Ellis Shuman – The Space I Write in

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Ellis Shuman is originally from Sioux City, Iowa, but he has been living in Israel since the age of fifteen. He has lived in Bulgaria, was a founding member of a kibbutz, and currently resides on a moshav outside Jerusalem. Shuman has an active blog about writing, culture and current events. He recently completed writing his second novel.

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I am frequently asked what the most difficult part of being a writer is. Is it conceiving the initial outline for the plot of a novel? Or the development of the characters? Perhaps editing is the most challenging part of the process? Many fellow authors argue that marketing their books takes up the majority of their time and, admittedly, marketing a book is much more difficult than writing and editing.

For me, though, the most difficult part of being a writer is finding the time to write. I commute to my office job every day, getting stuck in traffic in at least one direction. While at work I try to concentrate on my job. By the time I return home in the evening hours I am physically exhausted and my mind is drained of all creativity. Weekends, unfortunately, offer less of an opportunity to write than I would like. I prefer to spend my free time with my wife and family. Also, I like to read, travel, watch entertaining television shows, and take long walks.

So, when is there time to write? I finally found a solution.

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  1. Coffee Shop

I have added an extra hour to my day. Each morning I leave the house at the ungodly hour of 6 a.m. and drive to Tel Aviv while there is little traffic on the road. I park my car at my office and walk ten minutes to a nearby coffee shop. I am one of the first customers there, so I have my choice of one of the two small tables situated by the lone electricity socket.

  1. Disappearing

I plug in my laptop, sit down with my cappuccino and begin to write. For some, the grinding of coffee beans; the hiss of steam escaping as milk is heated; and the swish of credit cards as orders are recorded; can be very distracting, but I manage to disappear into my own world.

  1. Time

I only have one hour of creative writing before I need to report to my office, but I make the most of it. Day by day, I make steady, page-by-page progress on my writing.

  1. Coffee

The coffee I drink stimulates me, and the ideas that have popped into my mind during the previous 24 hours find their way into my work in progress.

  1. In Between

I finish my coffee and it’s time to leave. I pack up my laptop and leave the coffee shop. I will continue thinking about my manuscript throughout the day but I won’t have time to work on it again until the next morning’s steaming cup of cappuccino.

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Sagit Emet – The Space I Write In

Note: Hyperlinks that end with an asterisk lead to Hebrew web pages.

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Sagit Emet* is an author, playwright and creative writing instructor. “Gaya’s Dawn”, published in 1999, is a YA novel that has won the Lea Goldberg and Zeev awards. Sagit has written plays for children and teenagers, and one for adults – “Because of the Night” – which was performed at the Habima National Theatre. Sagit provides one on one writing advice and runs workshops for writers.

This is me.

The fact that I am writing about the space I write in, instead of writing what I should really be writing in the space I write in, comes to prove that writing is difficult.

Or maybe it means I’m off track, not serious enough, unable, or all the other horrible things I think about myself when I’m stuck.

Right now I’m working on a novel for adults.

I’ve been working on it for a few years now. To be more precise, I began working on it four years ago, but only got into a real writing routine during the last year. Three times a week, five-six hours every time.

This is my official workspace:

workspace 1 sagit

My sweet husband built a cabin for me in our yard. It has wooden walls and bookshelves, illustrated postcards of poets I love, and inspiring sentences on the corkboard that’s prompted up opposite me.

It also has a big window, through which I can see our green garden and parrots chirping in their cages.

Everything is so picturesque and magical.

The perfect writing space, don’t you think?

Well. It’s not.

This perfect cabin truly exists, but I usually use it to meet other writers and help them climb out of the holes they’ve dug themselves into; (It’s easier to help others, believe me…)

I edit their writing together with them and sift through their words and ideas to find that one specific thing they really wish to write about, even if they themselves don’t know exactly what it is quite yet.

For meetings of this sort – my cabin is perfect.

But not for writing.

