at the world in the way we all do, wherever we live, whenever we need to get out of our heads.

writer Matt Koff at work in the Writing Room

Matt Koff at work in the Writing Room

So I’m thrilled that the Writers Guild East, now in its new location on Hudson Street just north of Canal, is finally opening a Writing Room: a quiet place with six work stations where members can come in, plug in a laptop or take out a Moleskine, and write.

Reservations are in four-hour blocks starting at 9:30AM and will be assigned on a first-come, first-serve basis. Cellphones and food will be blessedly banned, as will, I hope, boisterous conversation and over-amplified I-pods. If people want to write in a Starbucks, damnit, they can go out and write in a Starbucks.

The Writing Room is nothing fancy; all that will be provided is a flat surface, quiet, wireless, an outlet, and some coffee. Yet while these things together might be considered a luxury in New York City for anyone, for the writer, they’re as essential as words themselves.

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