Write Place, Write Time

If you look at anything long enough, say just that wall in front of you -- it will come out of that wall.
- Anton Chekhov

E. Christopher Clark

When my wife and I bought our house in 2004, I was in the midst of finishing my MFA and I set out to create the perfect writing space. It began with the rolltop desk, a reminder of the desk I sat at in my grandfather’s house as a kid, and it all grew out of that. The only problem with this office is that it’s too perfect — I’ve gotten to the point where I find it hard to write anywhere else, and for a guy who spends a lot of his time away from the house during the school year, that’s not a great thing.

The office is not just a place to write, but also a place to read. The shelf to the right of the desk is reserved for the fiction I turn to most often for inspiration, the shelves to the left are for the genre fiction someone might want to curl up with in the recliner, and the shelves behind my chair are for photo albums, school books, and my daughters’ books respectively.

On top of the desk is the To Read pile, things I need to read for the first time or that I want to return to. It’s a mix of fiction (Egan, Savage, Orringer, Chabon, Langer), memoir (Nafisi), and old favorites (Dubus, Campbell, Millar, Shakespeare), with a couple of business books (Vaynerchuk) thrown in for good measure.

The “magic” happens on an early Intel iMac, usually in total silence (always when drafting, and most of the time when revising). The good ol’ Casio keyboard is out because I’m rehearsing for a play I’ll be in at the Players’ Ring in Portsmouth, NH in September.

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E. Christopher Clark is the founder of and chief contributor to Geek Force Five, the Best Pop Culture Blog of 2009 according to New Hampshire Magazine. His work has been published Commonthought, Device, The Bradford Review, and in Literary Matters, the newsletter of the Association of Literary Scholars, Critics, and Writers. He has a novel, Down the Cape, which is currently looking for a home.

Leah Stewart

My study is in the smaller of two rooms on the third floor of our house in Cincinnati, in a converted attic. The stairs are steep and it has no climate control, so when I go up there I feel like I’m going somewhere apart from the house, where even the temperature is different and sometimes you bump your head on the ceiling. We furnished it with a couple trips to IKEA. I wanted to fit as many bookcases as possible and also be able to look out the window. Thus this arrangement, which my husband says makes it look like I’m the attic receptionist. My kids have an easel in the corner—that artwork is courtesy of my three year old. The old typewriter on the desk belonged to a great-great aunt named Blanche. My desk is almost always this messy. Not noticing the mess is a sign the work’s going well.  

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Leah Stewart is the author of three novels, Body of a Girl, The Myth of You and Me, and Husband and Wife. She teaches in the creative writing program at the University of Cincinnati, and maintains an equally cluttered desk in her office at school.

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"I don’t believe in writer’s block. I think writer’s block is just a myth that was invented by people who either don’t want to work or people who aren’t ready to get an idea down on paper. So if I can’t write, if I’m stuck, it’s because I’m trying to figure something out. The other thing is my husband, who is a doctor, goes to work every single day, and he doesn’t get ‘doctor’s block’. He doesn’t just say, "I don’t have any idea what this patient has, and I’m just gonna go home and lie on the couch and stare at the ceiling and eat popcorn." Which is what writers do. It’s like we have this built-in ‘Get Out of Jail Free’ card going called Writer’s Block. But if you work, you just work, and sooner or later, you’ll get through it."

                                                                            - Ann Patchett

                                                                 Photo by Heather Culp

Laurie Halse Anderson

I got serious about my writing twenty years ago. Since then I’ve written in a closet, in an attic, in a basement, on the front seat of the car, at basketball and soccer and swim practices, in more hotels than I’d like to remember, and for two memorable years whilst living in a small apartment, at the south end of the couch in the living room.

A few years ago I married my childhood sweetheart and moved back home to the boondocks of Northern New York. My husband saw my desperate need for a creative space that would be free from kids, phones, the Internet, and our large, loud dogs. Did I mention that he’s a carpenter? He and a buddy of his found a 125-year-old church window (minus the glass) in a salvage yard. They built my writing cottage around that magic window.

