Of PBJs and HEAs…

In April, I’m supposed to present a talk to a bunch of writers about sustaining creativity.

So I’m reading, reading, reading about the challenges of sustaining creativity, and I came across My Creative Space, by architect Donald M. Rattner. The subtitle is, “How to Design Your Home to Stimulate Ideas and Spark Innovation.” One of the first premises Rattner proposes is: If your work requires creativity, then you should set up a dedicated place where that creativity routinely happens.

His point is that our minds build associations even in the absence of any causal relationship. When we suffer insomnia, one of the first pieces of advice handed out is: Don’t do anything in that bed but sleep (unless you are fortunate enough to have a lover, of course). Don’t watch the telly when you’re in bed, don’t scroll through texts, don’t read 1000-page biographies (looking at you, Grace Ann). Ditch the devices and train your brain to believe that the only thing that happens in that bed is sleep.

My house, a log farmhouse with a kitchen and bathroom added in the 1950s, was not built to be a creative residence. The intention was to make spaces for sleeping, socializing (I socialize with my tread desk in the living room), preparing and consuming food, and (now) tending to personal hygiene. That’s it. No sewing room, no play room. No game room, no library, no study, no Florida room.

I write at my kitchen table, and because it’s a small table, and my computer sits up on a special riser (thanks Graham!), I end up munching through breakfast, lunch, and dinner where I work. Or I eat standing up in the kitchen, or–in nice weather–I sit out on the porch steps to eat. I pay the bills where I work. I play cribbage where I work.

I am guessing, if I want to write another 55 novels, then I had best re-think this camping-in-the-kitchen approach to my writing space. The mind functions best with  definite on-work and off-work settings, and in my current situation I’m having recess in the biology lab and trying to study math in the gym.

I can make better use of the place where I’ve been living for thirty years. I can segregate functions, and do a better job of priming my brain to be creative here, enjoy a PBJ there, and nosh on a biography over there. More than that, I’m thinking about how I’d design my ideal space. For sure it would have a lot more natural light than my house has, it would have a desk and a kitchen table (what a concept), and it would have a cozy little nook for reading the books I love so dearly.

Do your spaces–work and home, especially–function the way you need them to, or are you making do and compromising? If you could change one thing about the place where you live or work, what would it be?

To three comenters, I’ll send advanced reader e-copies of A Woman of True Honor, and those files will starting going out early this week!



Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

20 comments on “Of PBJs and HEAs…

  1. My house functions the way it needed to when it was built. I “helped” design it myself, and oh, did I learn, make expensive mistakes and learn some more. I should have put our bedroom on the main floor. There is a “music room/computer room with a pull-out for emergencies, but our nice master suite with its en-suite, mini-fridge, coffee pot and dedicated office space is upstairs.

    However, the downstairs does stay tidy when the master suite is chaos.

  2. For the most part, our home functions well. There are bedrooms for our kids–the ones who live here and the ones who visit. There’s a study which could be organized better because I camp out in the kitchen with my laptop when my desk up there gets too cluttered. We have a living room/music room and a listening to music/watching television family room. I have the space and the opportunity to do as you suggest with your home and yet, it still is a mish-mash overlap of tasks. The problem? We’ve got lots of stuff and things we use and want to use and yet, don’t because we’ve made it difficult for ourselves. But that’s changing.

    Our issue is storage and last summer we were forced into getting our crap (literally) together. We had a pipe fail in the storage area of our semi-finished basement. After the insurance work was finished, we had the water-proofers (mid-western thing)in to get the leak having nothing to do with the pipe fixed. Now we are shifting through boxes and bags and holiday decorations and old calendars and more, organizing the storage area and redoing the finished part of the basement. I am more than halfway finished going through things (I love my kids but am NOT keeping all the hand-print turkeys they made in grade school!)and have organized most of the holiday decorations as well as all the serving items for large parties and tablecloths. Soon, we’ll replace the stairs, re-wire and put up new dry wall, then paint, put in a new floor and move furniture around. This will be the place to read or watch a movie or have poker night or a cocktail party. But it’s the storage area that’s the crown jewel!

    Just going through stuff in the basement has made me want to go through stuff in the rest of the house. You’d be surprised how much more objective I am with the clutter. I thought I had done a good job recently but the more I do, the better it is!

    The former mayor of Chicago, Rahm Emmanuel, said to never to let a good crisis go to waste—and we’re not!

  3. I agree about needing a designated space for creativity, even simply clear thinking. I live in a 1957 suburban home with limited storage space and nowhere in the house is there any personal space.
    I write papers via laptop, books and articles sprawled across the sofa or dining table, depending upon the time of day. Moving to accommodate my husband’s desire to eat or watch TV makes my tasks fragmented and much harder.
    Having a desk of my own would be bliss!

  4. I’m lucky because we had extra rooms as our daughters went off to college and then their careers. Both my husband and I have our own rooms for things other than sleeping and “eye waggle”! His is a mess of computer towers, monitors, etc. Mine, books, desk, journals. comfy chair, more books. Oh and french doors that open to our back yard! The one change, replace every piece of carpet with wood floors!

  5. Things were a bit (more than a bit) scattered after I retired 4 years ago. Home things, head things and heart things were shifting and reshaping – seemingly without much input from me. After a few weeks of churning, I recentered and began to readjust to 6 Saturdays, 1 Sunday weeks. I reassigned spaces to fit my new priorities; sorted, evaluated, repurposed and purged; and began an ongoing review of property and possessions to determine what I will burden my children, grandchildren and great grandchildren with when I’m gone. Although it was overwhelming in the beginning, I’m finding it to be very freeing. I set a timeframe of an hour or an afternoon or perhaps part of the week depending on the volume of the review and work my way through. I don’t see this process having an end other than my own, but instead plan to continue winnowing as long as I live.

