Welcome to another installment of TNBBC's Where Writers Write!
Where Writers Write is a weekly series that will feature a different author every Wednesday as they showcase their writing spaces using short form essay, photos, and/or video. As a lover of books and all of the hard work that goes into creating them, I thought it would be fun to see where the authors roll up their sleeves and make the magic happen.
This is Sybil Baker. She was named one of "today's strongest emerging talents in literary fiction and poetry" by the Huffington Post. She is the author of The Life Plan, Talismans, and Into this World. She teaches at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga and is on faculty at the City University of Hong Kong's MFA program and the Yale Writers’ Conference. Recently she was a Visiting Writer at the American Writers Festival in Singapore, where she was awarded the National Critics Choice Best New Cross Cultural Literary Fiction and Poetry Writer of the Year. A recipient of Chattanooga's MakeWork Grant, she is Fiction Editor at Drunken Boat.
Where Sybil Baker Writes
Since my twenties, I’ve found it hard to stay put. I find that after a few months or years, I have the urge to move, whether is to a new apartment down the street or across the world. In 2007, I finally settled into a space, when I moved from Seoul to Chattanooga, and with my husband, bought a home.
Yet, it seems that I’ve transferred my peripatetic inclinations to my writing space, or rather lack of one. For a long time I used our kitchen table or couch, unable to commit to a specific writing space. Now after a recent bought of decluttering, I find myself with new writing options, yet still unable to commit to just one space.
My sentimental favorite writing spot is wicker and oak desk, which has been on my mom’s side of the family for a few generations. This desk has history and a story behind it, and since it’s in our guest room, I can write here when I need to be free of all interruptions.
But for practical reasons, I mostly write at a desk that has more space but little sentimental value. In my new novel, one of my characters is an amateur photographer, and one of my projects for the novel is to learn about photography and take my own photographs. I recently received a MakeWork grant to learn and develop my own photography skills, with hopes that I can use the photos in some way with the published novel. My little family desk is too small for the equipment I need for viewing and editing photographs. When I want to write or edit using the large monitor but don’t mind a few distractions (my husband’s desk is in the same room and a window allows me to watch the comings and goings of our neighborhood cats), I write here.
Since this is my primary writing space, I’ve surrounded my area with original artwork. My favorite piece is a green painting with a white chair painted by the author William Gay. I bought the painting when I was at his home interviewing him in 2011. It was the last time I saw him, as he died about seven months later. Another smaller painting is by a local painter, and I bought it because the work reminds me of Clyfford Still, one of my favorite painters. The fabric piece was by a former student who is an artist and the photograph is of a nameless Korean island, taken by a friend who is now a journalist in Afghanistan. These paintings inspire me in different ways to develop and commit to my own work.
Finally, when I’m writing out my first draft, I usually write by hand. This allows me to avoid the ever-present distractions of the Internet, and I find the rhythm of writing by hand allows me to get deeper into the piece, without the temptation of editing. Two years ago we found this chaise longue at a consignment store near our house, and I fell in love with it immediately. The Japanese pattern on it reminds me of my years living and traveling in Asia, and there’s a romantic notion of writing on a chaise longue that connects me to writers from earlier generations.
Generally I can write with some noise or music, depending on where I am in the draft. I tend to be able to edit with music, but often prefer silence when producing first drafts. Sometimes I listen to music to put me in the mood of the character, and in the case of my new novel, local Americana music will feature in the novel and as a CD, so I’ll be listening to more of that in the months to come.
I know that many writers have one desk or spot they return to again and again, but I find that I like options and choice, depending on my writing needs and mood. When in a pinch though I can write just about anywhere, coffee shops, hotel rooms, or libraries—any space that allows me the ability to leave the physical world and enter that of the imagination.
Check back next week. We've got Denis Mahoney showing off his writing space.