A happy event at Ohio State last week got me thinking about the importance—and wide variety—of writing spaces. I was in Columbus for a meeting of the English Department’s Alumni Advisory Committee (I got my Ph.D. at OSU in 1977) and to my surprise and delight, the meeting concluded with the official opening of a newly renovated graduate student lounge, to which I had contributed. Here are some photos of the new space:
Pretty nice digs—and certainly a far cry from the space graduate students lay claim to in the 70s. As I talked with the graduate students gathered there, they spoke of the significance of this space, a “room of their own” for a quiet coffee and chat, a small group meeting—or for writing. One student said her shared office was always full of students and teachers conferring and thus fairly hectic: “it’s impossible to think straight in there,” she said. But this fairly quiet new space, with its large windows, good light, and welcome atmosphere, felt like a place she would enjoy writing and reading and thinking, as well as enjoying the company of her fellow students.
This discussion reminded me of how many young people today have few if any comfortable or welcoming writing spaces available. When students are living at home, in both high school and college, such spaces are scarce. In Bronwyn LaMay’s terrific ethnographic study Personal Narrative, Revised: Writing Love and Agency in the High School Classroom, she describes in detail the living conditions of some of her students and they are not conducive to writing, to say the very least.
College students often tell me that they prefer to write in a space with lots of other things going on—music, multiple windows open on their devices, other people, all multitasking. But I have no evidence to suggest that such writing spaces are productive and a lot of evidence (especially about noise and multitasking) that they are anything but. Of course, I’ve taught and written long enough to know that one person’s productive writing space is another person’s site of writing block. So, I’m cautious when talking to students about where they do their best writing, since the answers inevitably vary widely. But one response they have in common is that the space needs to feel like theirs, a place that is all for and about them. Once they discover such a space, they tend to stick with it.
So last week, as I helped inaugurate the new space at Ohio State, I was wishing for safe, welcoming, productive spaces for all writers. And I think it is well worth talking with our students about what constitutes such a space—and helping them make a plan to claim such a space for themselves.
Image Credit: Andrea Lunsford