My Writing Garret

August 8, 2022 § 19 Comments

By Nancy L. Agneberg

I write in a garret.

Do you imagine, when you read those words, someone perched on a window seat in the uppermost floor of a dignified English manor? Is a refined-looking young woman gazing dreamily out at a meadow abundant with summer wildflowers? Perhaps she holds a small leather-bound journal and an exquisite fountain pen. Soon a maid will bring her a cup of tea and a biscuit and ask, “Is there anything else you need, miss?”

What a lovely picture.  Aristocratic, serene, and cultivated.  

My reality, however, is a bit different. 

When our realtor introduced us several years ago to our current home, a 1920’s bungalow in a midwestern city, I was not impressed, for it felt dull and drab. The kitchen was the size of many suburban closets. The living room was long and narrow, and I wondered where to anchor our couch. 

Our realtor, however, uninfluenced by my concerns, could hardly wait for me to go up the stairs to the finished half-story. “Wait till you see your new writing space. You will fall in love,” she coaxed.

And I did.

I love my garret.

A garret is defined as an attic, usually cramped, but doesn’t the word sound more inviting than that? My garret is a private and quiet space, an escape from the normal functioning of our household. A space where I reflect on the meaning and gifts of my life. A space where I play with and arrange words.

At the top of the stairs are two large windows where I have hung a string of twinkle lights. Two skylights add to the brightness and airiness of the space, and the walls are lined with bookshelves and built-in drawers. I often begin my day reading, meditating, and journal writing in a comfortable chair tucked into a nook. Upholstered in vintage tablecloths, the Girlfriend Chair was once located in a feminine-looking guest bedroom. 

My husband and I found most of the furniture—bookshelves, desk, tables—on antiquing jaunts. In our previous home, the shabby chic desk painted turquoise served as my vanity. I stored brushes, lipstick, and creams in baskets on the desk’s open shelves. Now my laptop, along with pages of my in-progress memoir, waiting for the latest revision, have taken over, and the baskets are piled with pens and markers, notebooks, and files.

The view from my desk—no meadow of waving wildflowers—is merely the roof of our garage, but occasionally, I see a squirrel or two frolic across the shingles. When the windows are open, the gurgle-burble of a tabletop fountain distracts me from the urban sounds of sirens and garbage trucks and neighborhood children playing tag or bouncing on a backyard trampoline.

This is where I write. My sanctuary.

I am not alone, however. Many years ago, after my mother died, I met with a psychic, and she told me I have two companions with me when I write. One is a   Native American man named Tony, and he stands behind my chair. He encourages me, she said, to always write the truth. The other is an English woman from the Victorian era. The psychic didn’t know her name, but she told me this woman wanted to be a writer herself, and now she reminds me to follow my dreams, to practice my craft, to create time and space for my work. I think they both approve of my garret.

Perhaps you prefer to write in a public space, a coffee shop or a library’s reference room, and occasionally, I like that, too. Before the pandemic, I sometimes drove an hour away to the college campus where I got my bachelor’s degree and where I met my husband. I set up temporary office space in the new science building. This new building has an area with tables and chairs arranged by huge windows, looking out over a beautiful valley. Between classes students sit and talk at one of the other tables, but for the most part it is quiet. Being in a new space inspires me and encourages me to welcome a new perspective. 

Returning home, I bring the energy of my away day with me and once again I shelter in the garret. Most days I only leave for lunch or to throw another load of laundry into the washer or sometimes to do errands—grocery shop or pick up books from the library or a grandchild from school. And when I descend late afternoon to begin fixing dinner for my husband and myself, he often asks me, “Did you accomplish what you wanted to?” 

If I wrote several more pages of my memoir or started a new essay or found just the right quotation to use in a blog post, I say with honesty, “Yes.” Somedays, however, as ideas percolate, I spend the day browsing my extensive library of theology and spirituality books but may not write a word. I know that is ok, for writing takes time and patience and a willingness to follow threads of interest and possibility.

