As I’ve gotten to know more and more writers over the past 15 years, one point that has been driven resoundingly home is this: we’re all different. Not just in what we write, but also in how we write, why we write, when we write, and – to keep focusing on the “W words” – in where we write.
I’m always looking to improve and enlighten my writing – and my writing processes – so I love to learn about how other writers do that thing they do. So today I thought it would be fun to explore the writing spaces we use, whether it’s something created/developed/carved out for yourself, or simply a location you’re drawn to and have found conducive to writing, such as a coffee house, a library, a beach, etc.
I’m very curious to see what surprises may be revealed. But hey, since I’m asking others to reveal their own literary Batcaves, it’s only fair that if you show me yours, I’ll show you mine.
Hutch, no Starsky
First, some history. I started writing seriously (you know – frowning a lot and making sure my brow was appropriately furrowed) around 1999 or 2000. I was living in a small, sparsely furnished apartment with my daughter, and I’d inherited a tall, narrow wooden hutch from a previous relationship, which became my little writing space – perfect for typing away on the cast-off laptop my older brother had been kind enough to donate to his starving-artist sibling. This was not even an actual desk, but merely an open shelf on the hutch at approximately desktop height, and frankly it worked very well for me. It was tucked in a corner of the main room of the apartment, and sitting down in front of the hutch gave me the feeling of having taken myself out of the main room, and having entered an imaginary office of sorts. Whatever the psychology of the thing, it always felt like “time to work” when I sat there.
As my income – and my hardware – grew in size, I later bought an actual computer desk – a 50-dollar assemble-it-yourself job from Office Max – and for the first time I began to concern myself with the aesthetics of my workspace. I bought candles (okay, so maybe they were scented candles, but I consider vanilla to be a very rugged and manly scent), and also began to buy music specifically to use as a sonic backdrop for my writing. I’ll admit, I really got into the notion of “creating a mood” for my writing. And again, the ritual of lighting those candles and turning on that music helped me feel I was making a transition from a long and duty-driven day of work and parenting, and was now stepping into some highly cherished “me time” for working on my art.
Movin’ on up
A year or so later, my ESO (Extremely Significant Other) and I bought a house together, and afforded ourselves the luxury of choosing one large enough that we each would have our own office. I moved my Office Max writing rig into my office, and also set up my keyboards and recording gear for my musical efforts. It looked great, but as I worked on my novel I found I really didn’t spend much time there, for two reasons. I had a corporate day job where I sat at a desk all day, so the idea of coming home and doing more of the same was not terribly appealing. But the real game-changer was that I had discovered the amazing AlphaSmart, a lightweight word processor that made it easy to write anywhere. (Read more about this simple keyboard and its successors here and here, among other places. Note: this family of devices is now out of production, but still readily available at very nice prices on eBay.)
I was getting more serious about the novel I was working on, and newly liberated from my desk, I wrote the vast majority of what would ultimately become a pen-named novel slouched on a loveseat in our family room, while my carefully crafted writer’s space gathered dust upstairs.
As the years went on, the AlphaSmart became an increasingly crucial resource given the amount of traveling I was doing, as I was spending about three weekends a month in airplanes and hotels, touring with a rock band. Much of my second novel-length manuscript (which eventually became my first published novel) was written all over the US, Canada and Europe, and my “writer’s space” had simply become wherever I was right now. It worked out okay, but I did find myself longing for a consistent dedicated writing space. Which is what I have once again, but it has changed considerably since its previous iteration.
In 2007, my mother died unexpectedly, and my brother and I found ourselves with a houseful of her stuff, which neither of us was eager to let go of. In particular, I was torn over what to do with her dining room table. That table had played a huge role in our lives, as we were of a generation that always had our evening meals together, no matter what. My parents were both journalists, and extremely intelligent and articulate, and this was a table that encouraged discussion – but there was a high bar set for the quality of that discussion. Healthy, rational debate was encouraged, even if we were arguing for controversial and/or incendiary causes or topics. As long as we made our points calmly and logically, we were allowed to express our opinions.
