Write Here: Judith Claire Mitchell

WriteHere‘Write Here’ takes us into our authors’ writing spaces across the globe, where they tell us about how they go about their craft. We mark each location on the map at the bottom of each post. Today’s edition takes us to Wisconsin, USA, where Judith Claire Mitchell wanders from writing spot to writing spot between the town and city of Madison…


‘Against one wall in my home office is a small desk with a sweet caned chair that affords a view of the woods surrounding my house. That desk was acquired and arranged to be my primary writing spot.

How often do I write at this desk? Pretty much never.

Outside my bedroom is a small balcony. The branches of a nearby tree sweep over the railing. There’s a wicker chair and a foot rest. When we bought our house, I said, “Ooh, I am so going to write on this balcony.”

I don’t.

Nor do I write at the antique table in the nook we call the library, nor at the work table in the kitchen, nor sitting in the glider on the screened porch.

All ideal spots, but it seems that when it comes to writing, I don’t like to work at home. It turns out I’m a wanderer, and so, like the old song says, I roam around, around, around.

My peripatetic impulses take me from the town of Madison where I live to the adjacent city of Madison where I teach at the state university. Most often I head to a nearby indie coffee shop decorated with old maps and beaten-up suitcases, where the staff know me so well they begin heating the foam for my latte as soon as my car turns into the parking lot. There’s something about this dichotomy—the decorative allusions to places where I’d be utterly unknown versus the warm neighborliness of the baristas—that strikes the right note when I’m mid-story.

Other times I head down the street to a wine bar where I choose between a room brightened by sunlight and a backroom that’s rather dark and dreary. One spot is conducive to writing lively scenes, the other to scenes of solitude or solemnity.

There are other spots around Madison that I’m drawn to: small bookstores with leather armchairs, noisy restaurants with zinc bars, the Historical Society with its phone booth-size carrels, the doors of latticed iron so one feels a bit imprisoned—nothing to do but write until closing time.

And sometimes, when I’m almost done with a project and my only remaining task is to read the complete manuscript from start to finish one last time, I leave Madison entirely. I’ve completed several stories in an isolated cabin in western Wisconsin where I lived in silence for a full week. I finished my first novel in a hotel room near Lake Geneva with a king-sized bed and fireplace and bathroom with heated floors.

But perhaps my favorite writing venue is on the University of Wisconsin campus. This is the Memorial Union Terrace with its brightly painted tables and iconic chairs and its view of sailboats and windsurfers on Lake Mendota. Here I’m always surrounded by others, some working away, some socializing, but most everyone sipping from glasses of cold beer, as is virtually the law in Wisconsin.

It’s harsh winter as I write this. Hot tea, not cold beer today. The branches scraping my balcony railing are bare, and it won’t be warm enough for Terrace writing for months. But if coffee shops and wine bars are good for writing the scenes that move a book along, and if retreats, whether monastic or indulgent, are ideal for final revisions, the Terrace in springtime is perfect for beginnings, and my hope is that come this May—April if the weather gods smile on us—I’ll be starting my next novel there.

Judith Claire Mitchell’s novel ‘A Reunion of Ghosts‘ is published today.

Photo © Bryce Richter.

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