Blogger: Wendy Lawton
Location: Books & Such Central Valley Office, CA
Weather: Warm and sunny
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 as well. My friend, Dragonspell author Donita K. Paul, has been collecting photos of writer’s offices and has posted these on her website at http://www.donitakpaul.com/gallery/offices/index.html.
So tell us, what does your workspace look like? What about your work habits? Do you have regular writing times? A set number of pages per day? Do you use a computer for everything or do you start with pen and paper? (And does the kind of pen matter?)
Love the Paul’s pictures and I was struck by how some writers can write in chaos and others have stark nothing in front of them. Mary Stewart once commented in a novel that the best place to write was in a small closet with one light and no view–otherwise everything is a distraction.
For me, it’s hard to type this on the family computer that sits in the great room, keys sticking together because “someone” who won’t own up to it spilled hot chocolate across the keyboard . . . But I’ve got the Flip Dictionary at the ready, whatever research book I need, and can always move to the laptop on the card table in the bedroom if all else fails . . .
And I remember, too, that Madeleine L’Engle once said a writer needs to learn how to write in the dribs and drabs of life–her first novel was written in half hour stretches in between acting in a play.
At least I think it was Madeleine L’Engle–I’d have to get out of my chair to search the bookshelves in another room to find out! 🙂
I don’t believe in spontaneous public confession. ;o) There’s no way I’m telling.
Great discussion, Wendy. As for me, I’m most comfortable at my desk with all my sticky notes and my huge dry erase board on easel beside me. I normally try to write at least a scene or a chapter a day when I’m actually writing. 😀
I love _The Writer’s Desk_. Mine looks like the less neat ones. LOL
I love looking through _The Writer’s Desk_! I often check it out from the library.
It’s important to me to keep my audience in mind when I write. I keep photos of people who represent my audience above my computer. For example, I have a photo of a mother reading to her child in the library posted there. I write to this mother when I work on my book for parents on reading to their young children.
As for the current state of the top of my desk, it won’t be photographed anytime soon. 🙂
Donita K. Paul
I stew creatively all day long, roaming from room to room, chastising myself for being a sluggard and not getting anything done. Then voila! The sun sets and I beat out what was percolating on the burner. I can recognize the pattern, but when I am in the midst of it, I persecute myself. Oh, and I write in a leather massage chair. I don’t massage and write at the same time. Too bouncy.
The terrible thing about today’s blog is that I now have a new book to search out. Oh the horror! 😉
Unfortunately, Danica, the book is out of print, but it is a treasure and well worth every penny you’ll have to pay. I recently found another copy on Abebooks.com. Or you can do what our resident librarian, Judy Gann, does– check it out at the library.
Crystal Laine Miller
I’m getting a new laptop in a few days and we have a wireless system in our house. Last summer we finished off our screened-in back porch, which overlooks a wooded ravine of 7 acres with a creek flowing through it to the river near our house.
I plan on spending the warmer months out there. I love the outdoors and this is as close as I’ll get to having that retreat-like cabin I have longed for–especially since it seems I’m overrun with boys/men and have not one place in the house for my own privacy.
My past work habits have been broken and interrupted by erratic schedules of those in my house. I plan on that changing very soon (like tomorrow.) ha But in Indiana it is not practical to hope that I can sit out there Nov.-Feb.
Camy Tang’s office is intriguing! I love seeing the work spaces and hearing about how others get writing done. I do think your learning style has influence on the most effective working spaces for individuals. What works for one type, might not work for another.
I refer to my office as The Treehouse, an outgrowth of my childhood longings–only this one has central heating and air, a full coffeepot, and a computer. It’s a second-story former bedroom with four windows that help me spy on Scuzball Q. Sqirrel, my resident moocher, as well as a pair of cardinals and other fine-feathered friends. In the fall, when the big maple in front of my windows glows butter-gold, I feel as if I work in Tolkien’s Lothlorien.
Until I look around at the mess.
We need photos of all these office spaces! Don’t you wish we could just take a tour of writer’s workspaces? I have spent time at the desk at which Louisa May Alcott wrote Little Women (thanks to being there doing research for a doll project). I did get to visit Hitty (the doll in Hitty, Her First Hundred Years) in the basement of the Stockbridge Library long before they cared about archival safety. The librarian took her out and put her in my hands. I sat on Emily Dickenson’s porch at sunset and I walked a deserted Walden Pond one drizzly afternoon. I stayed in a bed & breakfast that had once been Nathaniel Hawthorne’s springhouse.
Oh, yes, and I visited Crystal MIller’s screened-in porch that overlooks the Missisinewa River.
You held Hitty?? You sat at the desk where Louisa May Alcott wrote Little Women?? You are the envy of many a children’s librarian–including me!
However, I came within a few miles of visiting Crystal’s screened-in porch. 🙂
I loved reading about everyone’s writing spaces. Makes me want to spruce mine up a bit.