I believe I am a strange writer for I work at my kitchen table surrounded by sensory catalysts.
Seated in the center of my kitchen, my eyes catch the enticing red of apples, the bright yellow of bananas, the rich green of broccoli and deep purple of cabbage. My nose is tickled by the minestrone soup simmering on the stove. Chai cools in a tea cup while my fingers enjoy the feel of the keys on my computer.
I’ve tried other locations, a coffee shop, the library, a quiet corner of the house. My husband even bought a perfect writer’s table which he placed by a window with a lovely view. Nothing worked. The words in my head seem to dry up unless I am in my kitchen.
So I always end up at my favorite worn table, encircled by food, where I type out the ideas that have been percolating in my mind.
I’ve heard the general wisdom that writers should find a quiet place, set up an office and then free of distractions, allow the ideas to spill forth. Somehow, that doesn’t quite work for me.
I find that my ideas come at the oddest moments, sometimes while I’m seasoning a pasta salad, sometimes in the middle of cutting up a fruit salad, and very often, as I am eating. Something about titillating my taste buds awakens my brain. My concepts get nudged along by smells and tastes. And that’s the ideas part. What about translating those notions into words?
For me, it’s imperative to have easy access to my computer; it allows the ideas to grow into words on the screen before the thought disappears. The thoughts begin as nebulous notions, but the sensory stimulation in the kitchen allows the abstractions to find form, depth and dimension.
So, yes, I am a strange writer. I’ve often wondered why I’m not as disciplined as I believe other writers are, why I work so differently. Thus, I embarked on some research.
Lo and behold, I find some famous writers who have used quirky writing places.
Wallace Stevens apparently could not sit down, and wrote his poetry on slips of paper while walking. His secretary would later type them up.
Here’s another strange source of stimulation. Friedrich Schiller had a bizarre preference; he found the smell of rotten apples from a drawer in his desk inspiring.
The renowned bestselling author Dan Brown believes hanging upside down is the cure for writer’s block. According to Brown, when he does inversion therapy, it helps him relax and concentrate on his writing.
Victor Hugo wrote without clothes. Faced with a tight schedule for his novel, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, he instructed his valet to take away all his clothes so he wouldn’t be able to leave the house. Even on the coldest days, Hugo only wrapped himself in a blanket while writing the story.
Gertrude Stein found that the driver’s seat of her Model T Ford was a perfect place to write. She found shopping expeditions particularly productive. While her partner, Alice B. Toklas, ran errands, Stein would stay in their parked car and write.
Of course, I am not in the same league as these famous authors. But they offer me both courage and confidence. They tell me it is okay to write where and how I feel comfortable, in a location where my ideas find the best incubation, where my thoughts become words and take the shape and form of a story.
They tell me I am not strange for wanting to write in a kitchen filled with sensory stimulation.
13 thoughts on “Stories from the Kitchen”
Thanks for sharing this.
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Enjoying your blog Sudha.
I’m also totally unprofessional when writing. The advantage of a laptop is that you can take it with you anywhere! So, I write anywhere and everywhere. Like you, I’m often in the kitchen, and standing like Stevens. I just have to make sure I don’t get so lost in my words that I burn our dinner!
Oh no! Don’t burn your dinner. But seriously, there’s something about writing in the kitchen, is there not?
You are not strange, though several of the famed writers had weird writing habits…not that I’m judging. No way, never, no how. Besides they were traditionally published!
I think you’re brilliant to eat among the sensory stimulants, er, food. However, if I didn’t at least have to walk to the kitchen from my writing desk for a snack…I might get no exercise at all (insert wink emoji here)
Thanks for saying I’m not strange! And as for walking to the kitchen for a snack, I’ve eliminated that possibility by sitting right there — haha!
Coffee shops work for me, or diners. Really any place where there’s background noise, and I can get coffee and snacks is good for me.
I am a firm believer in whatever works for you and gets words on the page, that’s all that matters. You are not weird at all. 🙂
Thanks for sharing your preference of writing places. Glad a coffee shop works for you! We do have one thing in common — a kitchen and a coffee shop are both places where food is available!!
Love this piece, Sudha! It took me a long time to embrace my own writing habits that were different from the norm. And how lovely that you are inspired to write amidst sensory delights!
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Thanks, Jan. We should all learn to embrace our differences!
Actually, the way you explain why you write at your kitchen table amidst preparing food makes complete sense. For myself, I have to have a block of time where I can concentrate completely without that kind of stimuli. I can’t write for more than an hour (and usually not more than one or two sessions a day), so what time I do write is precious to me and I just have to have concentration. But I do get inspired by writing in a cafe, as long as it’s not too crowded.
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Thanks for your comments, Tam! I love that you can completely concentrate without stimuli. Good luck with your writing!