Going to the Fish House

During our Seaside Workshop/Retreat this year, I spent the quiet-time hours of the morning writing in three different places:

  • my upstairs bedroom with the door closed and the light off
  • on a daybed in an secluded corner of the upstairs hall of the house
  • in the fish house, pictured here, about a 5 minute walk from the house.

The fish house where Kathy Stinson likes to write

I was happy with the work I did in all of them, but what struck me most about that week was how much easier it was to get lost in the worlds of my characters than it usually is at home, despite the fact I have a perfectly nice room of my own to work in there.

In all three places and especially in the fish house, it was as if I were in a bubble. I knew no one would speak to me or even around me (quiet time at the retreat comes with a strict ‘no talking’ rule). No phones were going to ring and no email messages were going to come in. For three hours (or more) there would be no interruption beyond the possible need to step outside and pee in the bushes. How deeply engrossed I became in my work felt so different from what I’d grown accustomed to. I found myself thinking, ‘How do I replicate this kind of writing environment when I get home?’

Well, I’ve done it.

After eliminating other possible options (this place isn’t quiet enough, that one’s too chilly), I set up my own little ‘fish house’ in — believe it or not — a little corner beside the furnace. The furnace/laundry room/storage room is the warmest room in the basement. It has a door on it I can close. Because I’m facing a small corner, I can’t see what’s being stored at the other end of the room (which would make me think I should organize it better) or the washer and dryer (so I’m not inspired to do some laundry instead of writing either).

And it’s working. After trying it out for a couple of weeks, I gave the space a fresh coat of paint and replaced a makeshift arrangement of an old unused nightstand and a few boards with a nice little desk I found on kijiji.

Now when I’m going to work on my current writing project, I make myself a pot of herbal  tea, grab my laptop (with its wi-fi turned off), and if my husband is home, I tell him “I’m going to the fish house”. I tell myself that, too, because psychologically it beats ‘I’m going to the furnace room’.

I only write in my fish house, where all I can hear is the hum of the furnace beside me and the voices of my characters, and all I have to look at are the images in my head and my words on the screen. (I work in full-screen mode in the “fish house” to eliminate as much visual noise as possible.

Answering email, doing Facebook and other internet tasks, writing blog posts, freelance editing, making phonecalls, keeping track of the finances — they all get done in my room upstairs, where I used to do everything. I “go to the fish house” only when I want to create, to focus on my writing. The act of going there seems to act as a signal to my brain that I’m intending to go into that bubble where truly sinking into the world of a story will be possible.

It’s amazing the effect of that intention and of ‘I do one thing and only one thing in this space’. Who knew it was possible to get so excited about a corner by the furnace?

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Kathy Stinson is the author of the classic Red Is Best and the award-winning The Man with the Violin. Her wide range of titles includes picture books, non-fiction, young adult fiction, historical fiction, horror, biography, series books, and short stories. She has met with her readers in every province and territory of Canada, in the United States, Britain, Liberia, and Korea. She lives in a small town in Ontario.

Kathy Stinson


  1. Tudor on October 30, 2013 at 10:33 am

    This is a great tip Kathy! I wrote so much this summer while sitting in a particular little armchair in a corner at our cottage. When I sat there I didn't even think of doing anything else but working on my WIP. Like you, when I got home, I wondered how I could replicate that. So now, when I want to really just WRITE, I head upstairs and sit in our window seat. The sun streams in there, so it's nice and warm, and it also makes me feel good to have found a great purpose for this part of the house we liked so much when we bought it, but we've never really USED up until now.

  2. Jan Coates on October 31, 2013 at 1:26 am

    Well, you know how I feel about the Sandy Bay fish house, but your new one sounds lovely, too.

    Oddly enough, when I really need to get inside my character's head(s) and the world of the story I'm creating, I go to the Student Union Building (SUB) at Acadia. Even though I have a perfectly nice writing room, and a Kijiji antique desk I totally love, for some reason I'm more fully engaged/productive in the place where I used to do most of my writing as a student. Old habits die hard, I guess. But part of it is being away from whatever else may need doing in the house (walking the dog, etc).

  3. Kathy Stinson on October 31, 2013 at 8:44 am

    Tudor, I think the fact that writing being the sole activity associated with my fish house and your sunny window seat is key to why they're such effective places to go. And what a wonderful purpose for that attractive spot in your house. Happy writing.

  4. Kathy Stinson on October 31, 2013 at 8:48 am

    Nice to have a spot like the Acadia SUB close by to retreat to, Jan. A change of scene often helps jog the creative noggin, I think, especially if it's away from the demands often associated with home. I like that you found your writing desk on kijiji too. Happy writing.

  5. Mary Jane Muir on October 31, 2013 at 10:25 am

    I love this post. Jacquie Pearce posted the link on facebook. After reading it, I ordered you e-book on writing picture books and I am hoping it arrives soon to my email in box. I am taking part in Picture Book Idea Month in November and very excited to give it a try. I think your book is going to help me a long the way. Many thanks!

    • Kathy on October 31, 2013 at 10:33 am

      Mary Jane, your e-book Writing Picture Books will arrive very soon. My trusty Organized Assistant takes care of delivering it for me, because sometimes orders for it come in when I'm not in a position to send it out as quickly as I'd like. I hope the book will prove helpful. Please let me know how Picture Book Idea Month works out. It sounds like a fun program. (Thanks to Jacquie for posting the link on Fb.)

  6. […] now before I’m writing by the sea again, in the fish house that inspired me last year to set up my “fish house” in the furnace room back home in […]

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