When I was a kid I had this idea of where writers write—a big dark wooden desk, probably in an office with giant bookshelves stacked with books. Somewhere quiet and smart looking where they could have Deep Writerly Thoughts. Classical music might be playing in the background. You never know. I thought someday, when I was a writer, I would have that.
You should probably know that I was about the age of seven when I was thinking this. Around the same time I would try to write stories at my own desk (light wood, covered in books and Garfield figures) or in “inspiring places” like sitting on a rock by the sea. That’s when I realized something—the place might be inspiring, but a rock by the sea leaves you cold and with a sore butt. Also, your legs fall asleep fast and it’s hard to write like that.
When I was in grad school, as a gift to myself for getting into grad school, I bought a proper desk. And though it was made of compressed wood and lesser-than materials, I was proud of myself. I’d made it this far—I was a writer because I had a desk and it had bookshelves. Hell, it even had a filing cabinet. Clearly, I was a professional. Anyone could see that by my desk and my ergonomically shaped chair with wheels. And I had a three-hole punch. Nothing screams professionalism like a fancy office supplies. Never mind that I hadn’t actually had anything published. Details, folks, just details.
My new desk had a proper chair and proper supplies and I was going to write everything at it. And for a time, the love continued and I did write at it, mostly short stories for school. So what if my office was a spare room with a bed and the bookshelves were particleboard and there was no classical music at all—I felt progress had been made.
Then I started my novel. And I suddenly understood why so many writers write in coffee shops—something I’d somewhat mocked up until this point because it was such a stereotype. But here’s the thing: I was writing a lot to get the novel done so I could graduate, sometimes at twelve-fourteen hour stints…or longer. And when you spend that much time in a room by yourself you start to go a little wack-a-doo. First, you start talking to the cat and then you start talking to your computer, and in general it simply wasn’t a good idea for my book, my sanity, or me.
And that’s the thing you don’t understand when you’re a kid dreaming of your fancy desk and wondering if you can pull off that black turtle neck and beret that you always picture authors wearing—writers are all different people and so we need different places to write.
So, while I desperately miss that office in New Orleans where I probably lost part of my mind, I have no such place in Seattle. I write in coffee shops. I write in bars. I write at friend’s houses. I write at my kitchen table. I’ve become nomadic. I’ve gone rogue. I’m writing off the reservation.
Basically, I’ve become free range.
Like a cow.
Or a chicken.
And it’s kind of awesome. There’s a wonderfully free feeling when writing in so many locales, sometimes with other writers so I can lean across the table and say things like, “How do you feel about this line?” or “What would you name a battle gnome?” and get an answer that isn’t “meow.” (Unless my writing partner is a jerk.)
My last book was written in three different cities and in two different countries. I love that.
I do sort of wish that someday I have that kind of office that I dreamed of as a child, with the desk and the bookshelves, and some nice windows so I can look outside. And while I’m dreaming: a mini-fridge, a tea pot, a big dog snoring on the floor, posters on the walls, no classical music, and, since we are after all dreaming, a unicorn to eat all my pages that get cut. Wouldn’t that make editing fun? Sure, I have to cut a whole chapter, but I get to feed it to a unicorn! (I would also accept a dragon for the same purpose.)
C’mon science. Get on it. I need someone to build me mythical office supplies. Because I feel that would be way more professional than a desk. The unicorn could also fill in as a hole-punch. (See, scientists—I am practically doing your job for you.)
Lish McBride is the author of Hold Me Closer, Necromancer, and the forthcoming Necromancing the Stone. She is the graduate of the UNO MFA program and lives in Seattle with her family, two cats, and one very put upon geriatric Chihuahua.