Blogger: Wendy Lawton
One of my treasures is The Writer’s Desk, a book of duotone photographs of writers in their private workspaces taken by renowned author photographer, Jill Krementz. Next to each photograph is a paragraph or two written by each writer talking about how they do what they do. Krementz features fifty-five authors, including her husband, the late Kurt Vonnegut.
The photographs tell us more about the writers than the words ever could. For instance, Krementz captured that unforgettable Eudora Welty profile in 1972, against a sunny window as Miss Eudora sits at her desk in the bedroom typing on a manual typewriter. We can see the foot of her unmade bed– billows of white linen. Eudora Welty confessed that she rose early each day, got a cup of coffee and breakfast and settled in to work, hoping not to be interrupted for the whole day.
The photograph of Saul Bellow, taken in 1995, shows him standing at a drafting table, writing in longhand on a pad of paper. He said, “I feel that art has something to do with the achievement of stillness in the midst of chaos. A stillness which characterizes prayer, too, and the eye of the storm. I think that art has something to do with an arrest of attention in the midst of distraction.”
Dorothy West, one of the members of the Harlem Renaissance, sits on a plastic lawn chair in front of a bulletin board overflowing with notes and a delightful fluttering hodge-podge of papers. She says, “I’m a writer. I don’t cook and I don’t clean. . . Dear child, this place is a mess– my papers are everywhere. It would be exhausting to clean up.”
John Irving leans back in a leather chair, hands steepled in thought. His office is organized and spacious with a wall of windows looking out on the Vermont landscape. His writing habits? He says that he has no routine but is compulsive about writing. In the beginning of a book, the work is tedious and exacting, and he only works two or three hours a day. In the middle, he gallops, writing “eight, nine, twelve hours, seven days a week.” Then as he nears the end, he goes back to those two- to three-hour days. He says, “Finishing, like beginning is more careful work.”
Stephen King, in a photograph taken in 1995, has his feet up on his desk, writing on a pad balanced on his lap. His corgi sits under his chair, looking straight at the camera. The room has piles and piles of books and files on every surface. His style? “I don’t take notes; I don’t outline; I don’t do anything like that. I just flail away at the [#@*#!] thing. . . I’m a salami writer. I try to write good salami, but salami is salami. You can’t sell it as caviar.”
I have to confess, I love looking at writers’ workspaces. It gives us an insight into their habits and who they really are as people.
We’ve talked about our workspaces before but this time tell us, if you will, what your office reveals? What does your work environment say about you the writer? How about you, the person? Just as these authors did, draw a scene for us with pets and kids and whatever else comprises your workspace.
The Writer sat at his desk, the needed industry of busy fingers and tapping keys a balm to his soul. To the Writer’s right hand lay a Bible, open to the Psalms, and to his left lay a pistol, for he rather disliked interruptions.
Grinning, Andrew. I love the visual!
My “office” is mobile. Picture a Bali-blue, 11” Dell laptop on a computer lapdesk with a pull-out tray for the rf mouse. The ensemble moves between three main writing locations:
the dining room with a solid wall of windows overlooking the deer feeder, a grassy area, pinyon/juniper forest, and a couple of 10,000-foot mountains;
the library/computer room with one 8×13-foot wall of bookshelves, another 4×8 book case hung above the desk where the family desktop sits, and the TV my husband watches at night while I write beside him;
the TV/sewing room where the exercise bike with the computer tray sits by a south-facing wall of windows overlooking the fishpond, bird feeders, and pinyon forest.
The Roman history and writing-craft books are sorted by topic and stored in plastic boxes that are easy to haul to wherever I decide to write that day. The mobile office takes occasional long trips in an SUV or crew-cab 4×4 pickup so I can work while we travel.
What does it reveal about me? Probably that I’m flexible, not easily distracted, and compulsive about writing even when on vacation.
I, too, can write anytime, anywhere. I like your reveal, Carol–“I’m flexible, not easily distracted, and compulsive about writing.”
*I have a desk–upstairs (Hubby’s desk is at the bottom of the stairs, mine is at the top. He has better windows). But I do most of my writing on the couch or at the corner of the table closest to the wood stove. I like to write from the heart of our home (maybe because I spend most of my workday in an office). I retreat to the desk only when the noise of the living room–TV, Hubby’s guests–chase me away.
I repurposed my craft/junk/I-don’t-know-what-to-do-with-this-stuff room last summer. I love writing in this space. My computer sits on a table with a pretty scrolly-ly clock, a candle, a sewing basket that holds office supplies, some origami creations from my youngest, and a pretty kleenex dispenser, a gift from a friend. I have a very nice window that gives me glimpses of the mountains, the changing sky, and my neighborhood. As often as I can, I have the window open to bring in the breeze and noises from our neighborhood.
