As long as I have been reading, I have been wondering. Wondering about the where, why and how the greatest of writers set down their words. Words I so eagerly absorb and transform into movies inside my head.
The same goes for the lesser blessed writers and the c-movies I endured.
Please note, the greatest of writers are those who are able to suck you into their story once you picked up the book, trap you for the time reading and spit you out after you closed the pages shut. They have the ability to keep you captured even after you laid the book down. They leave you in a heartache-like state for another day or two. I don’t know how you feel about this, but I can never bring myself to put a good read back into the shelf before I have digested it emotionally. I need time to say goodbye to the world and characters I have lived with while reading.
Having said so much about capable writers, I have to contradict myself after some dwelling on the subject. Is it really about the writer’s skill? Thinking about one of the best reads in my life – Stoker’s Dracula – and the worst – Stoker’s The Lair of the White Worm – I have to admit that maybe it’s more about the story told than the person telling it. Maybe, it’s also proof that even writers have moods, lack of motivation or sometimes simply shitty ideas.
I will never get over my disappointment with Stoker’s bloody White Worm. Which brings me back to where he might have sat and written that piece. Or Dracula. Did he have one of those huge wooden desks covered in books, inspirations and used coffee pots? Did he dictate like Dr. Seward? Did he write in a notebook whenever he thought of a new twist? I saw a picture of his handwritten notes. Still undeciphered. I’d set my money on a notebook on the run.
Whenever I imagine the process of writing down a story, I create a scenario overladen with romantic notions. Not the act of creating. The setting. To me writing means to dig deep into your heart and mind, shovel up emotions and thoughts and then try to build the nicest of sandcastles. The sand has to be sticky, so that the whole castle stays intact. Parts of the building have to connect. You need a foundation, walls, windows and the roof. To make it perfect, you can add a few towers and shells as decoration. As my father never got tired of teaching me, you need an imaginary ‚red string‘. Or a little girl walking through your sandcastle. Writing is creating. My ambition as a writer is to share my thoughts. I try to structure them into a beautiful castle that will outlast wind and water. But where do I build it? Where do I take my time to search for the right sand? Where do I sit down and form the nicest of castles? Am I just happy with my task or am I frustrated when things don’t come together the way I hoped? It’s the where and how of writing that makes it magic.
It all started at William Wordsworth’s cottage. Mr Eifler, the man who got me infected with literature, made us wander – not lonely as a cloud, but through the Lake District. After an endless recital of Wordsworth’s famous poem we visited his cottage. The place where he wrote down his meaningful words that I host like a treasure on my shelf. The smell of the room, the daffodils in the wind and being so close to the actual place of creation, seriously, try not to have any romantic notions.
Watching ‚The Hours‘ didn’t help much with losing any of those.
Neither did Carrie Bradshaw.
I so needed to have a laptop after seeing her write on her bed, at her window, wherever she wanted in her flat.
Many of my ideas of the perfect writing ambience were set by characters in novels and movies. I remember reading a Stephen King where a writer sought seclusion. She spent time reading up background information for her next novel. I still see her in the described comfy chair, but can’t remember which King it was. I don’t have to mention that, of course, I have a grandfather chair in my flat. Just for reading up on things.
Jessica Fletcher is the character that made me want to have an old fashioned typewriter. For a while I set up my desk in the kitchen, just to get a feeling. Murder she said, but murder I don’t write.
Stephen King was teaching and writing in his free time. I laid the foundation and became a teacher. Still wondering about the great amount of free time I am supposed to have. Even when I have time at hand, it’s not that easy. I want the perfect spot, a cozy atmosphere and then there is still my mood. You don’t need to be a calculating genius to see that it limits the occasions of actual writing down. A lot.
So, here I sit. In a car. Kids in the back, Mr Darcy driving safely – although I throw warning glances on either the street or the speedo from time to time. And I type. No desk, no coffee, no romance. Yes, I have my laptop. Yes, at least I listen to music. I enthusiastically scream along Serj Tankian and proclaim to ‚wanna f**k my way to the garden’– which wins me a warning glance from Mr Darcy.
I had packed my laptop for the trip, announcing I wanted to write. Every day. The first week I didn’t even touch the bag containing the computer. I could argue it’s because of the kids. Or constantly being on the road. Truth is, it’s been the huge amount of reading and soaking in impressions of Norway that got me fully occupied. When we arrived in Sweden I booked this place at the lake. One of the reviews to the house stated that they would have wanted to stay a whole month to write a novel. The review summed it up nicely. When I got out of the car and looked around, I drew in my breath and knew: this place is perfect for writing. I just wish everyone else on my traveling party had known, too. I can draw a pretty nice picture of what happened next. Please, switch on the imaginary sound.
I spotted the wooden table on the green gras among the trees with view on the lake. I felt ambition rise. This would be the place to write. I imagined the coffee pot, the wind in my hair while I would be gazing over the water, deep in thought, lost in my process of creation. I felt determination rise. I sent the kids swimming, boating, exploring. I unpacked, already checking the kitchen for a nice mug. I boiled water for my coffee, hung up still wet clothes, put fresh linen on the beds. Mr Darcy went shopping. I finished all my mommy tasks, made coffee and set up my writing place. Now was my time.
‚Mama, wo ist meine Badehose?‘
‚Stephie, kannst du uns helfen das Boot ins Wasser zu bringen?‘
Definitely not my time.
Once I had the kids out on the lake, Mr Darcy came back. My coffee was cold. Everyone was hungry. After dinner I was fed up. In so many ways. I felt disappointment rise. The next morning we left.
I had written three lines.
Three lines is nothing when you measure it in the amount of written letters.
Three lines are a lot when you got an idea what to write.
Three lines are everything when you finally get euphoric again and want to build a sandcastle.
The next time I opened my computer was about thirty-five hours later in a tent on Torsö. It was raining, it was windy. Mr Darcy had taken the kids for a drive to let them escape their soaked tent. I stayed behind. Crunched over my computer, wrapped into sleeping bags and my butt sitting on hard ground because the air of the mattress had gone somewhere sunnier as well. There was no coffee, no desk, not even a comfy place to sit. But there was the rain dripping not so silently on my textile-roof. And my fingers hammering on the keyboard. No one disturbed me. I was full of energy. No coffee needed.
When I drew the computer out of my bag today I was not sure what I was doing. If you are a mom, you know that driving with kids is like a super power. Being a responsible driver while explaining the creation of life, unwrapping sweets and ending fights in the back row – ever seen Batman deal with that kind of stuff? If you are no mom, imagine being kept in a cage with cute little monkeys that ask questions every 30 seconds. Each of them. Every 30 seconds. Just to be clear. What was I trying to do? Finish my text? Mr Darcy just nodded in silence. I am the worst shotgun in the world, so to him it meant a peaceful drive. He did not anticipate my covering the traffic as well as typing. Yet, I did it. I wrote. No coffee, no desk, no romantic ambience. Just thoughts growing into a sandcastle.
I wonder. Wonder if my notions about the setting of writing are wrong. Wrong for me. I wrote in a car full of chatter, in a tiny tent and with cold coffee. Do I need the perfectly placed desk in my flat? Do I need the right mug for the right line? Do I need silence or encouraging music? No. Although I will never stop creating a nice atmosphere for me to dwell in, I found what I really need.
Three lines I want to turn into an everlasting sandcastle.