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After years of writing at the kitchen table, at the library or sitting up in bed, I finally landed my own creative space. The kids were grown and my husband suggested a five foot-five-inch by 10 -foot enclosed back porch (heated) on the second floor of our home. Previously, it served as a closet and catchall for an odd assortment racks and boxes.
With a little paint, some new curtains, a desk and a desk lamp, my “Way Back” room has become my writing haven. Having a dedicated space to do my writing has made a bigger difference in my creative productivity than I even imagined.
I’ll only write by hand if I’m away from my desk. I use a lined journal with a quilted cover specially made by my sister Sharon. When the journal is full, I slip off the cover and replace it with another lined spiral-bound journal. The spiral-bound format lets me pull out pages if I want to without ruining the whole journal. Pen of choice is the Pilot G-2 fine or medium point with blue ink. If I am home, or bring my laptop to a writer’s retreat, for example, I consistently write directly into a Word document.
I can write in the morning, the afternoon or the evening. I don’t work late into the night, but am known to get up before sunrise. It doesn’t really matter what time it is. What counts are all the other things I may have planned for a particular day or evening. It’s great to get a whole day cleared away to dedicate to my writing, but I inevitably find I can write for about four hours straight and that’s it. Then I need to do something else.
How long have I been writing? Yikes. Let’s just say I’ve been writing for decades—poetry, advertising copy, radio and TV commercials, plays, nonfiction, short fiction, business articles. I started writing poetry in high school around age 16 or so, but didn’t start doing anything with it or getting serious about writing until after college, a place where I did not major in English.
I slowly became part of the Chicago poetry scene and met like-minded poets at the open mic readings around town. We helped and encouraged one another. We still do. I’ve made many friendships with fellow writers that have lasted a lifetime. I don’t think I’d still be writing today if I hadn’t been encouraged early on. Writing can be a lonely path, so we need others to make the writer’s life more rich and human.
It’s a proven fact that the biggest audience for poetry is other poets. So maybe I write poetry for other poets, or that fine breed of people who may not write poetry but avidly read it. I think the two plays I’m working on now will appeal to women of various ages, since they have strong women characters.
For me, the best part of the creative process is the process itself. The writing and rewriting, the excitement and adrenaline I get in the midst of a writing project I really love, the way a piece may evolve into something better than I expected when I first started. Not knowing how or where a piece of writing will take me and then being surprised where it does makes the effort of writing worthwhile.
I do enjoy pursuits beyond writing. I’ve taken yoga classes for years. My recent poem in The Magnolia Review titled “Yoga Teacher Stokes the Sauna,” was based on an experience that took place soon before I decided to become a certified yoga teacher myself. I’ve been teaching yoga part-time now for nearly three years. The mindfulness of yoga is similar to the mindset needed when you sit down to write. I also make beaded mala necklaces and other beaded jewelry, dabble in drawing and painting, and tend an urban organic vegetable garden in my backyard.
My advice to writers (and I go over this and more in my recent nonfiction memoir/reference/guide Frugal Poets’ Guide to Life: How to Live a Poetic Life, Even If You Aren’t a Poet) includes what a more established writer told me when I was first started out—and that is—Don’t Give Up. The world is full of quitters, she said. If you keep writing and don’t quit, you will be successful, she added. She was right. I never quit (though I have stalled out occasionally over the years) and I now consider myself a success as a writer. I may not be rich or on the bestseller list, but I am proud of my writing and know that others enjoy my work, too.
Check out Cynthia’s work in Volume 4, Issue 1
Cynthia Gallaher, a Chicago-based poet and playwright, is author of three poetry collections and two chapbooks. Most recently, she made a 10-city book tour with her nonfiction guide & memoir Frugal Poets’ Guide to Life: How to Live a Poetic Life, Even If You Aren’t a Poet, which won a National Indie Excellence Award. The Chicago Public Library lists her among its “Top Ten Requested Chicago Poets.” Follow her on Twitter at @swimmerpoet and on her Facebook page at @frugalpoets.