It’s just literally too close to home. It’s easy to escape from it “just for a minute” to hang up the washing, or put a pot of rice on the stove, chat with the neighbor who’s just returned from overseas, or join the kids for lunch – Since I’m here anyway, how can I not sit with them?

On writing days my lovely cabin stays empty.

This is the room I really write in:

workspace 2 sagit

This room is a five minute drive from my home. It’s in my mother’s apartment.

It’s not picturesque at all. Instead of birds chirping I sometimes hear the next door neighbors fighting or talking too loudly on their cellphones.

On the corkboard opposite me there are electricity and municipal bills that have to be paid.

And still – here I manage to detach and feel as if I’m completely alone.

It may be because I’m a woman and a mother. At home, where my kids are right around the corner, I lose focus and become too practical and efficient. But here, my mother’s presence in the kitchen doesn’t bother me at all. I manage to stare into space, dive into my story-world and write.

1. Coffee
Usually I arrive here at 9 am, after swimming (I’ve been swimming every morning for 25 years now. I wish I could be as persistent with my writing) and leave at 3 or 4pm. I start my morning with a coffee to-go from the next door café. Sometimes I get seized by a sudden health ambition, and then the coffee is replaced by vegetable juice that’s comprised of carrot, beetroot, celery and apple. My mom makes it for me and then goes about her business. (She’s retired and very busy. Her day is full of fun activities).

2. My Computer
Everything has already been said. I couldn’t do it without it. I write. Save. And send my writing to myself via Gmail at the end of each day just to be safe.

3. It’s a Marathon
Perseverance and will power are needed – as they are in sport, but the finish line of my book is vague and unclear, and the route reveals itself, surprises me and grows longer every day. Sometimes I think that all this writing is masochistic, that it’s a waste. So many long hours during which I write instead of living. But sometimes, a moment before I pack up and leave for home, I read the words flickering on the screen, and suddenly I really like the characters, and manage, for one pure moment, to imagine that one day, maybe, it will be a book. And I feel happy.

Smadar Zamir – The Space I Write In

Note: Hyperlinks that end with an asterisk lead to Hebrew web pages.

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Smadar is a filmmaker. Here’s a link to her short film Between the Lines. She also lectures and writes* about cinema* and gender*. Smadar received her BFA in film studies from the Sapir College and her MA in gender studies from the Bar Ilan University.

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1. My Computer

I do most of my writing on my computer and it’s my best friend (as a colleague). It took me ages to get used to writing on a computer, but today I can’t see myself writing in any other way.  On writing days, I write for about six hours in total. I have many files on my desktop which contain texts on different issues, at different stages of writing. Stacks of virtual paper meticulously organized. I tend to fill the desktop with documents and then sort them into files or delete them.

2. The Transparent Plastic Drawer

This is the messy area of the table. It absorbs everything that has to be done: paying the municipal tax bill, filing a paycheck stub, a form that has to be filled out for something or other, and a note of love. I try to empty it once every two weeks, but it can also take a few months…

3. The Enamel Bowl

It reminds me to stop and eat a fruit or two, or a nut, and also makes me feel the warmth of home. In general I have discovered that taking a break in order to cook, wash the dishes, or fold the laundry, truly helps and grounds me during a writing day. I try hard not to be sucked in by the writing, but to practice it as part of an assembly of actions that comprise my daily routine.

4. My Couch

This couch, which is the most comfortable couch in the whole world and cost us close to nothing, is where I settle down when I need to read or when I just feel the need to change position. Suddenly I’m working cross-legged or semi-reclined.

5. My Water Bottle

I drink a lot of water. All the time. So the glass and the jug of water, which is actually a former bottle of juice, are always on the table. Drinking water allows me to linger for a moment and it revitalizes me too.

6. The Floor

I wander on it; roam around in search of the word, the sentence, the idea, the narrative, the beginning, the end, the secret. These strolls, during which I tend to talk to myself, often make me more accurate, more precise.

