Writers Searching for a Sense of Place

12/16/2010 12:19 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011


The Marmaduke Forster House

It's always hard to find the right place to write. I find myself moving from upstairs to downstairs, from my messy office desk to a soft couch with a pillow, looking for a spot that's not too hot, not too cold, not too light and not too dark. You might think I was Goldilocks. I'm a writer.

If you live in northern Westchester as I do, above the I-287 line, a place called Upstate by New York City denizens, one would think you're in a geographically desirable location to write. Don't many writers hole up in cabins in the woods? Up here, in the land of insulated, triple-paned windows, there's no street noise from blaring fire engines or ambulance sirens, no neighbors knocking on the door, and no kids running in the hallways.

But also there are no places to commiserate with other struggling writers. (And believe me, all writers--even successful ones--struggle to find the next sentence or the next story, if not the next word.)

I have a fantasy that it might be easier to write if there were other writers around me putting their noses to the grindstone, too. Instead, I'm surrounded by a refrigerator that beckons me, and closets and drawers that cry out to be organized. The dishwasher really should be emptied and I have to go through that stack of newspapers before garbage collection day.

I read a wonderful piece by David Sax in the New York Times a couple of weeks ago about a land he called, Laptopistan, actually a café in Brooklyn that represents a "buzzing, productive society" for writers who want to "not be alone." Admittedly, a lot of us are introverts so we cringe at doing lunch or engaging in chitchat but it sure is nice to have companionship with a living being (as opposed to our virtual friends on the internet.) We have a local Starbucks in my town and I thought about going there, but the tables are generally filled with children from the middle school or parent subcommittees from the PTA.

Finding a place to write is psychological as well physical. It's looking for a space where you get so caught up in your story that you stop self-editing and keep keyboarding until you fill a blank page. It's entering a mental zone where you cease feeling compelled to check your Amazon ranking, look at your website's Google analytics, lurk or post on writers' forums, Tweet and see who re-Tweeted you, Google yourself, check weather alerts, read other's writer's blogs, or compulsively purge old messages from the thousands that are beginning to slow down your computer each time your download a new one.

Then I read an article in my local newspaper about The Marmaduke Writing Factory, a new cooperative of writers who have banded together to combat the isolation that plagues writers who, in an age of technology, no longer need to do research in libraries, or even go to the post office to buy stamps or send out queries. The group writes and meets in a restored Victorian style house, the Marmaduke Forster House in Pleasantville (yes, that's really the name of the town) which was saved from near-demolition. Nancy Rosanoff, a long-time town resident and accomplished author and townie Ben Cheever championed the idea for the venture and relied on fellow author Warren Berger to help recruit other writers.

Last evening, I attended the group's first public event, which felt like a quasi-housewarming. It featured wine, cheese, and readings by two author members (there are currently 11 in total): Kate Buford, who has written a new biography of Olympic athlete Jim Thorpe, Native American Son: The Life and Sporting Legend of Jim Thorpe and Bob Sullivan, who read from his recently reissued Christmas classic Flight of the Reindeer: The True Story of Santa Claus and His Christmas Mission. Coincidentally, I met a member there whom I had only known previously online. When Gary Sledge was an editor at Reader's Digest, he had sent me rejections that were so kind that I didn't mind receiving them.

Perhaps I've found a place.




Bob Sullivan


Guests at the Housewarming