From the Notebooks of Susan Holloway Scott

The Writer's Life, aka The View from the IceWorks Parking Lot

Monday, June 12, 2006
Most writers have offices. Beautiful, luxurious offices, with a splendid view from the keyboard, an ergonomically comfy chair, and an antique desk, surrounded by custom bookcases. Or functional but private offices, tucked away in a corner of the basement or attic. Perhaps even a space rented in an office building, with a lawyer on one side and a dentist on the other, or the creme-de-la-creme of an oak-paneled retreat overlooking the sea.

And what special place, pray, does my laptop like to call home? The Pepsi-spotted driver’s seat of my ’97 Camry station wagon.

My writing career and my daughter are both sixteen years old. In that time, I’ve been published both as Susan Holloway Scott and as Miranda Jarrett, but like many other women writers, my other pseudonym has fewer syllables, but a lot more responsibilities: Mom. Along with the usual nurturing maternal skills like baking cookies, fixing broken zippers, and finding a place that sells poster board for a social studies project at 10:30 p.m. the night before it’s due, Mom is most often The Driver.

In addition to all the usual suburban kid stuff, my son and daughter both play ice hockey. (My daughter began as a competitive figure skater, seduced by the lure of gold medals and sparkly dresses, but when she grew too tall to maneuver triple-jumps, she, too, crossed over to the dark side of hockey.) Like most kid sports these days, ice hockey is a year-round activity, with practices, games, tournaments, try-outs, clinics, and camps, and like most good hockey moms, I’m the one who gets them to the ice rink. Hour after hour, season after season, year after year, I’m there. Which is why I’ve come to appreciate my car as my office, the one place where Mom and Writer can peacefully morph into one hyper-productive super-being.

First of all, there are no distractions. Ice rinks are generally built in places where land is cheap and scenic vistas are rare. Sitting in a rink lot, I’ll never be distracted by anything more than a nearby U-Store-It or aluminum siding warehouse. Children are temporarily their coaches’ problems, not mine. Cell phone reception is usually lousy, so no one calls me, or I them. I can’t get sidetracked by compulsively checking one more research book. Best of all, there’s no internet in my car, no e-mail begging to be read or web sites to be checked. There’s only me, my keyboard, my characters, and my story.

Sometimes this change of location will unlock a tough plot problem. I know the common wisdom is to have one constant place for work, so your feeble mind can be trained to accept that when you’re in your designated workplace, you have to buckle down. But for me moving my laptop to different places keeps my writing fresh; it’s only when I’m stuck in one room for a long period of time (and without a cupholder, too) that I find myself abandoned by inspiration.

And sometimes, too, it’s not just the location that needs to change, but the process. A switch from the laptop to handwriting on a pad can be enough of a jolt that the words miraculously return to my story, just where I want them, the little devils.

In my parking lot office, deadlines are hard and fast. Hockey practices are always the same length of time, and I know exactly when my writing-time is going to end. I set myself a goal of finishing a certain scene, or writing so many words, and realizing that I only have ninety minutes to finish tricks me into being more productive.

When I’m stuck on a bit of dialogue, I like to try speaking it out loud. Somehow hearing the words makes it easier to fix what’s wrong. Talking to myself in the car is a bit weird, true, but with no one else to hear me, who’s to know?

And perhaps most useful of all, is the chance to do . . . nothing. Especially when a book is due and my editor’s sending me cheerfully expectant e-mails, it’s easy to push and push and push to get the end, no matter what it takes. Sometimes what it takes is simply to take a break. I can’t exactly stop to smell the flowers (not in a car perpetually blighted by eau du hockey-bag), but I can put the seat back and stare up at the clouds or the stars, and give myself full permission to think about absolutely nothing at all.

Ahh, the glories of home-ice advantage!



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