Creative Spaces — Guest Post by Cheryl Olsen

Creative Spaces

My workspace is the first expansion in the three-decade DIY project known as our starter (and at this point, one hopes finisher) home. It was a modest bumping out of walls on what apparently, judging by the red concrete floor, had once been a porch. It was our daughter’s first bedroom. It took us four years to finish— laughable when I think about the “rush” permit I wrangled from the city with my bulging obstetrically imminent belly. The kid only used it through middle school; then the lure of her older brother’s former room and the greater privacy of its basement locale won out. But the love that produced it is evident everywhere, along with reminders of the people who own my heart and give me sustenance, who motivate me to be and do better.

The “Almost Famous” sign above the window is redolent of the earnest wish of the young gymnast/dancer who hung it there. Her “Dream Big” posters have long since peeled from the ceiling, but the fame thing makes me smile and I’ve left it up. Adjacent to that wall is the narrow leaded window my husband made, the end cap to the expansion: rectangles of beveled clear and mauve stained glass to catch the first sun as it comes over the eastern hill up the street and spatters rainbows across the opposite wall.

A buttery pine dresser is too large for the space, but it belonged to my mom and I’m not ready to part with it. It’s home to extra sheets and blankets, and the top is covered in plants, including a cutting from a philodendron my mother nurtured throughout my childhood until her death last year. It’s also home to the bees wax candle Sandra Cisneros gave me to anchor a shrine for my mom. The candle is the same buttery yellow as the chest of drawers, smells divine, and is a daily reminder not only of love and friendship, but of the power of words. I’ve re-read Sandra’s Have You Seen Marie? so many times I can practically recite it. It’s the perfect balm for life’s greatest losses.

Creative Spaces guest post by Cheryl Olsen

Cheryl Olsen’s treadmill desk takes center stage in her creative workspace.

A wall of floor-to-ceiling built-in bookshelves still hold our now-adult kids’ school yearbooks and too many photo albums, but little by little, I’m claiming the shelves for myself: Cheryl Strayed’s incomparable Wild, Fred Setterberg’s wonderful Lunch Bucket Paradise, William Souder’s amazing Rachel Carson biography On A Farther Shore, David Abrams’ funny and devastating Fobbit, Bonnie Jo Campbell’s vivid Once Upon a River, David Corbett’s immensely helpful The Art of Character, Matt Salesses’ killer flash fiction novel I’m Not Saying, I’m Just Saying, Liz Stephens’ debut memoir The Days Are Gods, plus the work of former classmates Jennie Fields, Jane Smiley, and Joy Harjo now occupy prime eye-level real estate.

The chin-up bar that conditioned the upper bodies of both Olsen kids until sports gyms took over is still wedged in the doorframe, a clothespinned carrousel for workout attire the only thing that hangs from it now. Somehow it seems important to maintain this insistent link to a more athletic past.

“Walk-in” is far too expansive a term for the doorless closet that’s filled to bursting with seasonal decorations—yet more reminders of family ties and traditions. It’s also home to countless dance costumes, gymnastics teams warmups, and trophies. Plus several boxes of china from my husband’s Russian grandmother. We’re custodians until our son and his wife move to a space large enough to accommodate the Old World place settings our Polish daughter-in-law loved the instant she saw them.

But in this room brimming with memories—and perpetual writing prompts—not everything is about the past. One large concession to the present and a hopeful future takes center stage: my treadmill desk. It faces the window onto the Coast Redwood tree that was an awkward teen when we moved in and now towers over the house. I love that our rescue kitties, Tyson and Riley, expose their soft white bellies on the elevated work surface, seduced by sun. But mostly I marvel at this wondrous machine’s ability to expand time, how when the 3 p.m. depletion hits as it invariably does, I need only turn on my treadmill desk and walk. I usually employ this as a reading break, but I can also do email or social media. And twenty or thirty or sixty minutes later, I feel like writing again.

Cheryl Olsen’s creative spaces guest post Bio: Since earning an MFA from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop an indecent number of decades ago, Cheryl Olsen ( has written articles for publications including Cosmopolitan, Via, Runner Magazine, and others. She was an editor and writer at City Sports Magazine in San Francisco for many years, and a columnist for Women’s Sports and Fitness. Other clients include Time Inc. Health, Summit Medical Center, and Words Without Borders, among others. She also taught college English for several years. Most recently, she scaled a seemingly insurmountable learning curve to become web goddess ( and social media maven (!/2bwriters) in support of We Wanted to Be Writers ( (husband Eric is lead author), a collection of interviews with 30 former classmates about the creative process and the ever-changing lit biz.


  1. Hi Cheryl–
    What a genius idea to put your laptop on a treadmill desk! Your daughter’s “Almost Famous” sign is perfect for a writer’s office. Thank you for giving us a peek inside your creative space.

  2. Thanks for the opportunity, Victoria. YOUR idea for a series on writers’ creative spaces is the genius! A bestselling writer friend asked if she could do something similar for our site, and the manufacturer of my treadmill desk just tweeted me a very funny video about the contraptions. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed this whole experience and look forward to what you come up with next. Thanks for being such a great friend to writers.

  3. Cheryl–
    The topic of writers creative spaces has turned out to be popular. I’m pleased your followers enjoyed reading your piece. Also, if anyone is a friend to writers it is you!

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