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We tried to use as many recycled and sustainable building materials as possible. The floorboards are rehabbed pine planks found at the same salvage yard. The insulation is a soybean-based foam, and the roof is covered with slate tiles. My electricity comes from a solar panel and small wind turbine.

I do most of my writing in that big chair. The table to the left is only for drawing. All of the photos on the walls are pictures of ancestors. They cheer me on when I struggle. This picture does not show the old-school card catalog that my kids gave me for my birthday a couple years ago. I use it to store pens, pencils, incense, knives, feathers, sea shells, and buckshot cartridges. I also have a very old dining room table in the cottage. (It is where the photographer was standing when he took this picture.) Some chapters are best written in the comfy chair and some are best written at the table. I’ve given it up trying to figure out why.

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This is an outside view of my cottage in the winter. It is usually winter up here. There are a number of wood sprites and elves living in these woods. In return for snacks of discarded manuscript pages, they scare off Distractions and Procrastination.

 Life is good.

Laurie Halse Anderson writes books for teenagers (WINTERGIRLS and SPEAK), and historical fiction for middle-grade readers (CHAINS and FORGE). When not writing, she chops wood, feeds her chickens, and says thank-you one million time a day to her carpenter-husband. Her super-power is her ability to ignore email. You can see a video about the construction of her writing cottage here.

Jessica Francis Kane

I have been writing in libraries for years. I love the quiet solidarity, the subtle peer pressure (everyone else is working!), the possibilities for distraction (the stacks!). Also, I am nearly crippled by nostalgia. I had an oak desk when I lived in England where I wrote most of my first published short stories. When we returned to the US, we left that desk behind and I was sad for weeks, so nostalgic I felt sick. I was sure I would never write another word, my ability to do so gone with the desk. I never want to feel that way again and so have become wary of the special writing place. I prefer to stay mobile, an itinerant writer, everything I need in a backpack. I do have a desk at home. Here it is…

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…but this tends to be the place where I catch up on the business/social side of things: email, Twitter, etc., in the afternoons and evenings. It’s not very private. We live in a New York City apartment so every square inch serves a double or triple purpose. What you can’t tell from the picture is that this is the corner of both the living room and the dining room.

      Very rarely I stay home in the mornings to write, but a regular day at the moment goes like this: My husband (a more natural early riser, bless him) gets up first and makes breakfast and lunches, then we all leave together about 8:00 and walk the children to school. First stop, the elementary school. Second stop, the preschool. Third stop, coffee. Fourth stop, the library. On a good morning, I’m in the reading room by 9:15. I have until 1:45, when I must leave to pick up the preschooler by 2:00. Four-and-a-half hours of writing time. Should be enough, and most days it is. I have many favorite spots in several libraries in a few different cities at this point, but here is my current haunt: 

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There’s my backpack and all-important coffee. I do not EAT, however, in the library. I leave that to the mannerless undergraduates. I prefer to follow the RULES and eat in the cafeteria downstairs, or, in nice weather, on a bench in Washington Square Park.

      Sitting here, I can look to the right and see the park. On the 4th floor, I look right out into the trees, but if I need the extra inspiration, I can go to the 8th floor and see above the trees!  

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On every floor, I can look in one direction and see the outside, while in the other direction, the outside is reflected in the interior glass walls of the reading room. Reality, reflection, and straight ahead, the blank page.

Jessica Francis Kane is the author of a novel, THE REPORT (Graywolf), and a story collection, BENDING HEAVEN (Counterpoint). She is also a contributing writer for The Morning News. 

Christina Oppold

Wherever you go, there you are.”

That’s sort of my life. I think that’s sort of any writer’s life. Sure, there’s the act of writing – sitting down with a notebook (of the paper or computer variety). But in your head you are constantly noticing the world around you while simultaneously plotting and crafting.

I think best when I’m in a position least able to transfer words from brain to page. Like in the shower.  And I’m pretty sure computers fall into the same category as a hair dryer when it comes to things you shouldn’t put in the tub.

