Where Do You Write?

My home office. Hijuelos and Lamb could work here.

The Chicago Tribune recently featured five writers talking about where they write, what their routine is, the equipment they use, and why their writing space is ideal. Oscar Hijuelos and Wally Lamb both mention the importance of proximity to water. Lamb also talks about the importance of “good-luck tchotchkes” and jumping jacks. Jodi Picoult also needs water, but the kind that comes in a bottle. Tayari Jones only uses yellow legal pads with “really sharp pencils,” but understands the importance of being adaptable. Elin Hilderbrand rides her bike to the beach to write during the summer and uses a friend’s library during the colder months.

In preparation for some future newspaper article taking in interest in my setting and routine, here are my answers to what the five writers described:

Setting: My home office is an awesome writing space, but works best for revisions. I tend to get sidetracked by email and social media when I’m there, so when I’m cranking out first drafts I prefer to sit on the couch in the living room or in a coffee house somewhere. That way I can just pound out the words and worry about research and fact-checking later.

Routine: An ideal writing day is basically just getting in some hours of solid prose. I’m a binge writer and do much better with long open-ended periods of writing. If I know I only have an hour or two to write, I end up just messing around and doing a lot of “research” (i.e. email, random Google searches, and Facebook).

Equipment: Always on the computer. I might outline a piece using long-hand, but I rarely use pen and paper for anything else.

Why the space is ideal: The office is ideal because it’s my space. Nobody else comes there so I can leave a project in the middle and make the space as messy as I’d like. When we first moved in together, my husband (then boyfriend) and I shared a desk. I hated the extra time it took to pull all my stuff out and put it away again. We then graduated to sharing an office, but separate desks. Now we actually have separate offices, which feels very luxurious.

Where and how do you like to work?

21 Comments

  • tanya.debuff says:

    I have an office upstairs in my house. I’ve plastered it with art my kids made, all my books are up here, and I have a great chair I bought at a garage sale. When the sun is out, my office looks so pretty in the morning. However! I don’t work up here, other than my actual paid transcription work. I usually read and write at night, and for whatever reason I don’t like to come up here at night. I feel more comfortable in my living room, sitting in my favorite chair with my laptop or a notebook. My other favorite place is on our porch where we have a great little free loveseat which rocks. But I think that’s the great thing about writing–you can do it anywhere. Someday I’ll have a house, and the only must for me is a windows seat where I can read and write. :) Your office looks amazing, Asa. I bet lots of smart stuff happens in there.

    • Not so sure a lot of smart stuff happens in my office Tanya. I wonder if it’s because we do paid work in our offices that we don’t like to work creatively there. I pay bills and plan lessons in my office, maybe both kill the creative juices I need for writing. :-)

  • Seth Marlin says:

    Fantastic post! My view is nowhere near as scenic as yours, though for some years our guest bedroom in Boise has served as a game-room and office, which my wife jokingly refers to as “The Bat-Cave” (she pimped it out for me as a gift one year, so I can hardly complain). It has my iMac and writing supplies readily at hand, though mostly all I need is good music, a comfy desk-chair, an open morning and a fresh cup of black coffee.

    As far as schedules go, I actually got my start writing while overseas where I had very little time to myself, so ironically while I prefer no demands on my time my best writing actually gets done at work or while dealing with other things. The constraints force me to sit and think on things, let the ideas build until the words themselves are forming in my head. Then as soon as I have a spare moment I’ve got no choice but to put them down on paper.

    On another note, one of my old profs has the coolest writing setup ever: an old Airstream camper out in his backyard, stained-hardwood everything on the inside with a table where he can sit his MacBook Air and go. Seriously, dope as hell. Just amazing.

    • I’d love an Airstream writing camper! One of my friends converted the kids’ tree house to his writing place, once the kids went away to college. I’m super jealous of his writing in a tree. My office got created by my husband as a gift, it’s nice to have spouses who know what to get a writer.

  • Michael says:

    For years I’ve gone to coffee shops or bookstores to write. I had an old laptop with no wireless connection, so being in public with that relic was always great for my work.

    I recently moved and have tried to focus more on working at home. My dining room table remains, so far, pretty clean, so I’ve been plugging in my laptop and working there. Any space with room to spread out papers and books, along with access to coffee, works for me.

  • Marcus says:

    Our new house actually has room for an office. My wife and I are co-dependent, so I have part of the room for my desk and dual-monitor setup and etc., and she has the rest of the room for her glass work: shelves, glass grinder, tile saw, soldering table, and a sheet of pegboard for all her tools. Plus I mounted her mac mini to the wall and installed a monitor on an extension arm so she can watch movies and whatnot.

    Okay, that was less about my writing space than about how awesome Anna is. She is awesome. But also I have space to write, with a nice breeze coming in directly at me.

  • Monet says:

    I’m a weirdo. I write most often at 2am in my bed with my Blackberry. The reason being, I sat at my desk for probably an hour and wrote scribbles and then decided I should go to bed and the minute I lay down and my mind starts to wander, all these brilliant lines of poetry come to me. I know from experience that I should lay there until I have as much of the poem as I can think of in that moment before getting up to write it down on paper, or even turning on the light, hence out comes the notebook function on my phone. I do worry about if I ever have to sleep with another person on a consistent basis because I’m sure the clicking of my keys would be annoying.

    • Nah, just turn off the sound and you can continue being a Blackberry poet. There should be a Blackberry Poet contest or journal or something. Maybe a Smart Phone Poet journal. If they can write novels in Japan through texting, we should start a QWERTY Poetry movement.

  • I can write anywhere and with any tool – my first three books were written with pencil and notepad ugh. Got the laptop and it is so much easier and faster, but I still do some longhand. My desk is atrocious and messy and double junky but I justify it in the creative process. Most of my word count is pounded out during kids’ naps on the easy chair with Greys Anatomy in the background. All that drama rubs off you know? Great post girl!

  • J Jaline says:

    I am a binge writer as well. Go for days and nights, then fall into a heap and question everything I just wrote! That’s why a good writing group can help. I had one a few months ago, a bunch of MFA’ers. Those were the days! :)

    • Yeah, that group is kind of like a British citizenship. You can leave the country, but you can’t give up your membership. Sorry Hon, you’re still in that group. :-)

    • Erin D says:

      Asa’s right. Moving thousands of miles away doesn’t mean you lost the group. It only means we will be more demanding in email and on Facebook for your pages than in person.

  • Tracy says:

    I write (and work at my day job) in my home office and I LOVE it! When I bought the house, it needed renovation–so, all walls freshly painted, all flooring replaced, and I splurged on a premium blue plush carpet for my office. I also splurged on a beautiful white desk with filing cabinet side pieces, and a custom blue hardwood floor mat (so my rolling chair doesn’t sink into the pile); and then I sewed blue/white seat cushions in various patterns for my visitor chair and window seat and throw pillows. No view of water… that’s the only major drawback. But if I walk across the hallway to my husband’s office I can peer out the window at our hot tub. And if I manage to get up and write at 4am, I can hear the sprinklers. Do those count?

    I also write in my Subaru. I bought it with an optional power outlet so I don’t have to rely on my laptop battery. So, when I really need a view of water–I can drive to it.

    Fun post!!!

  • Laura says:

    Lately, I’ve been writing in the library of my local university. I find if I stay at home too much, I go insane–also, there are a lot of other things to do at home. I have a little area with a desk in my bedroom, but it’s hard for me to stay there. I’ve also been told that my desk is too small a place to have big ideas.

  • Cathie Smathie says:

    1) Your home office is a dream come true! Beautiful!
    2) I laughed when you mentioned “research.” Ain’t that the truth..

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