Friday, May 10, 2013

Famous Writers' Desks and Workspaces-- The Importance of Having Your Own and What It Means to Your Book Project

Writers can write anywhere--right?

If you're really creative, you don't need a specific space, a writing room, or even a desk of your own.  With our iPads and smart phones and laptops, our writing can be truly portable. 

We don't need to worry about finding a special spot to grow our books.

Right?  For me . . . Wrong.

Maybe when we're dabbling, maybe when we're still in the exploring phase, we can disregard the idea of having a "room of one's own," as Virginia Woolf famously said. 

But like the difference between a date and a marriage, books are a long-term commitment to your creativity, and they will thrive if we give them a sacred space to grow.  This is something I've known for a long time, but I had to relearn it recently. 



Pros and Cons of Portable Writing Rooms
The 1700s farmhouse where I live with my family is short on space and long on charm--especially outdoors. 

We moved there not because of the house itself, but because of the hilltop views and conversation land it backs up to.  I have an enormous garden; a la Barbara Kingsolver, we're trying to grow much of our own food.  It's paradise, in many ways.  At least, outside.

The interior is still 1700s.  Cramped, sweet, made for shorter people than most.  People who don't need separate spaces for writing books.

I am married to another creative artist.  Figuring out studio space has always been challenging.  We each wanted doors that close, enough room to put ideas on the wall (Post its, posters, photos).  Ability to be uninterrupted.  Not easy to figure out.


Negotiating Writing Space
It took negotiating--a lot!  We took turns going "off site" (library, a small art studio we ended up renting, outside in the garden in nice weather).  This worked fine for much of my writing.  As long as I was in the exploring phase of my novel, I could work on it anywhere.  But in fall 2012, I went into revision.  And I struggled with not having a dedicated space.

A woodshed is tacked on the east end of the house.  It has been my writing room, but I haven't really written in there.  The room is rather scrappy.  Although I love the windows, the sunshine, the view of the garden, it takes some imagination to make it an ideal creative space.  We added a heater and a ceiling.   Bookshelves and a desk.  Hung fabric on the walls.  Added a couple of posters and paintings.

But even after these were in place, it took me a few years to adopt it as my writing space.  I was too used to camping out in the family room or on the porch, taking my laptop to the library down the road.  Convincing myself I could write anywhere.  


Reclaiming My Room
At New Year's, feeling a change, I decided to claim the woodshed.  I moved in and I practiced spending writing time in that tiny space.  I made myself not migrate. 

It took some weeks.  But slowly, I began seeing a surge in creativity.  Maybe it was because I was neck-deep in final revisions for a second novel, no long exploring. 

The book started to come together in a new way.  I put up a blank poster and wrote questions on it, put up my collage for my book, put up a list of next steps.  Wrote down ideas.  Saw this every time I entered "my space." 

After a few months I knew for sure:  Dedicated work space meant deeper commitment to my creative project.


Deeper Commitment Equals Better WritingDid the book somehow know this?  Was it glad to have me off the dining room table, out of the library at last?  Was I able to hear it, because I was meeting it every day in this dedicated space?

As if to confirm my new awareness, a writing colleague sent me a wonderful a series of photographs: Workspaces of the Famously Creative.  Click on the title to see the slideshow.


The Writer's Desk by Jill Krementz is another great resource for inspiration about writing space.  Krementz is famous for her photographs of writers, including her husband, Kurt Vonnegut.

My third find is a video of Oliver Sachs's desk--hearing about what he collects and why is enough inspire anyone's creativity.



Your Weekly Writing Exercise
1.  Pick one of these links and research creative workspaces to get yourself inspired and thinking in new ways about your own.      
2.  Make two small changes to your own workspace this week.  What can you add or take away to make a deeper commitment to your writing?