My Feng Shui of Writing
I wrote my first novel in college, living in a bachelor apartment in Toronto near York University in 1993. It was a very small place, 440 square feet with faux parquet floors, on the 17th floor of a 26 story building, about 3 blocks from one of the most notorious intersections in Canada – the corners of Jane and Finch. This was a place you didn’t walk around alone a night, male or female, and when I was alone, late at night after a night of partying on campus, I usually ran. Jane and Finch was the address for a small shopping center nicknamed Murder Mall. I kid you not. It was a scary freaking place at times.
In that tiny little apartment, in a crappy chair my father bought for five bucks from a bank being remodeled, I wrote that first book “To Cage the Eagle”. I wrote pretty much every day, and the words just flowed to the tune of about 170000 words by the time I was done. Actually, I finished the book in a townhouse in Waterloo, Ontario where I was working during the summer, but that first apartment was where I built a writing cocoon that I have yet to be able to duplicate.
To my left, I had heavy drapes over a glass wall that looked east to another apartment block. If I opened the curtains just a bit, and leaned back in my chair, I could almost see downtown Toronto. If I was brave, I could step out on to the 3 foot wide balcony, and get a better view, but that was taking your life into your hands. More than once there was gunfire in my neighborhood, and standing out on the balcony was just asking to be target practice for someone. The night the Blue Jays won the world series in 1993 was like a wedding celebration in Beruit.
I had a stereo at that point with my first CD player, and the sound was crisp and solid, and I alternated whatever matched the mood of what I was writing. I wrote a chase scene to CCR’s “Fortunate Son”, and wrote the aftermath of a military battle to Dire Strait’s “Brothers in Arms”. Most of my writing was done to Bon Jovi, Enya, Dire Straits and Beethoven. Hey, I had, and still do have, very eclectic tastes in music.
I had an afghan that I used to wrap around my legs, and a huge root beer mug full of hot tea that I constantly refilled as I wrote late into the night. I made sure all my studying was done before I sat down to write, or I would have never gotten it done. I’m just guessing, but I’d bet I routinely wrote a couple of thousand words a night, and sometimes, as many as four or five thousand. I’d force myself to bed at 3:00 AM, exhausted and my mind still churning. These were the days I could survive on 3 hours of sleep, and I routinely did just that.
What I remember most about that place was the way my banker’s lamp, perched high on the hutch over the desk, created a cave of light, barely illuminating anything more than 10 feet from my chair. The rest of the world didn’t exist. I had a small, 13 inch TV with crappy reception, but I never turned it on. I had stacks of books everywhere, and a bike up against the wall to the right of the desk. But those all just disappeared into the darkness. It was me, the blue screen of the computer, maybe some research material, and the story.
When I left college, and started working, I brought all that stuff with me, wherever I went, and set everything back up exactly as I had it, but it was never the same. I worked long hours. I had a car that made it easier to find places to go at night. I watched more TV. I lost touch with the stories in me.
I wrote, every once in a while, from 1994-2008. 14 years of 25 page starts, and then distraction. Writing was suddenly too hard, and life was too busy. I was out in the real world, building my career, making money, and doing all the things I couldn’t do when I was just a poor student in North York. I had a few stories in my head, and I thought, hey, with just a little effort, I could sell my first novel and be a millionaire like Tom Clancy. Writing was my fallback career if this computer thing didn’t work out. And besides, I just couldn’t find a place that felt as right as that little apartment in Toronto. I had to have a place like that back before I could write again, didn’t I?
Fast-forward to 2008, and replace the quiet isolation of the 17th floor, with a commuter train running at 60 mph with fifty people sitting around chatting and snoring and clearing their throats and bumping my arms. And it seems like that is the only place I can write now. The evenings are suddenly too short, and the mood isn’t right, and there’s something on TV I just have to watch, and the kids won’t go to bed, and I have to log on to work.
I still have the lamp, the afghan, the music and the mug. The chair is gone, as is the stereo, and the desk has been replaced. But the ideas for the stories are there, and I know more about writing well than I ever did before. I’m not exactly sure which story is next, but something is coming. I feel the need to write.
And as soon as I get over this cold or flu or whatever it is that has had me bed ridden for the past 24 hours, and as soon as the Olympics are over, and TV sweeps week is done, I’ll get back to writing at home, and not just on the train. Right?
Good post, Joe.