7. Jean-Luc

The cutest medium sized dog. He is always present in my writing space.  Bestowing me with endless love, and reminding me to take breaks and kiss him. Sometimes he can get into a fit of barking, but that usually happens when I’m talking on the phone, not when I’m writing.

8. Shesh-Besh (Backgammon in Hebrew)

The cutest big dog.  He too is here to remind me to love, just that during the summer he prefers to stretch out in the sun outside.

9. My Cellphone – Stacy

She’s not in the photo but you can see her case. Stacy is on the one hand a very important work tool, but she is also a devious distractor. I try to put her on silent mode when I wish to write undisturbed.  I usually filter calls and return them when I’m on a break or at the end of the day.

10. My Clipboard

I got it from friends.  I use it to pin up the newest form I have created for myself, in order to perform the various tasks at hand efficiently, and stay on the ball. I put a lot of time into inventing these forms and still haven’t found the perfect formula. I used a weekly table organized according to hours, a notebook, sticky notes…
Currently I’m using a table organized according to task and follow-up.

David Tarbay – The Space I Write In

Note: Hyperlinks that end with an asterisk lead to Hebrew web pages.

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David Tarbay is an author, translator and a Tel Aviv University graduate. His list of publications includes novels, stories, reviews*, articles, beside translations of some of the most well-known and valued Hungarian authors – Tibor Déry, Péter Nádas, György Spiró – plays and academic articles.

His book “Stalker” (Am Oved 2004) received praise reviews and The President’s Prize for Literature. “The Emperor’s Dream” (Keter Books, 2010) starred in the best sellers listings. His new book, “Outsiders” is due to come out under Keter Books too.

 

A Moral Space

1. Through the Window

I wrote my last book in its entirety right here. Three and a half square meters, half closed blinds, a hundred year old dilapidated table, and a quad-core computer with a damaged blue-ray drive.

On the other side of the window, two trees intertwine: it’s unclear who is suffocating who. Beyond the fence, a bush, a path. I spy through the half shut blinds, waiting for my daughter to return from school. She stops, glances through the bushes, which are growing even faster than she is. If they aren’t trimmed soon, only a slight crack will allow us to see each other.

desk

 

2. Through time

The new book takes place in 2026, in the Golan Heights, Tel Aviv and Southern Israel, but the characters get as far as Singapore, Amsterdam, Zurich and Serengeti.  I’ve been a frequent flyer since my first book, so I have practice with movements on the timeline. The plot always beats me to it, and time broadens space. I go over the locations on Google. I check the sound of the bell I refer to, hark back to the sight of the Jumbo plane taking off, watch the flight of a flock of birds landing on a placid lake in the middle of a nature reserve. I check the flight number, the diameter of the jeep’s tires, the exact route of each and every character, until I find myself inside the scene.

When I’m in the flow, I sit on the balcony of the Golan Heights house, with the character I’m most deeply connected to, the flower grower’s daughter, the invisible hero of the book, and I sit in the front seat of the detective’s car, a wide board Audi, at 5 AM, while he drives north on the open roads to investigate.

It is no longer clear who the inventor is and who has been invented. The spaces are wider than I could imagine. I grasp at pieces of reality, which may no longer be relevant at the time of the plot. I try to deduce, project and turn what is happening today, into the recollections of a character ten years from now.

The house will have been demolished, the book shelved. But I will still be searching for the characters.

plansheetThe scarred Golan Heights on Google & the original plan-sheet of the Ramat Gan apartment by Salim Goru Ltd’s, 1957. The balcony has since been enclosed.

 

3. Back to Reality

Sometimes I really look forward to getting stuck in the middle of a paragraph only so I can go out for a walk, alone, or with the kids. I can get stuck in the middle of a paragraph even after two or three weeks of not opening the book at all. It’s wonderful to get stuck in the middle. One can also get stuck on a Saturday morning, or in the rain, at 8 Pm, an hour after the heat wave has broken. I’m free to get stuck whenever it suits me. One doesn’t even have to write in order to get stuck. With the kids I go to a picturesque park. By myself I go on an hour’s walk, on a fixed route. Instinctively, I would say that this is the real space, the ongoing forward movement, the space in which the pieces of the mosaic come together.

rainThe little one in his older sister’s boots. There is no plot problem that cannot be solved by the scent of rain.

