JoAnne Burek: June 2018 Barefoot Writing Challenge Winner

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Congratulations to JoAnne Burek for Winning the June 2018 Barefoot Writing Challenge! (Your $100 prize is on its way!)

The challenge was to write an essay that answered this question:

If you could spend an afternoon writing from anywhere in the world, where would you go and why?

JoAnne interlaced childhood nostalgia with modern-world wisdom to describe her perfect writing retreat. Enjoy her winning submission:


I have been thinking about what life was like before computers and the internet. One particular memory is from the time when I was growing up on my family’s farm. I loved spending my idle afternoons reading, and my favorite place to read was the hayloft of our barn.

As with most barns on the northern prairies, the lower level was made of concrete. The milk cows stayed there from early evening until they were milked and let out in the morning.

The upper level was the hayloft, and it was more than twice as high as the lower part. The barn had weathered to a soft gray, but its size and structure made it the most important-looking building in the farmyard.

In the summertime, the hayloft was an irresistible place. Bales of hay and straw were stacked high against the walls. I arranged some bales into a comfortable couch. With the hayloft’s wide door left open to the outside, the lighting was perfect. On sunny afternoons I spent hours there, reading books.

The air smelled faintly of dried clover, alfalfa, and grasses. Free of moisture, it was clean and warm. The space was as quiet as could be, as the bales muffled all sounds. The only noise was the trill of the barn swallows outside as they flitted to and from their nests under the roof.

Alone and with uninterrupted focus, I immersed myself in stories and imagination.

Could I re-create that environment for an afternoon of writing?

Today, I have a home office with all the tools most writers have. I am surrounded by wireless things that we no longer call “high-tech.” My chair is expensive and ergonomic, although I probably spend too much time in it.

Distractions go on all day. Email notifications pop up on my screen because I allow it — I don’t want to miss a message from a client. Phone bots call to offer me special deals — recklessly flouting our privacy laws. The doorbell rings to announce parcel deliveries. (I wonder if my family is addicted to online shopping.)

I play music that is scientifically designed to improve my concentration.

At my desk I can drink tea and eat food all day long if I want to. And occasionally I do… not just to fuel up, but to distract myself. Years ago in the barn, I would never have dreamed of bringing in food and drink.

It’s a different world now. Writing is easier than ever, with our tools, books, and good chairs. But managing the distractions is getting harder.

If I could choose any place in the world to write for the afternoon, I would find a large barn and head for the hayloft. I would bring only a small box of writing supplies and some books. And I’d let the barn swallows provide the music.

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