The Writing Room

February 18, 2015

I think for most writers their work space is important. Sure you can write anywhere, but it's nice to have some place that's consistent and familiar and (for me, at least) somewhat tranquil. I used to listen to music while I wrote, but now I like peace and quiet -- if for no other reason than that I found the music had a tendency to influence how I wrote a scene. I'm not without my distractions, however; I like to let my mind wander sometimes and be taken places other than the book I happen to be writing. That's just part of the creative process for me. And often those wanderings and musings are the catalyst for something in the story -- because when it all comes down to it, a writer has to draw on his own experiences when building characters and story. That's not to say that to write about space or dragons or war you've actually had to have been there or seen that. But there will be things you have experienced or learned that will inform how you write stories involving elements of that nature.

 

In the room in which I write there are a lot of momentoes -- books and odds and ends from my past that are like comfort food for my mind. It's not that I live in the past, but I've a lot of cherished memories and these objects serve as touchstones that evoke those moments I hold dear to me. I sometimes think of them as my time machine.

 

My childhood occurred before the digital age and the ubiquity of recording just about everything in one's life. Back when I was a kid film was expensive and rather limited, so people weren't generally snapping dozens of photos every day or filming even the most mundanes moments of their existence. And if you've moved about a lot like I did when I was young, even those bits of photographic evidence that you had have been reduced ovr time by mishap and and misfortune.

 

When my family moved from Pakistan to Iran in 1970 the sea shipment of personal effects that was to supposed to come to us in Isfahan was instead sent to New York, where is was promptly stolen from the docks. With it went the only photos of my mother's childhood and her years in Washington DC during World War Two. Likewise the few photos of my father's early years and pictures of the aircraft carrier on which he served. There were also more recent family photographs and irreplaceable personal items, many of which had no inherent value other than what they meant to us.

 

A similar tragedy occurred with a shipment that was sent from Tanzania. It was in a wooden crate and clearly not waterproof, yet some genius at the docks in Montreal decided it would be fine to leave it outside after it had been taken from the hold of the freighter. It rained on that crate for several days, and by the time it arrived at our home in Ottawa, it was soaked through. Very little of what was inside could be salvaged, including many photographs.

 

I lament the loss of those personal archives. There's no way of replacing most of them, and with them went much of the historical record of my parents. Now that they're both dead, the absence of those things seems even more profound. So I hold dear the few photos I still have and the items I've managed to hang onto or replace. And when I'm writing it's nice to have those echoes of the past surrounding me. They put me in a place where I'm at my most creative, and that's surely where every artist wants to be.

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