 

4. Space and Time Travelling

Some of my childhood memories are connected to ‘guesthouses for authors’, one of the blessed institutions of the staggering Hungarian socialist entity of the late 80s. With my mother, we would go to Zsennye Castle, which was surrounded by a spacious park that was bombed and almost completely destroyed during World War II in a joint heroic effort of the Germans and the Russians, but “one thousand year old” oak trees grow there till this day. With my dad we used to travel to Szigliget, to a palace built in the 18th century, which was later passed into the hands of the rich Eszterházy family. One of the family’s descendants, Peter Eszterházy, became a famous author who honored this humble castle with his presence. Well, if a perfect space to create in exists (I doubt it, but suppose it does), I find it hard to think of a better candidate, although through a child’s eye, the honorable authors and painters were no less immersed in intrigues, hearty meals and football games than they were in creating.

writingSilence,  people writing.

Orna Coussin – The Space I Write In

 

Note: Hyperlinks that end with an asterisk lead to Hebrew web pages.

ארנה תצלום ינאי יחיאל

Orna Coussin is a writer and a writers’ mentor*. She is passionate about the genres of creative non-fiction – the personal essay, the memoir and the diary – that are yet to flourish in Israeli literature. She also writes, and loves to read, short stories and novellas. In 2009 she received the Prime Minister Award for Hebrew writers.

Between 1997 and 2007, Coussin wrote cultural commentary for the Haaretz Daily newspaper. She was highly acclaimed for her feminist perspective and her sharp critique of Israel’s consumer culture.

Currently, Coussin is writing a blog about writing*, and will soon publish her fifth book, titled “How to Write”, a writers’ guide and an essay about writing. Coussin lives in Tel Aviv with her partner Michal and their two daughters, Naomi and Yael.

 

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1. Quiet

When I was a writer for “Haaretz Daily”, I took great pride in being able to concentrate on my writing in the middle of the chatty open space of the editorial offices. It took me a while to realize that this ability is limited only to writing of the journalistic kind.

Now, my best writing is done at my small, simple corner desk in our quiet bedroom, when I’m alone at home, deep in my silence. Only urban sounds in the background make for white noise, the internet is cut off, and the phone is shut. These occasions are quite rare, though.

 

2. Darkness

A writing morning begins for me when I pull down the shades. I can’t stand the harsh Mediterranean daylight coming in through my eastbound windows. “Writing is a thoroughly shady affair” wrote John Updike in “Self-Consciousness: Memoirs”. I do believe it is. Diving into darkness and lighting it up is a large part of what we do.

 

3. Guidance

I take pride in mentoring writers of creative non-fiction. I enjoy seeing their writing evolve: become more candid, precise, clear; closer to that which they had imagined. I wish I had been mentored myself, growing up as a writer.

But sometimes I think that in a way I have been and still am. I put pictures of my self-appointed mentors on the window sill in front of me when I write. I learned and still learn so much from Virginia Woolf and Simone De Beauvoir:  how to write and why, and to what extent may I be true to myself and where to look for courage, and what are exactly and truly my challenges as a writer. I also learn and have learned from E.B White, Lorrie Moore, Lydia Davis, George Orwell and many more. I will add more photos of these inspiring people to my window sill the minute I can put my hands on them.

