Lesa Knollenberg
freelance writer in
madison, wi

Where I Sit

Spring 2019

Writing is a lonely sport. There are no holiday parties or company softball teams, but one of the ways I get my people-fix is giving presentations to K-12 students about the writerly life. My favorite part is the end, when I precariously open it up to questions. I’ve had some doozies over the years:

What’s your favorite book?

What’s your favorite cereal?

Favorite planet? (By the way, it’s now pronounced “Urine-Us.” Lesson learned.)

Do you have a family? Do they play Fortnite?

How long have you loved to write?

The most common question I get: Where do you write?

That’s when I present this photo of my spot in the public library’s Quiet Room. It’s usually alight with sun and inspiration and other bibliophiles, although it’s been a bit dicey lately because of retired men napping in the comfy chairs — which would be fine, except for the snoring. But it doesn’t take long until any small noise startles them and they look around, embarrassed, and we all go back to our work.


Usually I start in our home office, where I can spread out rough drafts and get advice from my writing consultants.


The year we moved to an apartment while renovating our house I used any available space. The consultants didn’t seem to care.


If it’s warm enough, I like to work on our screened-in porch. Last summer I made it my morning practice. Straight from bed to chair, with a stop in the kitchen for coffee, I got to work before my ‘internal editor’ awoke and started her snark. She can be quite relentless, but likes to sleep in. It’s my favorite part of the day; the morning still promises long stretches of good thinking, muting the rest of my responsibilities. The birds, after rising at four am, are on their first nap of the day, the cat crouched at the screen waiting for them to wake, the dog at my feet. He snores, too.


I’ve been a freelance writer for years but now am writing a novel. I came up with the main character almost twenty years ago while rocking my youngest, who never slept. Ever. Then, after an especially difficult hot yoga class ten years ago, I was on my back, staring at the ceiling, and an idea appeared like a sweat-induced apparition. I sat up, ready to write a book — a suspense novel set in the world of hot yoga. I thought the hard part was over.

Turns out writing a novel is an entirely different sport. There are conventions of the genre and inherent rules for plot I never knew existed. I feel like I’m up to bat with a hockey stick. It’s been eight years since I first put pen to paper for a flimsy rough draft, seven years since I admitted I had no idea what I was doing. Since then I’ve been taking classes, going to conferences, listening to podcasts, and most importantly: reading. My learning curve is so steep it’s almost vertical. Each day I feel like a beginner and each day it’s a struggle to get my bum in the chair. It’s daunting, because one of the most important tenets of fiction is this: every decision matters, whether it’s choosing character traits, software, or where to get the work done. As I learned how to write fiction, it was all a Very.Big.Deal.

Until it wasn’t.

Last spring my friend sat right here on the porch, a tiny imprint against the wicker armrest, to tell us that her treatment wasn’t working, that the tumors had grown, that hospice had been called. She bravely sat right here to tell us that hers wasn’t a beginning, but an ending. We cried, we hugged, we tried to say a hopeful goodbye. She broke my heart when she asked us to watch over her children. We sat here until dark, past the point where words made sense.

Almost a month to that day she was gone.

Now every day I sit down to work in that same spot, and I understand how lucky I am to be here. I’m graced with the responsibility to make the most of each day, to not be too precious about my choices, and to be confident in my perspective. I remind myself — daily — that things that once felt hard really aren’t. Hard is sharing joy at graduation parties, knowing you’ll never throw one for your own kids. Hard is keeping your pain silent so you don’t worry your parents or husband. Hard is the courage to say goodbye.

I feel called to honor my friend and the others we’ve lost recently by hearing their voices and telling their stories. Somebody needs to write it down. And from where I sit, I’m honored to comply.