Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Where Writers Write: Courtney McDermott

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 Courtney McDermott. 

Courtney's first collection of short stories, How They Spend Their Sundays, will be published by Whitepoint Press in September 2013. Her short stories and essays have appeared in Berkeley Fiction Review, Daily Palette, Found Press, Italy from a Backpack, A Little Village Magazine, The Lyon Review, Raving Dove, Sliver of Stone, Third Wednesday, Nassau Review, and Emerge. She also writes book reviews for and Late Night Library. She earned her MFA in creative writing from the University of Notre Dame. A Returned Peace Corps Volunteer in the country of Lesotho, Courtney now teaches English is Massachusetts. Occasionally, she updates her blog on writing and teaching at:

Where Courtney McDermott Writes

It is a converted pantry. Right off of the kitchen of the apartment. The smells of baking cobbler and coffee permeate the air, because—for the last year—I have lived without an oven, and since I love to bake, this drove me mad.

This room is my designated writing space, the “official” space, for there are many others, but this is where I keep my notebooks, store my ideas, organize my files. This is also my pantry, because I live with three other professionals in the 17th densest place in America, and my dishes and cereals have to go somewhere.

The one window captures sunlight and rain showers, and let’s me breathe when ideas suffocate me. It looks out onto the side of the neighboring house, so not interesting enough to distract me, yet there is a visible corner of sky that is blue and bright, and gives me enough to daydream. It is a temporary place, because all places where I have written and where I someday will write are temporary. But for now, it is as permanent a place as it can be. 

This is the place where I store my things, my books (not even close to most of them, but the ones I teach, the ones I could fit in my trunk of my car when I moved to Boston). I have color-coded them, because this way they are art of a different sort. And I am a visual person, so I remember my books best by their covers.

I mostly edit here, because I write longhand. So it is better to say that I type here rather than write. I write in comfy chairs (never the bed, or I’ll crash to sleep), and in coffee shops.

I collect my favorites in each city I move to. A new one every day, scoping out the ones with the best lighting—LOTS of natural light—the most solid table, and upright chair, and just the right amount of background noise. I prefer big tables, where I can spread out. I have collected coffee shops called Insomniac and Biscuit and Main Street; Danish Pastry House and Java House; Reid’s Beans and T.Spoons.

My desk is my anchor. Here I gaze at the diploma awarded for my MFA from the University of Notre Dame, my dream school as a child. There is the photo album of my time spent in the African country of Lesotho. There is a jar of pens, mostly blue, mostly cheap, because I stash them in purses and pockets and lend them out generously. There is the latest copy of Poets&Writers, my personal computer, my work computer, the books I’m reading for class, for reviews, for personal betterment.

The easiest gift to give me is a notebook, and so I have accumulated dozens of notebooks—with thick, fancy paper, roughly edged, or thin, cheap paper that you can only properly write on one side. Notebooks that sprawl open, notebooks that tuck into the pockets of my purse, because I carry one with me everywhere. Each notebook contains certain stories and fragments, and I remember where each is stored. Just as I know my book collection by their covers, so too do I know my writing ideas by the visual impact of the place I’ve written them down. My novel-in-progress written in the big grey notebook given to me by my former therapist, a love story written in the thin journal purchased at a music festival by my boyfriend before the time he’d let me call him my boyfriend. There is a book for prose poems about inventions and phobias, a book for essays on elegance and dating, a book for this piece I’ve just finished.

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