Tag: writing spaces

Writing Places and Spaces

Jeremy Dunn, Consultantjeremy-d

You’ve picked a paper topic, done some research, and now you’re ready to begin writing that term paper. Or maybe you’ve just struck on a bit of inspiration for a new poem, or a short story—maybe even the next great American novel. There’s only one question left: Where do you go to write?

The question seems simple, but sometimes the answer isn’t. Over the years, I’ve had to do a lot of writing, and one factor that has turned out to be crucial for any writing project I’ve undertaken has been my writing environment, the physical places and spaces I inhabit while writing.

Researchers have taken an interest in how material environments and writing tools can aid or inhibit writing. In a study of how college students’ “composing unfolds materially through space and time in a mobile culture,” Stacey Pigg observes, “While the materiality of academic writing easily slips under the radar, how students access and incorporate places and technologies in composing habits outside classrooms may be one of the most important determinants of their success within them” (271). In other words, the places where we write, and the technologies we employ in our writing (i.e. pen and paper, laptops, desktops, typewriters, stone and chisel, etcetera) constitute foundational elements of the composing process.

Indeed, as examples of famous writers illustrate, writing is often a ritualistic, idiosyncratic process deeply rooted in particular environments and surroundings. Mark Twain reportedly wrote while lying in bed. Dylan Thomas had his writing shed where, legend has it, his wife would lock him up each day to ensure he got some writing done. Similarly, Virginia Woolf sometimes wrote in a toolshed she had converted into a “writing lodge.” Sir Walter Scott apparently liked to compose poetry on horseback.

I find other writers’ writing places and spaces interesting and inspiring, but not all of us have access to a cozy writing shed overlooking rolling English hills—or a horse to sit astride, if you’re interested in that sort of thing—while we write. So where do we turn to carve out writing spaces for ourselves?

Perhaps the local coffee shop. As Pigg suggests, “Informal public spaces such as cafés, coffeehouses, and commons areas serve as commonplace productive locations for many writers” (261). Pigg further explains that such environments often provide Wi-Fi to support mobile laptops, or in-house desktops in commons areas. These spaces thus offer technological access in addition to “clean space” where writers can concentrate on their projects (261).

Public spaces help many writers write, but they are not ideal for everyone. A quiet-seeking introvert at heart, I’ve learned that coffee shops—even library study areas—are not great writing spaces for me. I’ve tried to write in such places, only to realize I don’t really feel comfortable in them, or there’s too much going on for me to focus. Consequently, I’m unable to do much writing in those environments. Though the café or common area are good work areas for many, I’ve discovered that I do better by writing in my bedroom at home. There, I have a small, worn desk and lamp that help me settle into writing. The environment is a quiet one where I feel comfortable and able to focus (most of the time). In addition, writing at home better accommodates my idiosyncrasies. For example, while I write, I like to take breaks to stand up and pace around a bit, a practice I’m not exactly comfortable trying in a coffee shop. I also like the convenience of being down the hall from the kitchen if I want a snack or a drink of water, or in case I feel like brewing some coffee or tea. In short, at home in my room I simply feel a greater sense of quiet and am consequently able to get more writing done.

All of this rambling is simply to say that if the coffee shop helps facilitate your writing, or the park bench, or the library, or maybe a room at home, go there and write. If you find you’re stuck in a rut, consider seeking out a different writing space for a while and observe whether or not the new environment helps you break through your writer’s block. We all have to write somewhere. Learning which environments are most conducive to our writing practices can help us demystify writing and develop our composing processes in productive ways.

Works Cited

Pigg, Stacey. “Emplacing Mobile Composing Habits: A Study of Academic Writing in Networked Social Spaces.” CCC 66.2 (2014): 250-75.

 

There’s More than One Way to Build a Writing Center – A Visit to The Writing Cafe at Plymouth University

Bronwyn T. Williams, Director

Writing Centers – around the world – can be found in all kinds of locations, both physical and institutional. We’re fortunate at the University of Louisville to have a large and prominent new space on the ground floor of the main Library and to have the institutional support of departments and administrators across the university. Other writing centers have to find other ways to create spaces and identities for themselves when the university around them may not yet have figured out how much it needs a writing center – or even what one is. Recently, when I attended the Writing Development in Higher Education conference at Plymouth University in the United Kingdom, I had the opportunity to visit and learn about one of the more exciting and innovative approaches to creating a writing center that I have seen  – The Writing Cafe.

The Writing Cafe is exactly what it sounds like. Located on the top floor of one of the

20160628_140244
The Writing Cafe at Plymouth University

academic buildings, it is a place where writers (from both the university and community) can come to get a cup of coffee, have a writing consultation, attend a workshop, or just have a communal, social space to write. It’s a warm, welcoming space that combines the relaxed ambience of a coffee shop with conversations about writing. Even a brief visit made it clear that it was a place that was fostering and sustaining a culture of writing on campus and in the community – which is part of the essential role of any writing center. It certainly tempted me to get a coffee and hang out and write rather than going to the next conference session (but I did go to the next session….)

What makes The Writing Cafe so exciting for people doing Writing Center work, however, is not just the space itself. The story of how Helen Bowstead and Christie Pritchard created and put together The Writing Cafe is instructive – and inspiring – for people wanting to establish a writing center or just find a new way of thinking about how a writing center might inhabit a different kind of institutional and social space. Faced with a university that was reluctant to provide the space and furnishings for a writer center, they came across the abandoned cafe space and convinced the university to let them renovate and

20160628_140332
Literacy artifacts at The Writing Cafe

use it. They furnished it with cast-off tables and chairs they scavenged from around campus – as well as abandoned literacy artifacts of, such as an old typewriter, globe, and camera. Their explicit goal was to drawn on “coffee-house culture” to create a place that was social and informal, but also generative and engaging. They also had the ongoing support of the Learning Development team at Plymouth University. People coming to The Writing Cafe don’t make appointments, but just drop in to talk with the consultants who are on call at that time. Unlike some writing centers, they have decided not have appointments or keep records of consultations, so that the atmosphere and experience remains one that is more focused on nurturing a community of writers and less focused on assessment and evaluation of writing. The goal is not only to help people with their writing, but to give them an experience that helps them feel different about writing. Writing Cafe has been a huge success – primarily publicized through word of mouth among students.

Of course, this model doesn’t work for every writing center, but it is a reminder that there are other approaches and values that can be supported in writing centers in addition to

20160628_140305
What happy writers have written on the board at The Wrting Cafe

just helping people with the draft in front of them. The idea of a space that offers writers a different emotional experience about writing, and that emphasizes the importance of conversation and the social nature of writing, is refreshing and exciting in a time when universities in many countries are increasingly focused on assessment and evaluation of writing. The Writing Cafe treats student writers – and all writers – like authors with something to say. Finally, The Writing Cafe is an example of what can be done, in a time of shrinking budgets, if you can be creative and work with what you have at hand. As someone interested in the idea of writing centers as “enclaves” of different practices, I was glad I got the chance to find out about this place.