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.

Creative Spaces — Guest Post by Rosanna Silverlight

Creative Spaces

When I write, I enter my own mental space where nothing exists except the page and the will to write – or the struggle to break into the writing state of mind. I fight hard for that precious concentration; once I have it I’m reluctant to give it up when a distraction comes. In one sense, my writing space is wherever I am when that tug of war between mind and page begins. 

It probably evolved that way because I never had one dedicated place for writing until almost two years ago – but since moving in with my boyfriend, first to a flat and then, last April, to our first house, I’ve discovered what it really means to create a physical space where I let myself loose not just on the page, but on the surroundings themselves. 

I’ve had a lot of fun putting my office together. I feel relaxed and happy when I spend time here, and the people we’ve shown around our new house have all pointed out how it reflects my personality. I never know how to respond to this. It’s a toss-up between “Yay, mission accomplished!” and “Oh, but it’s so messy in here right now!”

My office occupies the smallest bedroom – small enough to be cosy but still big enough for everything I need to fit inside. I painted it two different shades of green – a warm, inspiring colour – and put up shelves to house my books. It’s one of the most cluttered rooms in the house and never stays immaculate for long. At the moment my desk is covered in stuff – my laptop, myriad Post-Its, a hole punch, Roget’s Thesaurus, several Lego mini-figures, a copy of Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus, a framed photo of my sister, a pot full of pens, index cards … you get the idea!

I set up my desk so I could look out of the window while mulling over ideas. I love to watch the cat that sometimes appears in the window of the house opposite, and the changing weather patterns – we recently had snow in the UK, and this morning the room was full of glorious sunlight, which turned the green walls golden. It was amazing.

I write as often as I can, fitting it in around my part-time job and dabbling in web design. When I’m at home alone, writing is never very far from my mind – I’ve learned to listen when my muse calls, and to try and wake it up when it’s silent. 

Creative Spaces -- Guest Post by Rosanna Silverlight

Rosanna Silverlight immersing herself in her dream of writing

I always need a good drink before I begin – I never feel entirely happy sitting down without a cup of tea (a writer cliché, I know, but it’s true!) or coffee. And while I can sometimes just open up the laptop and start from a blank page, I often fall prey to the charms of the internet before productivity gets under way. A certain amount of determination can cure this, but so can total immersion in a project – which is what I’m going through right now with my novel-in-progress, an epic fantasy I’m calling Swordslave

It’s about people – the Swordslaves of the title – who are half human, half other. They’re powerful, but most of them don’t get to use that power – they’re enslaved and forced to take a drug, which suppresses the ‘taint’ of otherness in their blood. A young Swordslave gets caught up in a power struggle between two kings with different ideas on how to handle her kind, and she has to decide what freedom means to her and how far she’s willing to go to fight for it. 

Ultimately, Swordslave is about liberty, and the many guises oppression can take. I’ve finished the first draft and have begun revisions, but I’d also like to write more short stories in 2013, submit them to competitions, anthologies and literary journals, and maybe even e-publish an anthology.

I believe in looking for opportunities to write whenever and wherever I can – especially as I’m a long way off writing full time – but it’s a powerful thing to know that there is a place where I can immerse myself in my dream and allow it room to breathe. 

My number one tip for creating your own writing space? Train yourself so you can write anywhere. Then, when you get the opportunity to make a space your own, treat it as another tool to hone your craft.

Create an environment that sharpens you. And don’t stop writing.


Bio: Rosanna Silverlight spent her childhood daydreaming, reading stories about magic and ponies and later on, writing stories about magic and ponies. 

She still adores reading and still writes – though not so much about ponies these days. She graduated from Lancaster University in 2007 with a joint honours degree in English Literature and Creative Writing, and set about learning the hard way that being a daydreamer is fine, as long as you don’t expect too much. If you do, you’d best pay attention and do something about making those dreams come true. No one else will do it for you!

After a year spent in Spain and Portugal teaching English, she moved back to the UK and settled with her wonderful, imaginative boyfriend in Somerset, a beautiful part of the UK well known for its cider and Glastonbury Tor. 

Rosanna currently divides her time between working a part-time job and writing at home. She writes short stories – some of which you can read on her website [] – and is working on her first novel, Swordslave