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Rhetoric, Process, and Materials – Part 4

Having discussed and played with some concrete materials, we then moved on to a broader view of materials, in the form of Ergonomics and The Writing Space.


It is alarmingly easy to injure yourself, when you sit in one attitude for long periods as you do when writing (especially on a computer). Those who write on laptops are at increased risk, depending on how they position the laptop. I know this from personal, painful, experience, and will never take ergonomics for granted again.

We were given an ergonomics assignment for homework. Take a photo (or have someone take a photo) or make a drawing of yourself in your writing space, and complete the ergonomics checklist we were given. I felt pretty confident in my own space – it’s a proper desk with keyboard tray, etc., after all – but doing this made me aware of some deficiencies. This photo – and the discussion in class – shows that I need a wider keyboard tray so I can have my mouse/trackpad beside my keyboard rather than above/behind. I also need to adjust my chair height, to improve the angle of my wrists. And I could do with a lumbar roll.

The sharp-eyed reader will note the bottle of Writer’s Tears Irish Whiskey atop the desk hutch, along with my Shakespeare and Jane Austen action figures. Who says writing has to be lonely?

Physical writing space

Many of my classmates have less-than-ideal writing spaces: one woman sits on a lawn chair at a child’s desk, several others have temporary setups because they’re in the process of moving, renovating, or similar. Some people have no designated writing space at home, but go to coffee shops to write and find the change of venue an important step in entering the writing process. One woman writes by hand in her bedroom when she can, and goes to her neighbour’s house one day a week (when the neighbour is at work) and works in that quiet, clean space, in exchange for the occasional cooked meal for the neighbour and her school-age son. Some people have a designated space at home, but aren’t using it for writing in, for one reason or other. And a couple of people didn’t have a designated space, and didn’t feel they deserved one.

Overall realizations, from various groups and the class as a whole:

  • You deserve a writing space. (Of course you do!)
  • Your writing space should be important to you, and you should treat seriously, so that other people treat it seriously
  • You must have a good chair
  • Invest in the space (not necessarily only financially)

One woman’s drawing of her writing space included a ‘writing wall’ – a blank wall on which she posts helpful info – and a ‘pacing space’ in front of it, that allows her to think and invent while standing up. I love this idea and am planning to reconfigure my desk to give myself a writing wall and a small pacing space. Pics when that happens!

Temporal writing space

We talked about dedicated writing time as well, and the answers were as varied as the writers. Some had scheduled time and fiercely protected it, some stole snatches wherever they could, some gave it lowest priority of all their occupations and activities. When we talked about disconnecting from the world – phone, internet, conversation, family – to focus on writing, one woman said “Oh, I couldn’t turn off my phone; a client might call me”. Which reminded me of this quote from JK Rowling, which I’d read just the day before, about protecting writing time.

I am not as protective of writing time as I should be, all the time, and I know my writing suffers for it. Right now I have a husband who’s been on crutches for six weeks and will be on them for another six weeks, and his enforced immobility is a bit of a constraint on the absolute freedom I expected to start this year with. At the moment I write when ‘patient care’ and the essential domestic things are done, so that stuff isn’t hanging over me. It’ll be interesting to see if him going back to work – including traveling during the week – will be of help to me in that regard.

Space about writing

Not all writers keep a writing log, but there are good and useful reasons for keeping one, even in the short term. You can see patterns emerge that you may have been unaware of before, for instance, and this can help you identify what helps you write and what doesn’t, and help refine your writing process. We were asked to keep a writing log for the two weeks between our two sessions with Betsy, a daily log in which we answered the following questions:

  • where did you write most often
  • how did you get to the point of writing
  • what enables you to write
  • what distracts you from writing
  • how long did you write
  • why did you stop

Many of my classmates resisted logging, feeling that logging would be onerous and/or intrusive and/or an impediment to creativity. I’ve been able to do it before, and it was never a big deal, so I embraced the idea. I didn’t start until a couple of days later, when the departure of a houseguest allowed me to dedicate some time to the task. Well, to faffing about with materials for the task, anyway.

Logging my writing

I had some blank Day-Timer loose-leaf printer paper left from about 2000 – and the now-obsolete Day-Timer binder that the paper fitted into – that would be perfect for freeform logging. So I fiddled about for an hour or so, trying to print the list of questions on that paper, and failed utterly. (Stupid computers!) Eventually gave up on that pointless activity (style before substance!), and just wrote the day’s entry by hand. In doing so, I discovered that the tab that closes the binder cover gets in the way of writing right-handed (how did I never notice this when I was using the Day-Timer?), so I faffed around some more and found a different binder for my special paper.

I used that system for all of three days, before I wearied of writing by hand on unlined paper, especially on left pages, when my hand bumped into the binder rings before the end of a line. So I switched to using DayOne, which I already had on all my computers and mobile devices. And I used that system until the second class with Betsy.

We were all asked to hand our logs forward for review, and I was the only one who had hers electronically; everyone else who brought one to class (only about half of us) brought a concrete form of log – spreadsheet, notebook, dated journal, etc. There was discussion about the reaction to logging, and it was split about down the middle: some enjoyed it and found it useful and planned to continue, and some hated it, found it intrusive or onerous.

I decided to try concrete logging again, and a visit to the SFU bookstore in the mall below the school yielded a Moleskine Daily Planner in magenta, for 75% off! $7.50 down from $29.50! Sweet score. (I might go back on Saturday and see about getting another, to use for next year, because the days of the week are immaterial in this format; there’s the date at the top of the page, and blank lines, and that’s it.) I’ve put stickers on the front and back covers (Nanowrimo and Olympics), and may add others as the year goes on, just because it’s fun and informal, as the log is meant to be.

I bought a pen specifically for the writing log, too. Because apparently I’m a little precious about these things. And you can never have too many good pens. I used it for several days and then decided that it’s too visible on the reverse of the page, so now I’ve switched to plain old pencil for logging with. (This idea borrowed from Betsy, who writes in pencil all the time.) One of these days I’ll hit on the thing that works. So far, this works. 🙂

What does your writing space look like? How would you change it? Do you keep a writing log? What do you use for that?

This Post Has 4 Comments

  1. Wendy
    I am starting RPM with TWS 2015 tomorrow. Like you I had no real idea what it was going to be about. I am happy that I stumbled upon your blog and got a headstart. ????

    1. Oh Val, I hope this is the most amazing year for you. I stopped blogging about the classes after this series, I think, because there was too much other writing to do, but if these few posts help you out, I’m delighted.

      Which cohort are you in? I was in Spec Fic with Hiromi Goto.

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