Saturday, August 18, 2012

Where Do You Do What You Do?

     John Hersey once wrote, “To be a writer is to sit down at one’s desk in the chill portion of every day, and to write; not waiting for the little jet of the blue flame of genius to start from the breastbone -- just plain going at it, in pain and delight.”
     Well, you might as well be comfortable since you have to go through all that.
      Where do you do what you do? As editor Rand Brandes -- also director of the Lenoir-Rhyne University Visiting Writers Series -- notes in What Writers Do, our writing places “provide a glimpse” into  “where the magic happens.”
     Ernest Hemingway wrote standing up. Ben Franklin wrote in the bathtub.  So wrote Alexandra Enders in her article “The Importance of Place: Where Writers Write and Why” (Poets & Writers, March/April 2008).
     Most of us have a special nest where we  can let our imaginations flourish. For some  it’s in a room, or the whole second floor, in a farm house with an expansive view, in the woods, even on an ironing board.  
    Here are brief descriptions of some more distinguished scribes’ writing spaces: 
   Liza Ketchum’s writing room “is in a converted attic on the third floor” in a “tall, skinny house” near Boston. From up there “I look into the lush, productive gardens in the backyards of our neighborhood” with a morning cup of hot tea or water in the afternoon, her beloved turtle collection keeping watch by the stairs.
   Deborah Hopkinson’s “most common work space is sitting on my bed using a portable ironing board as a desk for my laptop” near Portland, ORE, with a cup of mint tea and a view of  the snowy landscape  “that looks like a Japanese print” in the winter.
   Lois Lowry has two -- in Cambridge, Mass, that has “floor to ceiling bookcases across one entire wall,”  and in Bridgton, ME, in her elegant  1768 era farm home where she’s warm,  has her cup of coffee beside her, favorite photos and prints around her, and her dog Alfie at her feet.
     Ron Koetge’s  work space “is the second story of a big, old house in South Pasadena, CA.” The house was “used in the early minutes of the original Halloween movie.” His work space has “lots of room to roam around. Lots of places for Buddy (his poetry cat) to sleep, though he likes to be close enough to see/hear me.”
      When I was young I wrote on my grandmother’s front porch or on my bed in our bedroom that I shared with her and my older sister in Missouri. When I gained my first apartment in Iowa I bought a typewriter and crowned a corner of my tiny living room to be my writing place. You all know what a typewriter is, right?     
     In our first home I proudly claimed a “writing room,” with windows, door, lock,begonias, books, a couch, lots of sun, and a long metal table donated from the Des Moines Tribune newsroom.  
     Now, in my writing house, I’ve an upstairs writing room crammed with bookshelves and metal file cabinets. Downstairs on my kitchen table (surviving from my Missouri childhood) sits my laptop, where I write when I’m really serious.
      I love to lie on my futon in my living room, laptop on my belly. TV and radio remote controls, my cell phone, a bowl of fresh, raw red cherries, and my dog Shaka Zulu  are nearby.
    Now it’s your turn! What’s your favorite writing space? Why there but not there?
    (For full writer interviews go to Jennifer Bertman’s “Creative Spaces” interview series: .)


  1. As part of her critical thesis on writing spaces, Jodi Baker sent out a questionnaire to dozens of writers. The first question was, "Where do you write? Please describe your writing space and what’s important to you about it." This was my response:

    I write at a desk in my bedroom. It looks out a window into my front yard and is flanked on either side by bookcases. It's also strewn with treasures. Some of the things I'm looking at as I write this: an inlaid sewing box made by my great-great-grandfather, a jar of agates, a piece of the pyramids, the Equation of Time cam from the Clock of the Long Now, a meteorite, a box of arrowheads, petrified wood from the Painted Desert (I'm a bit of a rockhound), glow-in-the-dark Silly Putty, a glass globe painted from the inside, a bust of Archimedes, and a blue dinosaur named Gus. I love these things. They remind me that the world is a strange and miraculous place, which is where I like to be when I write.

    Writing is the scariest thing I've ever done; I need to do it in a hopeful place. With books and bright colors and strange things, I remind myself that I love the world even more than I'm afraid of it. That pressing on is worth it.

  2. I had a writing office but lost that when we had to shuffle rooms to accommodate the baby, so now my desk is in the corner of our bedroom. On the wall is our family tree, which is completely filled in up to our great-great-great grandparents. I have my writing books on my desk, as well as pics of my family when Dad was still with us, a pic of the Gang of Poets, who are the best people in the whole entire world, a pic of Dante's tomb in Ravenna that a friend brought back for me, and a picture of Harry S Truman working at his desk when he was still in the Senate, which is a little hint to myself that maybe I should be as industrious as he was.

    But the latest addition is a small bassinet next to my desk in which baby Stevie sometimes sleeps, and when he is I end up looking at the baby instead of my work. Well, I guess the baby is my work right now.

    It's good to have a little place of my own that's meant only for writing -- it gives the brain a chance to breathe. And I like what Peter said about making a safe place to write. As a parent of a new baby, my mind is full of all the ways the world can be cruel and awful, and how important it is to make a space -- for writing, for family -- that we can keep coming back to day after day.

  3. I write wherever I can be alone. At this moment, my son is sitting behind me in the living room, but he's looking at his computer while I look at mine. Gilly the dog is at my feet, but he's snoozing and serenely farting away, so I'm almost alone.