It seems I have a hard time sitting still, staying in one place. My home office is anything but; it’s actually a bag – a rather pretentious bag with a logo for the U.S. Space and Rocket Center on it. I make sure that logo is facing out when I carry it. “Look at me! I’m a rocket scientist!”

Okay, not really.

I mean about the rocket scientist bit. Definitely true about making sure that logo faces out.

There’s no internet in my home. I tried to steal wifi from my neighbors, but apparently they’re rather smart and password protected their accounts. I chose not to purchase Internet access because I’m rarely home anyway. I’m also “frugal.”

When I am at home, I work on a laptop so ancient it might as well be a typewriter. Without internet at home, I can sit in quiet and capture all those words and ideas that have been spinning around my head.

But more often than not, my workspace is made of counters and tables in coffee shops.  The owner at one coffee shop knows I like the table in the back corner where he’ll let me sit for hours in companionable solitude. At another I like the window counter where I can watch all the dogs tied up out front. Sometimes they’re wearing silly sweaters and boots.

In my bag for those remote location offices is my pretty and sparkly netbook (nothing says ROCKET SCIENTIST! like glitter), a pen and moleskin, and about five flash drives.  Also, headphones. People at coffee shops talk loudly.

Where I write is Seussical – on a train, on a plane, in a box and with a fox. One must always be prepared to write wherever when they wander.

Christina is an exploiter of opportunities – an adventuress who also has a life long love of books. Often the two go hand in hand. So she blogs about her literary-inspired experiences and can be found talking nonsense on Twitter @stackedblog.

Quote, Unquote

                                           

"Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass."                                                                           - Anton Chekhov

Kelly Bergin

This is my bed. 

I love my bed.

I write here more than anywhere else. I wish I could say I have a proper desk, with shelves and bookcases and one of those bouncy balls that the Better People sit on, but all I have is this bed. A marked-down 1-800 Mattress bed that sits in a room the size of a prison cell. But with windows and a striking view of a rotting garden!

When I was little (and being raised on Must See TV!), I dreamed I’d have a big apartment in the West Village. I’d wear nice clothes and I wouldn’t spill cranberry juice down my shirt anymore. And I’d have a desk. It’d be teal and horrible and ugly and rustic but I’d write there. On a typewriter. I was already a full-formed cliché at twelve.

Now I’m twenty-five. I live in the East Village. I don’t have any of those things and I still don’t let myself wear white when I drink non-clear liquids.

But I have this bed. And I try to get in it, after a long day writing copy, and write there Sometimes I don’t. Usually it’s because The Bachelor is on TV, or happy hour ran late or there’s 240 new Tweets waiting to be read on my feed. Distraction is easy to cling to when the cursor blinks and you do too, staring wide-eyed at the white of the screen.

I love this bed but I am not sentimental. I know that soon there will be another bed, another tiny crammed room where my clothes hang from hooks and I trip over something every single time I get up. It’s just an apartment and it’s just temporary, but for now, this is where I write. Maybe when I turn 26, I’ll get that desk and I’ll write more words and less tweets.

For now, though— I have this bed, this laptop and sometimes—sometimes! —an idea or two.

Kelly Bergin is a writer living in New York. She blogs here and tumbles here. You can follow her hung-over tweets @kellybergin. She is on way too many social networking sites and is seeking help soon. Right after she sends this tweet.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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                                            “Every writer I know has trouble writing.”   

                                                                       - Joseph Heller

Meganne Fabrega

There are two spaces in my house where I write. The first is my office. It has a door, it has a printer, and it has a big empty corner where I will someday put one of those chair-and-a-halfs. This is where I write my book reviews, nonfiction pieces, long emails, sporadic blog posts, pay my bills, conduct phone interviews and order vanilla beans. Things are pretty serious in this room of the house.

Above the monitor are possible paint colors for my office, a printout of Jessica Francis Kane’s McSweeney’s essay “Where Do You Find the Time,” and an index card with the question that my friend would always ask me: “When are you going to write your book?” There’s also an article ripped out of an old Harper’s that is about a portrait of Dr. John Gorrie by Dennis Gephardt created entirely from pieces of toast. My mom gave it to me a long time ago and said “If someone can create a portrait out of toast, you can do anything.”