 

 

 

Guy Levi – The Space I Write In

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Guy Levi works as Director of Innovation at the Center for Education Technology (CET) in Tel Aviv. He studied politics and sociology in Tel Aviv and New York and spent many years researching 20th century colonialism. In 2005 he visited Vietnam, the Mekong Delta and Saigon where he was exposed to the fascinating character of Ho Chi Min, the founding father of modern Vietnam. In 2009 he travelled to Hanoi in order to see his hero (embalmed in a mausoleum), and fell in love with the city, its residents and its culture. Upon returning to Israel he wondered how he would maintain his newly acquired love and decided to write a novel about Vietnam. In 2014 he returned to Vietnam in order to re-encounter his characters and design the story plot. Guy lives and writes in Tel Aviv Israel.

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1. My Work Station

This is my workspace, in the small dining area on the left of the kitchen. I don’t need anything but my computer, which usually isn’t even connected to the electricity. I write mostly on weekends, in the early morning or evening, when all members of the house are busy doing their own thing. Sometimes someone may pass by or cook next to me, but it doesn’t affect my concentration or my writing.

When I just began writing the novel, I would recluse myself at my parents’ house on the kibbutz, when they traveled overseas. On one occasion, I didn’t step outside for four days and wrote for eighteen hours straight. I have noticed that it takes me time to get into a profound writing mode, so isolation is a treasure.

 

2. My Computer

All I need in order to write is a computer and a network connection. This book couldn’t be written in a world with no internet. My writing is very associative and I need immediate access to information and quick answers to the questions that pop into my head. When I write, I have about 20 open tabs in my browser, as I skip from one to the other according to the ideas I have. One moment I need to compare between the Vietnam provinces in order to decide where a character was born, and the next moment I need historical findings in order to define the character’s familial background.

Wikipedia is my main source of information. One of the characters in the novel is a young boy with no father or mother figure, who ran away from his poor village to Hanoi. The boy is adopted by one of the older characters, and when this character holds his hand warmly, he cries for the first time in his life. When I described the tear rolling down his cheek, I suddenly asked myself – what is a tear? and discovered that there are actually different kinds of tears, with various chemical structures. Tears of excitement, for example, contain a hormone which is supposed to relax the body, while onion tears are meant to protect our eyes. These pieces of information that I am exposed to during my research are collected in my head or on the computer, and eventually they enter the story. My writing is a never-ending process of discovery. If my book will ever be published I’ll probably dedicate it to Wikipedia.

 

3. Word

I write on Microsoft Word but back everything up on Dropbox. I don’t take risks. I don’t print out my writing; everything is digital, organized in computer files. I don’t use notes either, nor do I use notepads or notebooks. If I’m not by my computer, I write my thoughts down in my smartphone’s Notes app. I believe that if you don’t pay attention to your thoughts, they will disappear. If you don’t hang on to an association, it will leave.

 

4. Red Coffee Mug

When I write I need coffee beside me. It can be hot or cold. Coffee is part of my thinking process. I only drink my coffee out of this mug because when clasping it, it feels like an extension of my body. When I lost it one day, I went crazy until it was found.

 

5. Refrigerator

I don’t eat while writing, except for chocolate or halva, both can be easily drawn out of the first shelf of the fridge door. All I need to do is stretch my arm backwards.

 

6. Orange Packet

On the top shelf lies an orange packet with tea leaves in it, a gift I received from my Vietnamese friends. It has no current use, so if you feel like some tea you are welcome to write me…

 

7. Earphones

This is where my earphones, which have gone missing, usually are. I often use them to listen to Vietnamese music, like this singer. With the help of Google I can translate the words to English or Hebrew with a click of a button and the meaning unfolds before my eyes.

 

8. Dinko’s Pillow

This is where our dog sleeps while I write. His presence soothes me.

 

9. Ironing Board and Iron

Every morning, before going to work, I iron my clothes. And every single time I do so, I recall Murakami’s book The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle and the character’s clothes ironing ritual. It helps me examine the way small details of life are expressed in literature and refine their reflection in my writing.

 

10. Bookshelves

My writing is influenced by my two favorite authors: Jose Saramago and Haruki Murakami. From Saramago I borrow the writing style, not using quotation marks for example. And Murakami calms me. I read him slowly and remain flabbergasted by his language and metaphors. When I think of the journey my characters are on, I see them both in my mind’s eye.

