A Room with a View

by Memoir Mentor on June 27, 2009

I love the Merchant-Ivory film A Room with a View, which begins in the Pension Bertolini in Florence, Italy, where the characters played by Helena Bonham Carter and Maggie Smith have gone to escape dreary old England. They find upon arriving that, alas, their hotel room has no view. You have to have a room with a view, they say. It’s the only way you can deeply experience Florence.

The View from My Balcony

The View from My Balcony

I have thought about this movie in the last few days because I am writing from Tremezzo, Italy, where my husband and I and our friends have a room with a glorious, postcard-perfect view of Lake Como, surely one of God’s grandest creations. My trip is more rich and satisfying because of our view. It truly is.

I rose early this morning and sat on our balcony and watched the sun rise from behind the Alps, illuminating the lake and revealing patches of mist that hovered over the water like wispy low clouds. What a way to start the day. When a writer friend of mine heard I was coming to this area, she told me about the time she and her husband spent six months on a research-writing sabbatical in Bellagio, which is just across the lake from Tremezzo. When I visited that charming town yesterday, I wondered how anyone could settle down to write with all that sense stimulation. 

Finding the right place to write can be difficult. Nearly every author interview includes questions about the person’s writing habits: “Where do you write, and how do you transition from daily living to the world of your writing?”  On my flight to Italy, I read an article about Tobias Wolff that was written after last year’s publication of his short story collection Our Story Begins. Wolff is asked the ubiquitous questions, of course, and he explains that he holes up in the basement of Stanford Library when he writes, in a room without windows, pictures, telephone, or Internet—just a single overhead fluorescent light. He says, when he goes there, “I’m pulling the covers up over my head.”
Maya Angelou does the same thing, only she goes to a hotel room and removes the pictures from the wall so she won’t be distracted.  I heard that Erskine Caldwell, author of Tobacco Road, took night boats from Boston to New York and wrote on the boat. He speculated that the rhythm of the water helped his sentence structure.  John Grisham famously wrote his first book while commuting on the subway to his law office. Then there’s J.K. Rowling who wrote the beginnings of her Harry Potter series in an Edinburgh coffee shop.
A Street in Bellagio

A Street in Bellagio

My husband and I began writing the first draft of Breathe Life into Your Life Story on a two-week “writing vacation” in Park City, Utah. The time away from the distractions of home helped us focus on our project and gave us a good start. Later, to give the project a boost in a particularly frustrating time in my life, I rented a small cabin in the Big Bear mountains for $35 a day from a friend of a friend. I got so much accomplished off on my own, I felt it was money well spent.

We have an adorable little dog, a Shih-Tzu named Emma, who has developed the habit of sleeping on our bed. (I know, we’re the ones at fault.) She often has difficulty settling down and wanders around our bed checking out this and that place before she finally circles around a spot that will be hers for the night. Writers often have a similar struggle settling down to do their business, needing to test various places before finding somewhere that suits their needs.

Where do you write most effectively? What tricks do you employ to transition to your writing projects?  Take a minute to share what works for you.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Nancy July 4, 2009 at 2:52 pm

This is tooooo lovely. I could sit there forever.
Just gorgeous. How can you get any writing
done with a view like that!

2 Memoir Mentor July 6, 2009 at 12:59 am

The fact is, I didn’t get any writing done, other than writing this blog post. I expect were I to spend six months in this area, as my friend did, I could get down to business after a week or so of lollygagging around.


3 Linda Missouri July 11, 2009 at 2:34 pm

July 11, 2009, Dawn, I just returned from the Orange County California Genealogy Society meeting where I saw others from your writing class. Nancy P. mentioned your blog from Italy so I went immediately to check it out. I usually keep a journal when I travel. When I process the activities/insights of the day, I’m better able to sleep. In Oregon I attended an all-day writing seminar (www.creativejourneys.net) where we wrote about specific topics. I’m expanding those 10-minute writing spurts now that I’m back home. When Marta S. invited me for Fourth of July dinner, I suggested we each write something to share. I wrote about my British friend Donald who died on his favorite American holiday, the 4th of July. Marta wrote about her father who also died on the 4th of July. If I hadn’t had that “deadline,” I wouldn’t have remembered Donald with the details that writing brings to the foreground.

4 Martha Franco July 19, 2009 at 7:15 pm

Welcome back! Vacation time goes so quickly!
Thanks for writing and for telling us about Lake Como, is so beautifull and tranquil place to be. I was there one year ago and I prompted to see my old photos from the Bellagio Hotel. Looking forward to see you next month.
Cordially yours, Martha

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