A Space For Writing

Olivia Quenneville

Presented at the 2019 OutLines Undergraduate Symposium.

Here is a moment. It is created by space and time, by emotion and imagination. It is a living thing that captures, absorbs, and urges us to write.

Sometimes the urges to write shake you from deep sleep. Sometimes it breaks through a commotion of thoughts and grips you. Sometimes your mind is completely empty and the first thing that pops into your head seems like the greatest idea you’ve ever had. It might be your last great idea. It needs to be written down.

We don’t always understand the urges to write, but we feel we must satisfy them. For me, journaling is the remedy for these urges.

My journal is filled with “Here” moments: moments where things felt significant. I’ve experienced moments, though, where I could not tell what was significant, yet I felt I had to write about it. I think maybe these moments were not so much about noticing things, as they were about noticing myself, figuring out what was on my mind, uncovering a deeply-hidden thought or emotion, or urge. In these moments, I literally write about here.

Here is a space. My mind is here, so I must write about here.

When I write about here, I feel grounded. I can feel the physical space. While I am writing, I am creating even more space in the words I scribble on the page. Each word takes up a space on the page; the page takes up space in the journal; the journal takes up space on my desk; I take up space in this room. In this space. I am space.

You can place things in space. You can hide things, or hide yourself. You can make yourself see things.

I put things in my journal – things that mean something to me. It is a safe place for me to store anything I want to hold on to and return to.

Maybe that’s why they call it keeping a journal – it’s keeping writing. Keeping things.

There must be a reason why I decide to keep certain things, people, places, moments.

In her essay On Keeping A Notebook, Joan Didion explores this same situation of keeping writing, and it seems that even she struggles with the “why” of it all.

She says, “Since the note is in my notebook, it presumably has some meaning to me,” (131) but in a later passage she remarks that these notes have “meaning only for [their] maker. And sometimes even the maker has difficulty with its meaning” (136-137).

Why do we keep “here” moments if we don’t always understand their significance? Why does the maker of meaning not always understand the meaning of what they’re making?

There may not be an answer to this question. Sometimes I need to write just to write and I don’t have to know why. And I am satisfied with that.

When I write just to write, an automatic reflection begins and things start to make sense. “Sense” might be just a feeling, or it might be something I can put into words, but at the very least, writing it down feels right.

Why do I keep writing and why do I keep writing?

Adam J. Kurtz says, “…write things down to make them real…Regardless of what you’re doing, write something down that you can’t ignore” (97).

I can’t ignore the thoughts that wake me or the words that grip me. As I write these things down and turn thoughts into reality, I give them meaning. I give them space to live. It was their abstractness that was confusing, but now I can see them. Abstract thoughts take form in the shape of letters on paper. They exist. Here.

Writing can just be space or existence, if that’s what you want it to be. If you don’t want it to be anything, let the space be meaningless.

My journal writing is sometimes like asemic writing: writing without clear meaning, aesthetic writing, free writing. Think of asemic writing as the scribbles you make when testing out a new pen (Gaze, asemic.net). It is “writing” because the pen is being used to scribble a symbol or character onto paper, but there is no real meaning in the action of writing, other than testing out the pen, perhaps. Asemic writing is like writing just to write, with no clear intentions, just to get something down.

I don’t think writing always has to mean something. I think you can compose words for the purpose of wanting to write something, anything. To fill a space, or a void.

Without the aspect of artistry, the simplest sense of the word “compose” just means to create something (Oxford Dictionary).  I want to believe the act of putting words on paper or into a Word document has meaning, whether or not what they say makes sense. In the moment words are only words and letters are only shapes, but putting them in a space together is significant. It’s like writing nothing.

John Cage – one of the most significant avant-garde composers – wrote nothing. Without understanding his intentions for the piece 4’33, many would believe the piece is just silence. But 4’33 is an incredibly audible experience. Even though the piece instructs the musicians not to play their instruments for all three movements, the musicians and their instruments exist, the audience exists, Cage exists. The music comes not from the instruments, but from the environment, which changes each time the piece is performed in a new space. For four minutes and thirty three seconds, everyone exists in the same place and they are listening to a moment in time being preserved. Meaning exists in existence.