*To the left of the table are two bookshelves filled with books and pictures of family and friends. To the left are a few plastic chests of drawers that hold crafting supplies. Above that is a wall of artwork from my boys. To the back of the room is my favorite chair and ottoman, where I often have my quiet time and sometimes write. The floors are bare and the room is open. It makes my heart happy to write there. 🙂
*I loved the descriptions of writers workspaces, Wendy. And the glimpses into the writers themselves.
Kristen Joy Wilks
My Newfoundland dog is curled up on the love seat nearby with one of the boys’ boots that she carried up the stairs when I let her out to potty at 4:40am. I’m in the red chair-and-a-half with my feet propped up on one of the armrests and my laptop on a little bed desk that has photos of prehistoric animals and castles taped all over the surface. I have a cup of African Summer tea on a little table I made in H.S. wood shop beside me and a story to cut and polish pulled up in Word. I’ll get the boys up for school at 6:30, a half hour late since I volunteer today, so I have to hurry. But writing, so worth waking up.
My office is the tiniest room in the house, naturally, with one wall of windows overlooking our side property. There are tall bushes blocking some of the view, but often birds will nest and sing there. My desk is a little cluttered a bit right now because of the many life events this last year and some health problems in our family right now. This is the room that collects all the extras, like the box of my daughter’s 10 remaining graduation cards that I just can’t seem to toss yet. To the left of my computer is my WMU binder, full of articles I’ve written. I just completed a project involving 7 missionaries, small articles on each one … so I have notes from each of them. I’m waiting on two permission forms to come in, so I can tie up loose ends on that project. Notes sit on top of that for a cover story over the Amazon. When I look up, I see framed silouettes of my girls, taken in 2003. My calendar hangs on the wall to the right. Behind me is a 1900s style couch, that I just can’t part with … it’s blue and beige checked. I love it. And my camera stays in the camera bag on the couch. I use the camera all the time. 🙂 My girls’ school books are on the bookshelf hidden in a notched-out wall area, and I’m staring at my daughter’s SAT ticket for May.
Carol, I misspelled at least one word … I thought I had it wrong, but for some reason, I was waiting for a red line to show up underneath it. Lol. Can you spot it? 🙂
Not the first time through. I chunk when I read, so I’m a terrible proofreader if I’m not concentrating on doing a word-by-word examination. I have to drag a pointer or pencil tip along the words to keep from chunking.
If they made a movie about my writing office, they would title it “Clutterama”.
I call it “The Dungeon”, because it’s in the basement, but in reality it’s far from dreary. It’s a walkout basement. Nearby is a mostly-glass door that exits to a small deck. I sit facing east. If I look just above my computer monitors, I look through windows out into unbroken woods, primarily pin oaks. I can see the squirrels as they get on our lower deck and climb to the deck above to steal birdseed.
What does it say about me? That I’m disorganized. That I do indeed have Genre Focus Disorder. That I’d rather write than clean. That I commingle stuff. That I’m busy. My family finances and stock trading materials are in piles next to my writing piles. Can’t seem to keep them separated. But, when I hit a wall with my writing, I just shift to entering finances in spreadsheets, filing receipts (yes, I do that much), or checking progress with our trading business. Always something to do.
David, I’d worry about you if you’d rather clean than write.
I sit on the chaise end of our tan corduroy couch, legs crossed at the ankles, buried under a weight of blankets. Save for the soft glow of the floor lamp and wisps of hazy Arizona light seeping in between the blinds, the house is dark. A black-and-white, curly-haired Havanese snoozes at my feet. Steam rises and swirls from the fresh coffee at my side, and the methodical hum of the dishwasher sets the stage for my work. Sure, I have a desk and and office, decorated with inspiring words and colors. But when the family is out, and the house is mine, this is truly my favorite place to write – reserving the desk for articles and series works of non-fiction, I prefer to let my characters meet me here on the couch, surrounded by the aftermath of chaos and noise of a family headed into the the world for the day.
Jennifer Zarifeh Major
I sit in the dining room. My laptop rests on, of all things, a rectangular tempered glass plate meant for hot dishes on our Empire era (1800-1899), sapele (aka ribbon mahogany) 50 inch round table. This table has 200 years of untold stories, and I’m rather proud to say that the boys at Antiques Roadshow freaked out over it.
Annnnnnnyway…from my spot at the table, to my left in the dining room double glass doors. There’s supposed to be deck there, but yeah, the deck fairy left. I can see a small forest of white birch, a massive weeping willow, lots of pine trees, and my blackberry bushes. Oh, and 2 feet of packed snow, and an ice storm. To my right, is the living room and the picture window. Earlier today I could see our quiet street, my snowed under perennial beds, and another white birch. Instead, I see and hear ice.
