Set Your Story Free: Find Your Temple

When I wrote my memoir, I lived in a brownstone condo in a part of St. Paul known as Cathedral Hill. I could have written in any number of inspiring locations---Nina's Coffee Shop above Garrison Keillor's book store; one of the many coffee shops on the iconic Grand Avenue; even in front of the bay window in the living room. I wrote in bed.

My bed was tucked between the wall and my dresser, and if I leaned against my pillows I felt like I was tucked into my own little hideout. I liked it, especially if it was dark outside and I turned off the overhead light and wrote by the glow of my bedside lamp.

One of many places I've written.

Perhaps it seems odd to hide while you write since the end goal is often publication. But I wasn't thinking about publishing. I was thinking about the way I needed to write 200 pages to earn my MFA, and as much as I wanted to write something innocuous I could only seem to write about my divorce.

On one hand I wanted to. Thanks to the previous divorce memoirs I'd read, I'd gone into the whole thing with the idea that it was a decision, not a prolonged transition where everything you know about life ceases to exist. I wanted to put a story of survival into the world that showed that transition---the agony, courage, beauty and power of the process itself.

But what would my ex think about it? What would my parents think when they read about some of my late-night choices in bars? How could I ask them to read it when writing about my own marriage seemed to involve writing about theirs?

The only way I could write was to hide from those fears in a dark, safe place. That happened to be in bed---the same place I did my morning pages and my practice writing. It was, in fact, because of all that practice writing that I even knew I had a safe place to write.

Sometimes when I encourage students and aspiring writers to practice write, they resist. They prefer to get things right on the first try, thank you very much. They don't like to write by hand. It feels like a waste of time.

But when your writing takes you to personal places---your story of divorce, for example, or the loss of a loved one---it gets personal fast. Suddenly, you need a way to feel insulated from fear and judgment so that you can simply get the writing done.

I think of it as the writer's temple. It's not elaborate or decked out in trendy decor. It's usually right there in front of you. Your bed. An armchair in the living room. Your couch. It's the place you go when the writing gets real. It's the place you go when you realize that first drafts aren't going to cut it and you have to dig deep. It's where you end up when you realize that you meant it when you said you were going to write your story, and you're in the thick of it now and there's no going back.

Where will your writer's temple be?