Five years ago, my husband and I moved into a 320-square-foot cottage that he created from a rundown 1944-vintage garage on the back of our property. We rent our so-called “Big House” to University of Washington sabbatical families, the rental income helping us fund our artist life-styles.
We designed the cottage with two small private work spaces, mine entered from the main room and my husband’s, from outside. I call my writer’s space “The Cockpit” — it is no more than a large closet, but it has a window and some bookshelves and space for two filing cabinets and a door to close for privacy. I work on an old desk-top computer that is not connected to the internet. I have resisted using a laptop because I am so easily distracted by the siren call of Facebook, Gmail, and The New York Times.
Over the past forty-some years I have done my writing in a wide variety of spaces. While living in Japan, I had a room of two tatami mats with a sliding fusuma door; I sat at a rickety Formica table on a rickety chair and typed my manuscripts on my rickety Olivetti portable typewriter. When I first moved to Seattle and rented a small apartment on the second floor of an old house, I set up shop in a large walk-in closet with a window and arranged my desk so that I looked out at a scraggly monkey puzzle tree.
While raising our two sons in the small house we bought in Northeast Seattle, I worked in the extra basement bedroom until the eldest son claimed it for his teenager lair. I was exiled to a dingy corner of the unfinished part of the basement, but later I had the luxury of a first-floor bedroom when the firstborn went off to college and our younger son took over his brother’s downstairs room.
During the years when I was a mom and also working a demanding outside job, I didn’t have much time for my writing projects, but fortunately I did have these various spaces with a door to close. Sometimes I got up early in the morning and wrote a few pages before the family stirred and I had to leave for work; sometimes I’d use weekend afternoons for settling into more drafting or revising.
My writing space in the cottage is as tiny as my time for writing is large (although I am not always as productive as I imagined I’d be, once I was free of mom duties and a day job!). When I am in deep revision phase on a manuscript, I will arrange with my husband to commandeer the main room (220 square feet!) of the cottage for an afternoon, so I can spread out and sort through my many paper drafts.
I suppose I wouldn’t turn down a larger work space if for some magical reason it appeared in our cottage, but for now The Cockpit, with its door to close, feels just right.