I’m a full-time author. I’ve published over twenty-five books as well as many blogs and articles. As you can imagine, I spend a lot of time in my home office. The organization of the room, furniture, and other objects are important because not only is it the room I spend most of my waking life in, it’s also the space in which my creative and intellectual work comes to life. The basic stuff is obvious, like having an efficient computer and printer setup, a good computer chair, a comfy chair for reading, the right lighting, and in recent years, a standing desk to help alleviate health issues. What about inspiration? What about motivation?
People often ask how I’m so prolific. Writing takes discipline. I write even when it’s hard, even when I don’t have as much time as I’d like, and even when what I’m writing stinks. I can edit or rewrite later. The objects I surround myself with play a role, too. Given that the purpose of my office is in part to inspire, it’s filled with objects that do just that.
While I constructed my work space with care, I never gave much thought to talking about it, or that it could possibly help or inspire anyone else. However, when my latest novel, Spark, came out, people started asking. Let me briefly tell you about Spark so you’ll understand. Peyton Wilde, the protagonist, is a sociology professor living in New England. Although she lives an idyllic life, she has a fading sense of inspiration. Suddenly an invitation arrives. She’s one of forty-nine people from around the world invited to participate in an all-expense paid seminar in a mansion in Iceland. She’s placed in a group with six other people, all from different backgrounds. They are charged with answering one perplexing question. As the characters unravel the meaning of the question, they are each set on a journey that is bigger than any of them. In essence, Spark is a novel about learning to work together across differences and letting go of the limiting assumptions we make about others and ourselves. It’s also very much a story about reigniting the spark within each of us. The opening words read: “A spark exists, within, between, among, and within that spark, entire worlds of possibility.” Those words are something I come back to time and again. Honestly, I love this book. It’s like nothing I’ve done before and it’s incredibly special to me. My hope is that it serves as a reminder that differences don’t need to breed divisiveness. I also help it encourages people to nurture their own spark. I’m so grateful for the notes readers have been sending.
Over the years I’ve tried to find different ways to connect with the folks who read my work, including at book events and conferences, and through social media. As a result, I’m fortunate to receive messages from readers about what different books or characters mean to them, which sometimes include questions about my books or creative process. Since Spark came out, one of the things I’ve been frequently asked is: What inspires you? What sparks your creativity? I decided to create this mini visual tour of my home office, which is my primary creative space, to share some of the objects that inspire me.
1. Postcard of Anne Frank’s Diary: I bought this at the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam. I keep it on a small table by the door so I see it each day when I come into my office. It’s a reminder of oppression and injustice. It’s a reminder that everyone who has suffered or is suffering injustice, also had dreams, and how many people have been denied the chance to pursue those dreams. It motivates me to use my life, to keep compassion at the center of my work, and to recognize my many privileges. I also have a postcard of the only window Anne Frank’s family was able to look out during their years in hiding. That postcard is taped to the wall in front of my desktop computer, where I spend hours each day.
2. Visual Art: As an artist, I think it’s important to look for inspiration outside of my medium. It opens up new spaces in my mind. While I love reading fiction and admire many novelists, I often turn to visual artists for inspiration. I have a few of my favorite pieces in my office, including pop art bought from artists in the streets in New York and a photograph I bought at a gallery in Rockport, Massachusetts. I have a large collection of art books and I keep a few of my favorites in my office. When I’m stuck, I flip through them until something is unlocked and I can write.
3. Photos of Women I Admire: I draw a lot of strength from strong, powerful, creative women. I have framed photographs scattered throughout my office of my daughter, grandmother, friends, collaborators, publisher, and artists. I’m grateful for their support. They fuel me.
4. Glenda the Good Witch Sign: I’m a bit of a pop culture junkie (if you’ve read my novels you know pop culture references are sprinkled throughout them). This sign makes me smile, but it’s also a reminder. Writing is powerful. Art-making is powerful. Anyway in which can use our voices, share our stories, present alternative realities, or document the ones we’re living in, is powerful. I don’t take that lightly. I’ve made the decision in my career to hold myself to a certain standard with the kinds of messages I deliver and the manner in which I do so. It’s important to me that my work, both in fiction and nonfiction, promotes positive messages and fosters possibilities. I also don’t want to ever “make my case” by bringing anyone else down. While it’s typical for academic authors to critique the work of others, I don’t write that way. For me, everything we do as writers is a chance to deliver our messages, meaning, we can either reinforce positive messages or go another route. I think of it much like Glenda, “Are you a good witch, or a bad witch?”
5. Notebooks and Pens: I’m old-school. I usually do my first drafts by hand. Handwriting stimulates a different way of thinking about and working through ideas and selecting language to represent those ideas. I have loads of color-coded notebooks that are filled with first drafts of my novels and nonfiction books. I have two closets in my office where I keep filing cabinets, office supplies, and completed projects. I always have a big stack of new moleskin notebooks, in different colors and sizes. However long I live, I’m certain I won’t get to write as much as I want to, so I like to stay motivated and disciplined. It’s good to know there are blank pages yet to be filled.
There are many more objects in my office that inspire me. For example, I’ve received gifts and cards from readers that I’ve kept, with several placed where I can see them each day. Music is also incredibly important. I always listen to music while writing and it fuels my process. I tried to capture it by including a pic of Tori Amos among those pics of women I admire. I’ve been fortunate to receive several awards and I also have those displayed in my office. I’ve never worked for awards, and I’m a firm believer that you need to have an independent relationship with your work, that isn’t dependent on what others think, good or bad. Nevertheless, I’m grateful for the recognition and use the physical awards as a reminder that many women have been denied opportunities to create, to have their work funded properly, and to have their visions supported, let alone being recognized for their contributions. I could go on and on about the different items in my workspace.
What about you? What items in your workspace or home inspire and motivate you? What’s your spark? I would love to hear from you on social media on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/WomenWhoWrite/, Instagram, https://www.instagram.com/patricialeavy/, or Twitter https://twitter.com/PatriciaLeavy. Join the conversation and share your inspiration using the hashtag #whatsyourspark
Spark at Guilford Press (Mogul readers get 20% off & free shipping in the US/Canada with promo code 7FSPARK here): https://www.guilford.com/books/Spark/Patricia-Leavy/9781462538157
Spark is also available at amazon.
About Patricia Leavy:
Patricia Leavy, PhD, has published over twenty-five books, earning commercial and critical success in both nonfiction and fiction, and her work has been translated into numerous languages. She is also series creator and editor for eight book series with Oxford University Press and Brill/Sense, including the ground-breaking Social Fictions series, and is cofounder and co-editor-in-chief of Art/Research International: A Transdisciplinary Journal. In addition to receiving numerous accolades for her books, she has received career awards from the New England Sociological Association, the American Creativity Association, the American Educational Research Association, the International Congress of Qualitative Inquiry, and the National Art Education Association. In 2018, she was honored by the National Women’s Hall of Fame and SUNY-New Paltz established the “Patricia Leavy Award for Art and Social Justice.”
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Patricia Leavy, Ph.D. is a bestselling author and independent scholar (formerly Associate Professor of Sociology, Chair of Sociology & Criminology and Founding Director of Gender Studies at Stonehill College). She is an international leader in the fields of arts-based research and research methods. [...]