The Writing Room

Our family recently spent the weekend at a wilderness resort on the outskirts of the Wisconsin Dells. When we checked in, the front desk told us that “there is wireless available, but it is sometimes spotty”.

Spotty was an understatement. I didn’t mind. It was one less distraction if I found time to write.

At home, I have a writing room. It is a four seasons room, with the sides and ceiling covered in knotty pine. Three white framed windows adorn each of the three walls that open the room up to the woods and what nature has to offer. Our cats often perch on the top of the sectional that hugs one corner of the room, watching for signs of life in the back woods.

Last year I purchase a small desk, with one cabinet attached to the confined space that allows for a laptop, a few books, and your thoughts. It’s placed kitty corner to the sectional. A writer could dig into their work while also enjoying a panoramic view of one end of our one acre property. Some of my favorite writing resources, such as On Writing by Stephen King, Bird by Bird by Anne LaMott, and How to Write Short by Roy Peter Clark, are perched up against the cabinet, held together with a paper weight.

The number of times I have used this desk can be counted on two hands.


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A writing room is one of the most evasive spaces I have ever tried to find. It is not as simple as designating a location within your home and declaring, “This is where I shall write.” I will often locate myself at the kitchen table or the bar between the living room and dining room to do my writing. Sometimes, I will relocate to a local coffee shop or establishment. I find the background din to not be a hindrance, possibly a help.

My first problem is the wireless in my home. It’s one thing to be located where wireless simply isn’t an option. The resort previously mentioned qualifies. It’s another thing when one tells himself to turn off the wireless on their laptop but still knows in the back of their mind that it is still available, always waiting to allow you one quick look at your Twitter feed.

In a recent New York Times Magazine profile, the author Yann Martel (Life of Pi) shares a brief profile of the writing room he built in his own backyard. Like other writers, he has a busy life, including young children and pets that call for his attention while at home. As an escape hatch, he had local contractors build a small studio on his property.

My studio is no more than enclosed emptiness, a cube of uncluttered quiet warmth in which I can collect my thoughts and try to marshal them into that difficult form called the novel.

Martel has surrounded himself with inspiration instead of celebration. His first thesaurus, his children’s artwork, and symbolic visuals adorn his walls and desk. Surprisingly, none of his previous work was included in the decorations or design.

I don’t care to surround myself with ‘Life of Pi’ memorabilia, say, or with any trinkets or gris-gris. All I need is a clean, well-lighted place as blank as the page I hope to write on.

This distance that he has created for himself is self-imposed. But he’s not antisocial. Martel simply requires solitude to truly commit himself to writing.


In our connected world, solitude is fleeting. There are few places where we can go anymore that provide a barrier from Planet Earth, where we can ponder our personal experiences in private and not feel tempted to vicariously observe others. Declining opportunities for introspection prevents ourselves and others from digging more deeply into…well, ourselves.

We have to find our personal writing rooms. It’s going to look different for each person, writer to writer. What matters most is that we are intentional about putting words down on paper and telling our personal stories, distractions notwithstanding.

Although wireless was lacking at the wilderness resort, I did not use any of that time to actually write. I could have, I’m sure. I guess our intentions are more powerful than our conditions.

Author: Matt Renwick

Matt Renwick is a 17-year public educator who began as a 5th and 6th grade teacher. After seven years of teaching, he served as a dean of students, assistant principal and athletic director before becoming an elementary principal in Wisconsin Rapids. Matt is now an elementary principal for the Mineral Point Unified School District (http://mineralpointschools.org/). Matt tweets @ReadByExample and writes for ASCD (www.ascd.org) and Lead Literacy (www.leadliteracy.com).

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