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Sunday, March 10, 2019

A New Writing Space

by James M. Jackson

Composing today’s blog is my first opportunity to use my new writing space in Madison, Wisconsin. I have a belief—belief because I hold it without a shred of evidence—that the space I write in affects my writing. Thinking back to other offices I have had, this is the first one that is partially underground, although it qualifies that designation. The desk stands before a double window beyond which is a two-foot-high rock retaining wall, meaning half of my desk resides at ground level and half two-feet below.

All my offices have shared one key characteristic: lots of natural light. My writing space at home in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan is in a second-story loft with a view out a wall of windows toward our lake. It’s all nature, all the time.

My Cincinnati office was on the second floor of a three-story Victorian. The corner room’s windows faced the street and side yard. Trees shaded me in summer and allowed for a bit of bird-watching. My Kentucky condo office was on the ground (top) floor. The Savannah condo office was also on the ground floor, but there was a second story. Both of those offices faced the street, allowing me to watch neighborhood goings-on from my desk. In Savannah, I could join neighborhood chats, meet the mailman when he delivered mail, watch for deliveries, etc. And I scattered seed on the ground in front of the triple windows to attract a flock of fifty Chipping Sparrows to entertain me. Many other birds used a young water oak in the front yard for resting and feeding.

My latest office is not only below street level (we’re situated on a hill sloping front to back), it faces the back. I’ll have no neighbor distractions (unless they are doing something in their back yard—unlikely in Wisconsin winter). The window has views of a tree-line a few hundred yards away – a good place for a resting hawk, but too far away for the smaller birds to distract me. Closer in are a couple of bushes and small trees that might attract a few birds. Immediately in front of me are the stairs coming down from the first-floor deck. I’m picturing a bird feeder or two hanging below the deck.

Oh, a Dark-eyed Junco just checked the rock wall under the deck stairs. Perhaps that will be a place to scatter some sparrow-friendly seed.

The kitchen, great room, master bedroom and TV room in Madison are all on the main level, making this lower-level study more isolated than past work areas (even though the office is part of a larger family room). Jan and I have already discovered that if we can’t see one another, we can’t hear one another, so she says she may end up calling me on my cell phone rather than trooping up and down the 15 steps between floors. Good thing I have her phone number in my address book since I don’t answer unknown calls that have the same prefix as mine because of robocalls and scammers. The isolation also means I can play music while working without disturbing Jan from whatever she is doing. (I prefer New Age or Classical for writing. I start singing along with vocal music, which interferes with getting words on the page.)

We’ll see how the new digs affect my writing. I can use my desk either as a standing desk or set low for sitting. I spend most of my time standing but take breaks to sit. Sitting changes my perspective. I can no longer see the ground and instead see much more of the sky. Will I need to sit to write expansively? Will I need to stand to be more grounded? Will characters take on a more isolated view of the world now that I no longer see the goings-on of the neighborhood? We’ll see.

Do you agree that the quality of space affects the work product?


James M. Jackson authors the Seamus McCree mystery series. Empty Promises, the fifth novel in the series—this one set in the deep woods of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula—is now available. You can sign up for his newsletter and find more information about Jim and his books at


Annette said...

I'm envious of your scenery, Jim. My home office, which is where I do the bulk of my writing has two small windows looking out at hillsides, one wooded, the other empty pasture. There used to be cattle to watch, but the farmer passed away and his livestock is gone now.

I have a laptop for travel, but I always seem to do my best writing at home, mostly because while I can tote my laptop around, I can't lug my research library with me. All of my books are at my fingertips here.

Wishing you lots of wonderful stories in your new office, Jim!

Margaret S. Hamilton said...

New office, new writing, new life! Who knows what a basement perspective will give you?

I write at the kitchen table, or standing up at the kitchen counter.

Jim Jackson said...

Gosh Annette, your scenery doesn't sound too shabby to me. Sorry about the cows, though, I enjoyed hearing them when I lived a field away from them in New Jersey -- not so great when I saw them in the back yard once or twice a year when they broke through the fencing!

Margaret, a lot of good work has been produced at kitchen tables and counters.

Annette said...

Jim, it's a nicer view in the spring and summer when it's green. Right now, everything outside in brown!

I know all about cows breaking through fences. For the first 20 years of my life, it was not uncommon to be awakened by shouts of "the cows are out!" Which meant throwing on clothes and bolting outside to get the bovines off the road and back in the pasture. Note: Cattle never ever go back through the same hole they got out through. They always have to create a new hole. Leaving two pieces of fenceline to fix.

Kait said...

I'm laughing at the cows. We have pastureland next to our house and had to call the police twice for traffic control when the rancher was out of town. Then we rolled out of bed borrowed some cow ponies and helped with the round-up. Fortunately, hubs can rope I can flap a hat and yell, "git on."

My office in Maine is similar to your current office, while my current office sounds like your's in Savannah. I can't say that I've noticed a difference in the quality of work product, but I do find that it takes me less time to get in the zone in Maine. That said, in Florida, I take window breaks, while in Maine, it's hiking breaks. Both refresh the creative process. You'll find your balance.

Jim Jackson said...

Kait -- if you live near cows, you have cow stories.

As I type and look out the window, I'm pleased to report that I have a flock of ten juncos enjoying the millet seed I put out. I've already had chickadees find the sunflower and bring with them four cardinals and a downy woodpecker to show off the new feeding station.

Shari Randall said...

It will be interesting to see how the new space affects your work.
Funny how you and Jan "can't see/can't hear" - we have the same thing in our new place - it's as if the builder put in ventriloquist angles that deflect sounds or make it seem like they originate elsewhere. I have resorted to texting my hubby a couple of times!
I'm glad the birds are finding you!

Jim Jackson said...

Shari -- I think that sound deflection is either a high-level architectural course or inspired by kids too young to actually hear what adults have to say.

KM Rockwood said...

I have a great view out the window of woods We have a 3 legged deer out there I've been watching, and two pileated woodpeckers have been in the area recently. When I hear them hammering away, I can't resist going to the window to see if they are in sight.

To tell the truth, I do better work in the evening, when it's dark out, and I don't get distracted by what's going on out there. I may hear the owls, but I can't see well enough to go look for them.

We had one interesting afternoon when a rodeo bull escaped and came tromping through the back yard. Complete with rodeo clowns and cowboys on horseback right behind.

Jim Jackson said...

KM your bull story beats our cow stories hands down.

I hear what you're saying about distractions, but I consider them mini-breaks and good for my mental health. (That's my story and I'm sticking to it.)