No matter the task of the day, no matter what I accomplished or if I feel productive or not, the garret supports me with its energy of acceptance, trust, and retreat.

Do you have a garret—a special place, that is, that inspires your creativity and shelters you when you need quiet and restoration? If you don’t have that space yet, imagine what it would look like. What do you need in your own garret space? How can you create that for yourself? I would love to know.


Nancy L. Agneberg is a spiritual director in St Paul, MN, whose spiritual practices include writing, reading and studying, hometending, walking the labyrinth, and doing T’ai Chi. One of the many delights in her life is facilitating a weekly writing group, In Your Own Words, Contemplative Writing as Spiritual Practice. 

Her essays have appeared in Bella Grace; Presence, An International Journal of Spiritual Direction and Companionship; BookWomen; Monk in the World; Minnesota Women’s Press; and Coping with Cancer. Agneberg posts every Tuesday and Thursday on her blog,  

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§ 19 Responses to My Writing Garret

  • Enjoyed reading your posting! Quite frankly, I am jealous!

  • DavidWBerner says:

    Loved this telling of your “space.” I can relate. I work in a “shed” on the property of my suburban Chicago home. And it is a dream for a contemplative, quiet writer,

  • nagneberg48 says:

    How good it is to have a space that nurtures.

  • I think I became a writer because my parents moved me out of the room I shared with my brother and into a renovated attic, painted lavender. There I was above the sturm and drama of my brother’s tantrums, my mother’s loud frustration, Salty’s frequent escapes, and could fly my homemade paper dolls out the window, sending them on perilous journeys that I myself would one day take. With all of the talk about writing groups and community, perhaps we miss the inspirations to be found in privacy and solitude. Thanks for reminding us…

  • says:

    I recall Sarah Lawrence Lightfoot, “The Art and Science of Portraiture” talking about writing in such a way that the readers get the benefit of a vivid picture in their minds. That is what you have done so ably in your rendering of your garret story. Thank you,

  • nagneberg48 says:

    How kind. Thank you so much. And speaking of Sarah Lawrence-Lightfoot, her book Third Chapter, Passion, Risk and Adventure in the 25 Years After 50 was a great influence especially in my 60’s.

  • I never tire of seeing writers’ workspaces. The sacred heirlooms, the rituals, the ways they invite the muse. Thank you for the tour of yours. Shared in Twitter.

    • nagneberg48 says:

      Thank you for taking the tour. I love seeing pictures of bookshelves, too, and visiting homes/museums of famous writers and feeling the energy of those spaces.

  • […] I was the guest blogger on the Brevity Nonfiction Blog yesterday, August 8, and I invite you to read my post, “My Writing Garret.” […]

  • Julie Christensen says:

    I’m so glad you walked up the stairs! Love reading about how you’ve made that space yours.

  • Some years ago one of my daughters had a wonderful condo balcony overlooking the Wicomico river, western exposure. It was quite large, one half screened, and I frequented it often. The eleven mile drive on most any weather permitting day, made it grand for writing and reflecting. I lost that venue when she moved, such a loss it was. I do miss those sunsets. We have two porches, to the West, screened, to the North open and looking at a two hundred year old family plot cemetery across the street. Invariably a cat will lay restful upon a tombstone, truly tranquil, it often sets the mood of the writer within. Peace to the land of the Vikings.

  • Diana says:

    Nancy, your writing space sounds lovely. It does indeed help to have a place where you can be surrounded with positive energy in which to write. Your piece inspired me to clean up my writing room (that I share with three cats) change some furniture and reactivate the peaceful vibe I once had. I allowed it to become pretty helter-skelter over time and it needs a refreshing. The bookcases are all higdilly pigdilly – from taking books down to reference or reread and then stacking them in available spaces instead of putting them back where they belong. The table next to my desk is piled with papers, notes, notebooks, and journals that I have referenced and then stacked instead of filed. Even the pictures on the walls and mementos I tacked up need to be rearranged or discarded. I too have a lovely pondering view from my window that showcases the seasons. I’m enjoying monsoons this week. The Sonoran Desert is alive.

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