Words on the Street, Revisited #2: Give Me Some Space

Bi-weekly chatter about how looking closely at some of the most common expressions in everyday life can prompt new ways of thinking about our writing.


Space. It’s complicated. Both in life and on the page. And I’m not even going to touch how complicated space can be out in actual space. As in, outer space.

But I will touch this: Space on our pages.  The blank ones, the drafts and even in the books we read.

And this: Space for our writing lives. The desks, diner booths, library cubbies and kitchen tables where we sit and lose ourselves.  But it’s the kind of lost we long for as writers because eventually, if we’re patient, something is found. A memory. A detail. A word, even.


Space on the Page

When we crave space, whether in a relationship or a crowded subway, somewhere in that craving lives a need for breath. Wider, deeper breath. It gifts us with a natural way to slow down, clear a passage or two (literally and figuratively) and find a center.

It’s no different on the page. Pace, clarity and soul all matter in writing, no matter the genre. You know when one or all three of these things is missing or just off in a story. On the flipside, you know when you nail it, when you’re on. When the timing, message and core of the piece shine we writers feel it.

What happens when you land on that word or that hit that line in a piece of writing and the sensation is visceral? When you find what matches the rest. When you may even hear yourself, yell or whisper, “Yes, that’s it. That’s it.”

The sweet spot is something I learned about when I met my now-husband, a tennis guy. He’s a tennis guy because he knows the business as well as the court. (He’s good at both, I might add.) Anyway, the sweet spot on the racquet is, as my tennis guy notes, “that ideal spot, where you can actually feel it.”

You know where I am going with this.

A sweet spot lives on our blank pages, in the sentences and paragraphs we craft, the stories we write and even the books we read. How to find it? Sure, like the athlete, practice is essential. But sometimes it helps to slow down, embrace more open space (whether that’s actual white space on the page or the space inside a story) and locate the center. Take a breath. Or two.

We feel it when we find it.

How sweet it is.


Space for our Writing Lives

Last summer I spent two weeks at a writing residency in College Grove, Tennessee. As I expected, there were many places to write—cozy couches, shady gardens and charming roll top desks. And front porch rockers the color of bright, ferny moss.

I tried them all.

But the place I felt most at home on the page and where I did my best work was a small round cafe table on the apartment’s balcony. It overlooked a brilliant green pasture and two pretend-looking horses. I never thought a four-legged creature could be my muse but that changed last July.

So, yes. My first writing residency was what I hoped for: space (and time) to write. Plus, an encounter with a new muse.

Of course it was a delight to have my choice of soft, warm colorful places to put and keep, in the words of the great Anne Lamott, my “butt in the chair.” But the truth is this: texture, temperature or color of a chair are not what drive the success of a writing space.

In some ways, the sweet spot concept applies here, too.

The spaces we make, carve out and claim for our writing lives may change from one day to the next or may stay the same over the course of weeks, months or years. Having one’s own designated desk or studio could be a fantastical dream for some and a daily reality for others.  What really matters is this: when the lightning strikes or when the writing is flowing wild and free, you are in a space that allows for that flow and freedom to be nourished. And if you’re not, try to get to one or at least try to get to a piece of paper or open document on your computer. Most writers have their own feast or famine stories: perfect desk or table or cubby and the page is dry (for hours!) OR nowhere to sit, set up shop, open a notebook and create but the ideas flow out and over, which leads to catching them and giving them homes on napkins and the backs of gas station receipts.

Sure, a residency can be dreamy, but so can a standstill traffic jam on the Major Deegan Expressway that lasts for three hours. If the words and ideas are juiced and you have a way to capture them, to get them out of you and onto a page, then it seems no matter where you are, what was once lost may indeed be found.

Why not strive to make or locate your writing spaces that feel most natural, most at home, most your own? But try to roll with it when the sparks fly and you’re somewhere else. The ideal spot may not be what you imagined but may very well be where magic is made, at least in the moment. Capture it when you can.

Sweet, indeed.

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