  6. I highly recommend rearranging your house & tossing traditional uses for rooms to the winds. I have the luxury of living alone so I’ve reorganised my place so I have the creation room, the business room, a library closet (dragged multiple bookshelves into its capacious depths) & a self care zone with treadmill, DVD player for yoga, etc. My bathroom sports an Echo so I can indulge in podcasts & audiobooks while in the tub, with shelves devoted to bath salts, lotions & potions. Another Echo lives in my creation room so I can indulge in sound tracks to inspire me, as well as control the WiFi bulbs that let me adjust the lighting from operating room brightness all the way down to relaxing glow, as well as light zones by name. It’s taken 3 years of budgeting, shopping sales & experimentation, so soonest begun, the sooner you’ll be churning out more books for us to enjoy. Consider a diffuser as well as scents are a lovely inspiration & a few drops of oil easier on the budget than fresh flowers in the winter time.

  7. Here in the U.K we have a tv programme presented by George a very handsome guy with a husky voice showing useful tips and ideas about making spaces useful in your home,whether old or new large or small.It is fascinating to watch.I have tried a couple of his ideas in my home that I have now.I downsized three years ago to a one bedroom flat so space was limited.Watched the programme and was inspired in more ways than one!!!!.wishing you inspiration and a goodnight sleep.

  8. I would love to have a kitchen with a window above, or at least right next to, the sink. I spend a lot of time in my kitchen, which means I spend a lot of time at the sink. If I have a window there, I can watch birds and squirrels at the feeders. I can watch for deer. I can watch to see if it’s raining or snowing yet. I have lived in a good number of homes, most with no window above the kitchen sink. My favorite homes have had that window to brighten my life and to make cleaning up less of a chore.

  9. My son has added 3 large dogs to the household who love to chase my cats and destroy furniture. I plan on adding a screened in porch to the back of the house with a dog door to the outside. The dogs will lthen spend my work day outside (with beds, food, water, and access to the yard). They won’t be chasing my cats or destroying the furniture, so I think that is a nice plan. It will also be more pleasant to the humans in the household not to come home to find shredded upholstery, shoes, smoke alarms, remote controls, books, etc.

    Winters are mild so this will work most of the year.

  10. We’re definitely “making do” in our current space. We realized within a day of moving here that we’d made a mistake! I’ve done my best to make clever workarounds where possible, but the kitchen is almost useless (no counter space, and literally no cabinets for everyday dishes and glasses — we had to put shelving in the dining area). Worse still, we’re renters and can’t change anything! But I do have a nice office nook in the corner of the living room (I work from home) and a dedicated sewing area in the bedroom (which is a no-no, I’m aware, but we only have 650 square feet, so you do what you have to do). The end is in sight, though. Our lease is up soon!

  11. I write my reviews in the downstairs bedroom turned office. I can close the door and concentrate. I work on my clubs treasury duties ie paying checks and reviewing contracts on the dining room table.

    I have been thinking about repurposing some of the space in our house, too. We are taking out the carpet in the dining room and living room. Hardwood floors and rugs will replace the old carpet. I asked for an estimate for build in book shelves.

    Our living room is the one room in the house that we don’t use. My daughter watched tv there until she was in high school. But, the room has been pretty empty since then.

    I am hoping to change that! I am thinking of buying two chairs..maybe leather….and make a cozy reading space. I will add a tv, end tables , lamps and maybe a small desk. I think my couch will work. Celeste was the only one who slept on it. I think I will cozy the room up a bit.

    If I could change something….the kitchen would be my choice. I don’t have much counter space or storage.but, that a huge project.

  12. We’re going to be downsizing shortly, and I’m contemplating the upcoming necessity of multifunctional spaces. Its a bit daunting, frankly, because my mind does better with compartmentalized spaces, especially for sleeping!

    • My sister’s neighbors lived on a boat (with a Jack Russell) for years. Their home is amazing for its multi-functional spaces and furniture.

  13. I’m a quilter, and I soon learned (in my busy life) that if I wanted to create anything with fabric I would need a dedicated space where I could leave out a project to dinner til I could get back to it. Once the kids moved out that was the first thing I did. It’s working!

  14. I’ve got more space than I need, but my favorite room is the library. I love books and have an antique desk at which I work and it’s situated facing a window so my brain can occasionally take a break. The room has built in bookshelves on two walls and there’s even room for my harp. I have an extra bedroom and bathroom and Florida room that see very little use and a huge living room. I’m not into entertaining and although I live in Florida, I’m not on the water so … no visitors.
    I’ve never been one to read in bed because I go to sleep so fast. I guess my brain has decided the bed is a dedicated space – to sleeping!

  15. Creativity Space? I always thought my creativity was cooking until the time came recently when I couldn’t stand up in the kitchen long enough to chop and stir and make magic with a cookbook or Pinterest.

    I wonder to rearrange kitchen space for lame oldsters like me…. Thank you Grace, for at least providing my enforced inactivity was a world of diversion.

  16. My little stone house was built in 1811 , with the presumption that its residents would be spending most of the day in the surrounding fields. So, like you, we have space for sleeping, for cooking, and to welcome visitors and that’s about it. If I changed one thing it would be to break out a wall to let in more light…or maybe add a downstairs bath…or wait, I really need a room full of bookshelves…

    You see the problem. So, complete stasis. Thankfully, I do love the house the way it is.