 

11. Point of View

When I think, I tend to detach myself from the screen and raise my head. This is what I see. The distance between my seat and the balcony banister is 12 meters. One cannot see the street from the second floor, only the trees across the road, the chairs on the balcony and the coffee mug of whoever sat there a moment ago, maybe it was me.

This frame that I see is autonomous of space and time, so it can easily become the view from a hotel window in Hanoi, or any other place I want. My point of view helps me think every time I need to set all the data aside and enter the realms of my imagination.

 

Aran Rondel – The Space I Write In

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Aran lives on Kibbutz Eilon in the Western Galilee, at the northern end of Israel. He is the Research Director of an NGO called the Social Guard which monitors the parliamentary work of the Israeli Knesset. He’s also struggling to write his M.A thesis in political theory for the Tel Aviv University Philosophy Department. He is a former basketball correspondent and writer, as well as an ex-future writer.

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1. Making Coffee

Writing for me starts here, with the morning coffee-making ritual. I have two macchinettas, a small one that makes coffee for one person and another that is good for two or three people; I rarely use the latter. Although I make excellent coffee, I was never a big coffee drinker. I can go days without having a cup, and it won’t bother me. The truth is that I like making coffee more than I enjoy drinking it. I find it to be a good way to get into a working mood. This is true for any kind of old-fashioned coffee-making process that requires some work and preparation, and not for instant frozen coffee.

 

2. My Beaten Down Old and Slow Computer

I am not a man of changes. I like my habits and I like it when things feel right. I bought this computer almost seven years ago, expecting it not to be as comfortable as my older Compaq laptop. But it surprised me and I took to it right away. I remember turning it on for the first time. It wrote LG – Life’s Good – in large bold red letters on the screen. I decided to name it Decepticon, because it is a lying machine.

I’ve written a lot on it, and I feel that to an extent all this hard work has been a joint effort by Decepticon and me. Most other computers – be they laptops or desktops – don’t seem to make my thoughts take form in words as clearly as my old companion does.

But it’s old, and its processing does come to a halt whenever things become busier. I’ll need a new friend soon enough, I’m just not sure how to know if it’s the right one for me. Some tell me that every computer will feel right after I get used to it. I despise this thought, although it does relieve some of the pressure of getting a new machine.

 

3. My Tomato Bush

It isn’t just procrastination. I really do think and articulate better when I walk around. I find it hard to speak on the phone sitting down, and if I’m writing stuff for work and need to think things through, it’s impossible for me to do it while seated in front of a computer.

During the past few months, ever since I moved out of the city, I’ve been grooming a tomato bush in my front yard. I planted seeds of tomatoes which I purchased at my favorite vegetable stand, in the Tel Aviv Carmel market. After a week or so, some seeds sprouted, and today I have a beautiful 65 cm (2ft.) tall bush, with some tomatoes growing on it.

Every time I need to get out of the chair in order to think, to take a five minute break or to make a phone call, I step outside and observe the changes and growth of the bush, and the tomatoes that are hanging on it. Then I can go back to focus on my work, while feeling thankful that – unlike the plant – I work indoors.

 

4. The View from My Living Room Window

Most of all, this window is a clock, it makes every part of the day feel different. It faces west, so it lets no direct sunlight in, in the morning. The roof tiles, which extend about two meters over the window, protect it from the midday sun. There are a couple of trees in the back yard – pomegranate, loquat – that block most of the late-afternoon sun. This means that mornings are shady, relatively dark, and just right for slowly easing into the workday. Throughout most of the day, the sun lights the trees beautifully. And in the hours before dusk, the trees outside the window are flush with sunlight, some rays making it into the house and into my eyes, creating en route strange yellow figures on the mosquito net. It’s a lot like driving west during sunset. But I don’t fight it; I work through it, because I know the day is almost over, and it’s time to put one last effort into the day, before I retire from my work station, defeated.