This edition of WHERE I WRITE is from Carol Masciola, author of the Young Adult novel THE YEARBOOK published by Merit Press “I write just about anywhere, on notebooks of the lowest possible quality, with cheap pens. I find that pens discovered on the sidewalk or stolen from the bank write the best stories. If conditions are too perfect, it makes me feel like I have to write something perfect, and for me, nothing is as debilitating as striving for perfection. It took me a while to figure this out. When I first set out to write fiction some number of years ago, I set up a picture-perfect writing studio. It had a new computer, the right chair and a wide, pretty rosewood desk with three drawers. I was living in Bogota, Colombia, then, and my writing room had an inspiring Andean view. There were green hills and moody, rain-splashed bricks. But the room was no good. I didn’t understand what was wrong with it, or with me. I just sat there frozen and tortured and would either slide off my ergonomic chair and fall asleep on the carpet or end up down in the living room watching reruns of The Nanny in Spanish. I reacted to these failures by imposing greater self-discipline in the form of a strict schedule; I had to spend X number of hours each morning in that fantastic Andean chamber, creating. I couldn’t see that it was all hopeless folly—that my paralysis would continue as long as the quality of my writing could not hope to live up to the quality of my workspace. In the wake of this experience, after we had packed up and left Colombia, I found myself thinking a lot about my twelve years as a newspaper reporter. I had written hundreds of articles in imperfect conditions, in newsrooms full of the most outrageous loudmouths, on tight deadlines. Once I worked in a satellite office of a big newspaper in California, and when they remodeled our building, they put the floor in slanted by mistake. I had to hold onto my desk while I was writing to keep from rolling away. And yet I finished every single thing I ever started. How had I done all that? I didn’t know.
And then I had two kids. By then we were in a tiny apartment in London. I no longer had time, or a workspace, or a clean shirt on, but miraculously, I was writing again. I would steal ten minutes here or thirty minutes there, at my now-squalid kitchen counter, or sitting in bed, or wherever I happened to be, writing on miscellaneous available surfaces. My infant son ripped the “T” key off my computer keyboard, so I had to press very hard on the space where the “T” had been every time I needed a “T”. I gave myself a blister, but I finished my first screenplay, Baghdad Bureau. I felt very proud of myself and bought a new “T” to celebrate. I went on to write two novellas, a children’s book, five more screenplays and my novel The Yearbook in that haphazard way, just grabbing at those small moments in imperfect rooms and remembering not to make writing too sacred. I know this wouldn’t work for everyone, but that’s what I do.” — Carol Masciola