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Not Your Usual Writing Advice




“You write by sitting down and writing.
There’s no particular time or place—you suit yourself, your nature.”

— Bernard Malamud as quoted in “The Writer’s Desk” by Jill Krementz

I have a fascination with the spaces and atmospheres in which writers create. Feng Shui, as described in earlier columns, urges uncluttered rooms and desks, and writers might find such a space lends energy for an uncluttered, focused mind when they create. Yet I was curious–what types of energy and spaces do writers surround themselves with that works for them?

The May 21, 2012 Harvard Gazette article “Where the Magic Happens” includes a picture of Harvard author Tayari Jones in a Spartan space writing on a 1919 Royal typewriter. Jones reportedly has no “musts” for writing, so perhaps she doesn’t always seek such barren rooms. Another Harvard author, Leah Price, writes while standing at her raised desk, with pictures and notes on the wall behind her laptop screen, and a plant on a corner of the desk in front of a window.

Photographer Kyle Cassidy’s collection of fantasy and science fiction authors’ offices at reveals writing spaces that run the gamut from spare to stuffed, from elegant to not-so-much-so, from well-lit to writing by kerosene lamp, from large desks to tiny ones. The site includes photos of NINC member Jennifer Stevenson’s office, complete with cat. Jennifer told me, “My office has one purpose and one only: it's where I work. I have a great view of the spruce outside my window but I keep the blinds drawn. My husband built me bookshelves for my reference books and promises to build me a new desk with more surface real soon now. My office is upstairs and the refrigerator is downstairs. My office phone has caller ID, so I know who I'm hanging up on when I'm working.

“What doesn't work about my office? I need two separate desks to keep myself off email when I know I should be writing. When my husband builds the new desk, it will have two workstations, back-to-back, so I have to cross the office to switch tasks. Right now I have separate computers for these tasks, but one monitor.

If I had my druthers I'd work in a phoneless, windowless space about the size of a port-o-san...but (miraculously) with lots of desk space to lay stuff out, and a big whiteboard for plotting. I can compose text in a crowded coffee shop or an airport on my Neo, but all the other work, whiteboard and research and collaging, etc., requires space and relative silence. Also, I wish I had a nicer chair. But who doesn't?”

NINC member Mary Jo Putney’s office “has two walls of custom bookcases to maximize the shelf space; a large custom built work station with a desk four inches shorter than average because I'm short; a sofa for napping, three oriental carpets, and a variable population of one to four cats. I aspire to neatness, and in fact the overall office is reasonably orderly, but the U-shaped work station seldom has wood visible under the tangle of papers, books, files, more books, CDs, and yes, cats. There's a range of four windows to my right so I can look out into the treetops. The artwork is eclectic, to say least, and ranges from abstract landscapes to a dancing Shiva sculpture purchased after I wrote a book set in India. I'm pretty sure the randomness of it all reflects my brain!

“I was intrigued by the idea of Feng Shui, so when I was starting a book with a half-Chinese heroine, I hired a local Feng Shui consultant to go through the house with me following and making notes. It was interesting, if not surprising, that the two rooms I liked least had the poorest Feng Shui. (I've since redone them both.) In my office, I asked if a change could help me write faster. She suggested that I change the orientation   

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