Write about a Place

Johnson Boathouse

“One place understood helps us understand all places better.”

— Eudora Welty

Write about a place you know better than any other. That place doesn’t have to exist anymore, but it should live in your memory. Inhabit that place when you write — see the old walls with their tacky art, smell the boiled chicken, hear the voices of family members long gone. Walk in to that place when you write and have it come back to life before your eyes. Write down everything you see and hear there.

Coming back to that place, you won’t be the same person you were when you left, especially if you were a child there, a younger self. Coming back as an adult will make the place look different, probably smaller! And you might finally comprehend the ‘adult’ things being said, why ol’ Uncle Pete was always slurring his speech, why Aunt Bev slept alone in her room.

About this time, you’ll have to decide if you are going to write about this place from the adult’s point of view or the child’s. Sometimes you can do both. In a novel I just drafted, I wrote about a grown woman returning to a place she’d spent summers as a child. She walks up to the old cabin and peers in, seeing it for the first time since she was ten.

That’s when the narrative goes back to capture the child’s voice, her young understanding of the place thirty years ago. The rest of the novel switches back and forth between the two perspectives and times — the childhood past informs the adult’s present messed-up state, explaining through events how she got to be this way. And the adult slows down her hurried life to make peace with her past, and to forgive the child for the mistakes she made.

Writing about that place was a treasure for me. I loved the mental time I got to spend in the old cabin where I did actually spent summers. While the action of the plot did not occur in real life, the place the action happened was as present to me as the room in which I sit. And since I miss that old cabin terribly, I loved inhabiting it again, if only in my memory.

That’s the place you want to write about — the one that calls you through delight or terror. The one you miss, the one you would fly back to in a time machine if only you could. The one where you comprehend the geography, the myths, the accents, and the politics. Writing about that place will be alive and full of details — real and imagined! Writing about that place will make you want to get up and write the next day and the next, just to get to spend time there.

As Eudora Welty says above, when you understand that old place better, you will better understand your self and all places. What more incentive do we need?

Prompt: Write about a place from your past that has special significance and meaning for you. Enter the place and record what you see, hear, smell, imagine behind the closed doors. Look at a picture of the old place and notice the details. Insert the details into your writing. Are you happy in this place? Scared? Embarrassed? What has happened make you feel this way? Who else is with you here? Finish by writing about the place now, what has happened here since you last saw this place.

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