[pullquote]Healthy, rational debate was encouraged, even if we were arguing for controversial and/or incendiary causes or topics. As long as we made our points calmly and logically, we were allowed to express our opinions.[/pullquote]
As the runt of the intellectual litter, I was extremely fortunate to grow up with this nightly ritual – something I took for granted until much later in life. Those nights at the Cronin dinner table truly honed my critical thinking, my communication skills, and – in no small way – my comic timing. It might not have been the Algonquin, but for a kid growing up in central Illinois during the era best captured by The Wonder Years and Mad Men, it was close enough.
Okay, so I knew I wanted Mom’s table, and my brother was fine with me taking it. But what was I going to do with it? My ESO and I already had a really nice dining room table, and frankly, Mom’s table wouldn’t have fit the décor in our dining room. Not knowing what else to do, I had the movers pack up the table and deliver it to my house.
A new home for an old heirloom
At some point, I took a hard look at my office space, and suddenly an idea was hatched. I grabbed a tape measure and began making calculations. In the end, I completely rearranged my office, getting rid of the cheap industrial desk and work table I’d been using, and setting up my family’s dining room table as my new work area, with an empty dining room chair positioned at either end, where Mom and Dad historically sat. At this point I was finishing up what would become my debut novel, and though my soul ached over my mother never getting to read my manuscript, it felt incredibly comforting and right to have the table where I learned to communicate now be the table where I wrote – both for business and for art.
[pullquote]It felt incredibly comforting and right to have the table where I learned to communicate now be the table where I wrote – both for business and for art.[/pullquote]
I still love my AlphaSmart (although I’ve graduated to using a later model called a Neo). But nothing beats the satisfaction of sitting down at my family’s dining-room table – in the exact same spot I sat for thousands of loving, laughing, informative and often argumentative meals – and doing what my departed parents taught me by example to do: writing.
Okay, this is probably the most me-centric post I’ve ever written, and at the moment I’m wondering if my first draft will live to become a second draft, much less a WU post. But in case it does, I’ll continue baring my soul – and my desk.
From left to right, we have the five reference books I use the most for both my day job and my fiction: Rodale’s Synonym Finder (beats the pants off any thesauruses – or is it thesauri? – I’ve ever used); a not-quite-current edition of the AP Stylebook (of which I’m not a big fan, but the day job requires it); Robert Fiske’s Dictionary of Disagreeable English (which solves an amazing amount of day-to-day writing challenges while also being an entertaining read – the link above takes you to an updated and re-titled edition); an out-of-date but still useful HTML manual from Peachpit for the web work I do; and finally my cherished Merriam Webster Manual for Writers and Editors (between this and Fiske, 98% of any writing issues I encounter can be quickly resolved). Holding those books in place is another cherished inheritance from Mom: a pair of sphinx-like stone bookends that have fascinated me for some 50 years.
Behind these books is my day-job laptop, sitting in its weekend “penalty box” position. The round cork coaster is where lunch goes, as I’m a notorious work-through-luncher. The little shiny black thing behind it is an ingenious copy holder called a Page Up – very handy, and it takes up way less space than a traditional easel-style copy holder. My personal laptop is centered on the table (and yes, I was being lazy at the moment and not using my standing desk – bad Keith!), behind which is a heinous excuse for a printer – a poorly chosen purchase that I will be packing up and returning when I’m done writing this.
The odd brown cube to the right of that fecal printing device is a “moso bag” filled with bamboo charcoal that’s supposed to help purify the air – no clue whether it really works. The little piano-looking thing is a MIDI keyboard for inputting music into the digital recording software I use. And yes, my mousepad is made from a photo of my favorite ukulele, which I previously used at the corporate office where I worked, as a subliminal way to feel like I was playing my beloved ukulele when I was actually busy cranking out corporate buzzspeak. Hey, whatever gets you through the day, right? Now that I work from home, I swap out the mousepad with several others for variety’s sake.
Okay, I showed you mine…
Now it’s YOUR turn. I’d love to hear about your workspace: what or where it is, why you like it, what changes you’d like to make, and what your dream workspace would be. Do you listen to music while you write? If so, what kind, and why? What else do you do to make your workspace conducive to creativity?
Extra points for including photos – then you can truly show me yours. Please chime in, and as always, thanks for reading!
Now, thanks to tinyCoffee and PayPal, you can!