We shape our dwellings, and afterwards our dwellings shape us.
When the realtor took me into the house almost two decades ago, I knew it was meant to be a home for our family. It was a tiny place on a pretty lake (the only house we’d be able to afford on water). I instantly imagined our daughter in the small bedroom upstairs, and my husband turning the back storage area into a workshop.
But what sold me was the walk downstairs, to the office where I knew I would write. There was a wall of built-in white bookshelves, just waiting for my library. There was a big space for a desk to look out over the lake. And there two phone lines, back in the day when landlines for both home and personal phones were prized. So we bought that place and I set up that space with all my books, knickknacks, and a wide wooden table for the computer and my notebooks and journals.
Here’s the thing. I never write in that office. At first, I made excuses for my lack of writing in the office, or berated myself for being lazy. But over time, I kept writing in spite of the unused space. I realized the office was so perfect for work that it was intimidating. Within a few years I started using it for video editing, and the corner is overrun now with hard drives and other media. I usually write on the couch upstairs — it’s soft, slouchy, and somehow inspires me. Or I scramble and write in the small notebooks I scatter everywhere — in the car, on my nightstand, in the TV room.
The right space for writing or any kind of professional work at home is the space you will use. Maybe you procrastinate when you want to be working at home because some part of you rejects the perfect office or desk you’ve created. I was surprised to learn my favorite nature writer, Annie Dillard, writes in a bare office, with nothing on the walls, purposely ensuring she has no view out a window. She explains her reasoning in The Writing Life:
Appealing workplaces are to be avoided. One wants a room with no view, so imagination can meet memory in the dark. When I furnished this study seven years ago, I pushed the long desk against a blank wall, so I could not see from either window. Once, 15 years ago, I wrote in a cinder-block cell over a parking lot.
I was astonished to imagine the writer of the lush description of nature in Holy the Firm and Pilgrim at Tinker Creek crafting these narratives with no view at all, except for a bare cinder-block wall. And yet, there it is: imagination meeting memory in the dark. If that isn’t the perfect description of inspiration, I don’t know what is.
So look around. It’s not you that’s the problem with getting work done at home. It’s that lovely space you’ve created for it. Close the office door and move to the kitchen table. Take the pictures off the wall you face when you work. Empty the space, lower your standards, make it less perfect. It may well open your mind.
This week we look at preparations for winter break. Plus more as always — enjoy!
Founder, Choice Literacy
Free for All
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Franki Sibberson finds the days before holiday break are the perfect time for talking through with students how to make pleasure reading choices. Her feature includes a template to help students organize and think through their preferences:
December is a crazy month in classrooms, with missed days, special events, and an abbreviated schedule. Middle school teachers Megan Ginther and Holly Mueller highlight winter in short texts as a way to bring some focus to their classrooms:
Dana Murphy shares tips to foster more winter break writing from students:
Consider a winter break reading challenge to keep students interested in books over the holidays:
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Tara Barnett and Kate Mills explain how they avoid a holiday reading slump with students through “break baggies” that include plans developed in the classroom and books selected with peer and teacher input:
By early December, workshops should be humming with hardworking students. If they aren’t, teachers may want to do a productivity analysis before sending students off for holiday break. Melanie Meehan shares how everything from transitions to clutter can provide clues for how to increase student output and enjoyment:
Mary Lee Hahn finds some of her fifth-grade readers are stuck in ruts by early December. Her solution involves some radical changes to her classroom library before winter break:
Building “next-read” stacks with students before holidays is a great way to ensure they have books in hand that they will be excited to read over break. In this week’s video, Katherine Sokolowski helps Taryn finds books that are similar to those written by Rick Riordan (Taryn’s favorite author):
Looking to build a girl’s confidence? Put a book with a strong female character in her hands. In an encore video, Franki Sibberson shares a range of books that include compelling female characters with a group of fourth-grade girls:
That’s all for this week!