Catapult Extra

My Workspace: Marcia Butler

Of Mind and Matter

Catapult Writing Program alumna Marcia Butler’s memoir, The Skin Above My Knee, was published last month by Little, Brown. We asked Marcia to share a snapshot of her writing space. She talks about her pre-writing process, which involves using music to access creativity and an ancient stone that sits on her desk.


My place of work begins within my mind. Before I even approach the desk to write every day, I engage my imagination with the infinite, in the form of music. Sound waves never die, and when they are created from music, I see this as an opportunity to be connected to boundless creativity. So, Ill select music from YouTube—almost at random. It could be Mozart, Philip Glass, James Brown, or Wagner—just whatever suits my whimsy that day. For ten minutes, I sit and listen with presence and intention. Then I am ready to write.

Because I was a professional oboist for many years, I bring the rigor and discipline of practicing to writing. For 25 years, I practiced almost every day, and on many days for hours at a time. That is what is required to be a successful musician; indeed, the profound art of music asks for nothing less. Writing calls for the same rigor. Whatever I am working on demands that I give my time, fully—even when I feel that Im getting nowhere and producing garbage. (This happens almost every day!) But I know from my experience in music that the golden stuff comes after the chafe, the grind, and the sadness. One rarely hits high notes until youve missed many.

My desk, as you might imagine by now, is usually pristine. I love my (supposedly) 1,000-year-old Chinese philosophers stone for visual inspiration and at times I place my hands on the chilly surface. I keep a black notebook handy to jot notes. I find myself getting up often, walking to the window, washing my face and hands. I never eat or drink when I’m working; I like to stay just this side of hungry and thirsty.