The Writing Process: Space


Posted on October 18th, by nicholas in creativity, john james, poets, spaces series, vocation, writing. 3 comments

The Writing Process: Space

{for our Spaces Series, we’re asking writers to reflect on writing, revision, and the creative life, and where exactly that plays out. in this post, poet John James discusses the process and creation. his writing space is featured above. take note–it’s lived in. a place for books and papers. nothing glamorous–the real and rugged space of someone who loves to create. look anything like your house?}

The word that comes to mind when people ask about my writing process is “change.” Nothing stays the same for me, not my space, not my form, not my process or my style. In some senses, this has posed problems throughout my writing career. For one, having so many different kinds of poems has made it difficult to compile a cohesive book manuscript. More immediately, I never know when or how a poem is going to come about—and that’s a scary thought. If I don’t know where the poem comes from, or how it forms into being, how do I know another will come again? Well, somehow they always do. Granted, not as soon as I’d like them to. But they do. They come.

My capacity for change also makes me a more versatile writer. While this makes it tough to write solid book, I know that when I finally do compile a full-length manuscript (or manuscripts, as is looking to be the case), nothing about it will be repetitive. There will never be a dull moment. Moreover, I’ll never be (I hope) the sort of poet whose new book you can’t distinguish from the last one. Since I’m incapable of writing the same poem twice, these works are certain to be different.

Change has also allowed me to adapt to a somewhat erratic lifestyle. Over the past two and a half years, I have lived in seven different apartments in two different cities, and traveled, if only briefly, to nine countries outside of the United States. Unconstrained geographically, I am able to write in each of these locations, and in fact, staying put for too long often stagnates my creativity.


Even when I do remain in the same place (I have now for over eight months), I am impelled to make changes in my routine, however miniscule, in order to write. Sometimes I write at home, cloistered in a small office; other times I’ll work at a coffee shop, exposed to the noise and commotion of that space.

More recently, my roommate and I rearranged the furniture in order to work in a larger room with more natural light. I wrote in that room for a while, before moving on to someplace else.

The poems I write are not necessarily affected by these changes. I’ve found no correlation between the pieces I create and the places in which I begin them. Change simply stimulates my creativity. All in all, the poems I write, whether in New York or Kentucky, at home or abroad, still maintain the same voice. They all sound like me, even if they are drastically different in style. They all stem from a similar impulse, which is one to produce and express. And though I can’t say when or how the muse will strike again, I’m certain we’ll rendez-vous at some point. I can’t wait to see the result.

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John James holds an M.F.A. in poetry from Columbia University, where he received an Academy of American Poets Prize. His poems, essays and reviews have appeared or are forthcoming in Boston Review, DIAGRAM, Colorado Review, Washington Square, and elsewhere. He teaches in the English Department at Bellarmine University in Louisville, Kentucky.





3 Responses to “The Writing Process: Space”

  1. nicholas says:

    Great thoughts! I find switching up the setting helps my writing too.

  2. John, good observations about changing locations to keep the thoughts coming. I see that you teach at Bellarmine, so you’ve probably been to Gethsemani Monastery. Literal Latte just published an essay I wrote about a week I spent there. You might appreciate it.

  3. [...] This is Antler has a helpful post for writers on the importance of space. [...]

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