In his Lecture on Nothing, Cage says, “I have nothing to say and I am saying it” (109). He says part of “making nothing” is understanding how to handle the materials the creator chooses to use. Placing words into a journal is a conscious handling of materials. You can create nothing if you are conscious about it, and I believe conscious decisions are meaningful. If you can’t find meaning in your words maybe there is greater meaning in the space itself – in the journal.

The journal has an inherent purpose, whether or not it is obvious to keepers of the journal. But they return. And they write. And make meaning.

Writing in my journal is a purpose in itself. The purpose is to create space for thoughts, stories, and emotions, for things I want to keep. I keep filling its space until it is full.

Then I buy a new journal and I start filling the space again.

These spaces are permanent. I can re-enter spaces I thought were gone forever. When I return to them, I discover I have created a photo album of my life, containing candid moments where I was always somehow myself but never the same. It turns infinite, constantly moving, changing space and time into concrete words, letters, and spaces. It turns a moment, into a memory, into a permanent imprint.

While I create space for my writing, I create space for myself to live, to breathe, to exist. I am also creating space for my selves. I give a lasting life to all the people I’ve been, the person I am, might become, and never want to be again. It is a mental and physical reflection.

But it is also refraction.

I pass through my writing as one person, and come out the other side as another, or as an other.

I continue to meet myself and I introduce myself to new selves. I am always becoming new versions of myself, and by writing things down, I am able to see these selves as other people, not myself.

It is an experience similar to Deleuze and Guattari’s theory of becoming. As Leonard Lawlor explains, “For Deleuze and Guattari, the criterion for a successful becoming therefore is that something is written down, that by writing the becoming down one ‘conserves’ the formulas that will allow others to become…” (178). Writing things down preserves time and pauses the person we are in this exact moment. Writing allows us to reflect on who we have become and where we go from here.

As I pause and reflect on who I am, I am able to understand, or at least try.  As I’ve said, and as Didion has explored, the things that end up in my journal are written for a reason, because somehow they are significant. There might be something in a moment, about who I am at this time, that I may need to refer to in the future, if I ever find myself lost.

Compose also means to calm or settle. My journal gives me space to feel something or nothing if that’s what I need to do to feel “okay.” The space is mine, and I am the life that is living in it. Without me being a part of it, the journal is simply paper. It is an empty book with no story.

I am writing its story, and the story is my life. It’s me. The journal becomes me, as I transfer parts of my mind to its pages. I hold on to it so that I never lose myself, so that I can see myself from the outside in, so that from here I can begin to understand who my true self might be.

And so here is a moment. Here is a space. I must write about here because here will never happen again. I will never return to these thoughts, this space, for the first time. These particular pages will never be blank again. I will never be exactly as I was before I took time to write.

But what goes in the journal stays constant. It never changes. It always exists exactly as it is. Forever. And it brings me back to here. To the time I was like this.


Cage, John. “Lecture on Nothing.” Silence: Lectures and Writings by John Cage, Wesleyan University Press, 1973, pp. 109.

“Compose,” Oxford Dictionary, https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/compose.

Didion, Joan. “On Keeping a Notebook.” Slouching Towards Bethlehem, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2008, pp. 131, 136-137.

Gaze, Tim. “Asemic.” Asemic.net. http://www.asemic.net/.

Kurtz, Adam J. Things Are What You Make of Them: Life Advice for Creatives. TarcherPerigree, 2017, pp. 97.

Lawlor, Leonard. “Following the Rats: Becoming-Animal in Deleuze and Guattari.” SubStance, vol. 37, no. 3, 2008, pp. 169–187. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/25195191.

About the Writer

Olivia Quenneville is a writer and musician, and is currently studying both
of these fields in her fourth year at York University. When she’s not doing
schoolwork, practicing self-care, or practicing music, Olivia spends many
hours writing and thinking about writing. Through her reflective and
thoughtful style, she often explores deeper meanings in the happenings of
everyday life, writing pieces that can be deeply personal yet resonant with
like-minded thinkers.

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