Why do writers love windows? So many wordsmiths have told stories about windows, placing their writing desks beside windows, and gazing out windows and suddenly having words come rushing to them.
Goodreads has over 3000 quotes from literary works that use windows as imagery for poetry or as a plot device for prose. Saying, “That’s a lot,” would be an understatement.
My take on it concerns the actual craft of writing. Writing is not a participatory activity, unlike other creative expressions like dancing, singing, or even visual arts. As you write, you can’t invite people to join you and “write together.” Even a collaborative work would require individual writers to put in their own writing time by themselves before they come together and join their works piece by piece through the editing process.
And so the window acts as both a gate to the outside world and also a wall that separates the writer from it. While he writes, he observes the world while keeping a certain distance to focus on actually coming up with words to put on paper.
I asked three published writers based here in Manila about their own relationship with windows and here’s what they have to say.
For Mark Angeles, poet and author of Patikim, having a view that is faraway and refreshing can help in writing. Two of his works used a window as a metaphor, namely “Love is But a Memory” and “Bintana sa Iowa (Window in Iowa).” When Mark went to Iowa, he and his roommate were placed in a room facing an exhaust vent. They asked to be transferred to a room facing the riverside and he immediately began to feel the difference. “Mas lumilipad ang thoughts; nag-swim ang thoughts. At better na malaki ang space (Thoughts fly or swim better. And it’s better if the space is wide).”
Eliza Victoria, fictionist and author of A Bottle of Storm Clouds, shares that the idea of writing in a windowless room frightens her. She points out, “One, bad ventilation. Two, what will I look at when I need to daydream?”
Eliza remembers her boss asking her to write in a cubicle wherein she would be facing the wall. She had to put her foot down. “I said no. It’s funny; I don’t mind staying at home all day, but the thought of facing a wall for eight hours sounded extremely unpleasant to me. And [my boss] said she understands.”
According to Joseph Nacino, fictionist and editor of the fiction anthologies Diaspora Ad Astra and Demons of the New Year, the window can be a starting point for writing. “You look out of the window to imagine wonders, but you need to step through the door to make it real. After all, almost all of us have the capacity to imagine but only very few manage to write it down to make it real. It’s the act of writing it down that helps me make the imagined real.”
Photo of the window by Lorenze Buenaventura; profile photos courtesy of Mark Angeles, Eliza Victoria, and Joseph Nacino