Since I finished my late breakfast, and the plate is licked clean, my 14 year old mutt has taken up his spot on one of the 3 beds in the house.
(It’s hard to get good help these days, seriously.)
All my craft and research books are sorted and in my bookcase.
All the dishes are all over the kitchen because hey, je n’care pas. But yeah, someone has to clean up the jungle.
Janet Ann Collins
That makes me feel so much better about the piles of paper in my messy office. Nice to know I’m not the only one. 🙂
For a little comic relief–here’s another approach to the writing workspace: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9aPCHwNaKGY
Love this! I wonder if those coffee pots do blog posts as well?
I write on a comfy chair with an ottoman in the center of my busy home. I have a room reserved as “office” in my basement, but I never use it, because it’s too quiet and I feel I’m missing out on my family life if I squirrel away there. Despite the interruptions and the chaos, I like to be in the midst of my main living area as I create. I have a fireplace to my right, the Mississippi River out the back door where I see it change from season to season, and two dogs, a cat, four children, and a husband coming and going. I don’t think everyone could write this way, but, for me, it’s who I am. It’s who my characters are. They are real people, with real lives, real obstacles, real interruptions, and real hopes and dreams they’re living in their day-to-day.
I often leave the relative peace of my writing desk for the kitchen table for the same reason. I feel left out!
For those of us with more “random” workspaces: The Second Law of Thermodynamics states that the disorder of a system spontaneously increases. Tidy isn’t normal. Messy is. Who are we to think we can challenge the natural result of the 2nd Law?
Jennifer Zarifeh Major
EXACTLY!! Thank you for the scientific backup. I’ll mention this to Mr Scientist later. HA!
Wendy L Macdonald
I love this post, Wendy. Magazines such as Victoria, Country Living, and anything cottage-like draws me in—and all the more does a peek into a writer’s place.
I’m sitting in the attic room on my antique hand-me-down rocking chair whose oak arms are carved and ready—like a butterfly net—to capture an abundance of sticky notes scrawled with words flying in and out of my mind. My feet rest on a footstool covered in wool blankets and cotton quilts. My coffee cup, now empty, rests beside the vintage lamp on the old side table while my laptop warms my legs as I form phrases, paragraphs and pages of prose. Devotions are done, so my journal and CROSS pen are tucked into a wooden drawer until tomorrow morning when I will again stumble in the dark to click the light on a new day of writing.
Blessings ~ Wendy Mac
I’m loving these word pictures! Doesn’t it tell stories about the writer to picture his environment?
I learned so much from this post, Wendy. Not just about writers and their work spaces, but also about their writing process through the quotes that you shared. Fascinating! I feel greatly comforted that my work space, much to my irritation, tends to be quite messy with paper stacks and books cluttering the area. Now I can simply say, like Dorothy West, “I’m a writer,” to explain why I don’t clean the place up and don’t have time to cook.
I love this topic!
I write from a little loft office in our log cabin in the woods–which works beautifully for an introvert. 🙂
I think it’s so special to me b/c my husband built our home (he’s not a builder), and told me to shut my eyes, and then led me upstairs to my office. I had no idea. I feel like a bird in her nest.
My office is a repurposed closet. Thankfully, it has a window. My desk is a door supported by two filing cabinets. The hole meant for a doorknob provides a perfect opening for the cords required for my printer, monitor, and laptop. Shelves? They are filled with Bibles new and old, Christian nonfiction, mostly ancient, and get well cards, because the cancer diagnosis delivered six months ago tomorrow is now in the past!
Damon J. Gray
I want very much to be able to say my writer’s station is the sandy beach upon which waves gently throw themselves with hypnotic repetition as a pair of seagulls sing longingly and softly above me, while a warm, gentle breeze plays with what little remains of my hair. I want to say it, because it is such a romantic image, but it is also a pathetic a lie.
My office is a box – four walls and a window, with as few distractions as I can get by with. Even the tree on the other side of my office window is often too much of a distraction for me. My environment must be me, with a keyboard, mouse, and monitors all feeding and fed from a 20 year old computer case that is on its fourth motherboard/CPU upgrade.
It is here that I research ideas and historical accounts, giddy with excitement as I learn. The desk is a cheap glass and chrome IKEA boxed item that does not complement any of the decor of our home, and it hides behind a veteran leather office chair showing signs of age and service far beyond what one could reasonably expect it to have rendered.
The only endearing thing about my office is Mister Bear, my cat, who insists on sitting atop my lap as I write. To my shame, I allow him to do so.