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Then there is the space where I write just for me. It is clean and quiet. I get to peek out of the window and see what is happening on the street. The phone has no caller ID, so I don’t answer it. If I do answer it, I sound scared. There is no radio or TV in this room and it is freezing cold in the winter. My dog, Skylar, perches on my shoulder like a really fat parrot with bad breath. My netbook is unpredictable and I never know if what I am writing will be there tomorrow. It’s a perfect place to work on my book and my stories.

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Meganne Fabrega has written for a variety of publications including American Craft, Publisher’s Weekly, the Minneapolis Star Tribune and the San Francisco Chronicle. When she was little she wanted to be a tollbooth collector so she could read books and take money all day. She blogs on occasion at www.megannefabrega.blogspot.com.

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                      “You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you.”  

                                                                        -Ray Bradbury

                                                               Photo by Genaro Molina

James Rollins

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When I first starting writing, I had a typewriter (yes, it was THAT long ago) in a corner of the kitchen.  It was always my dream to have a library/study where I could fully retreat from the world.  Such a spot also allowed me to to showcase all of the weird and wonderful objects gathered from my travels:  an ancient mammoth tusk, a Chinese incense burner, a crystal skull, a hand-built model of a wooden galleon.  In some ways, walking into my library is more like walking into a Cabinet of Curiosities.

James Rollins is the author of six thrillers in the bestselling Sigma Force series (Sandstorm, Map of Bones, Black Order, The Judas Strain, The Last Oracle, and The Doomsday Key); the movie novelization, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull; and six individual adventure thrillers. Rollins is also writing the Jake Ransom series for kids and adults. The first two volumes, Jake Ransom and the Skull King’s Shadow, and Jake Ransom and the Howling Sphinx, are in bookstores now. Publication date for his seventh sigma adventure, The Devil Colony, debuts June 21, 2011.

Mick Foley

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An airplane seat may not seem an ideal choice for putting pen to paper (with the exception of three chapters of my latest book, all my books have been hand-written) but over the years, airline seats like the one pictured have been my sanctuary in the sky; a way for a seasoned road-warrior with no I-Pod, computer, DVD player, etc. to forget about the rigors of life on the road and the bumps and bruises of the pro-wrestling life, by scribbling dilligently from take-off to touch-down.

At first I had no choice. By the time I came to the realization that the ghost-writer assigned to my first book was churning out a spectacularly mediocre book, and that I just might be able to write a better book myself, I had fifty days to deadline. Fifty days to turn in the required 60,000 words. Luckily, I had no idea how to pace myself, and fifty days later, turned in the 200,000 words that went on to be the New York Times #1 best-seller, “Have a Nice Day.”

I wrote anywhere I could - locker-rooms, hotels, in the back seat of rental cars, at the kitcen table on rare days at home. I even brought my notebook into knee surgery with me, telling the nurse in charge that I couldn’t have any pain medication after surgery. The nurse informed me that I was likely to be in a great deal of pain. “I understand”, I said. “But I’m on a deadline.” She was right; the pain was considerable. But I got some quality writing time in.

Mick Foley is a three-time WWE Champion, a two-time New York Times #1 best-selling author, and a weekly volunteer for RAINN.

 

Elliott Holt

I am lucky to live in a two-bedroom apartment, so I use the second bedroom as an office. It opens onto the backyard, so on warmer days, I keep the door open and my dog wanders in and out while I write. (My dog is a great writing companion. He is a calm, soothing presence and having to take him out for a walk two or three times a day helps clear my head.) When I am composing new material, I often write by hand (in notebooks) or on my manual typewriter (the red one on top of the bookshelves—I move it to the desk when I’m using it), but once I’m really in the zone on a draft, I work on my laptop.

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I like to listen to music when I’m working. And on my desk, I keep a few things for inspiration, including: 1) a postcard with the famous Samuel Beckett quote: “No matter. Try Again. Fail Again. Fail Better.” 2) a picture of Bob Dylan; 3) my ticket stub from Deborah Treisman’s live interview with Alice Munro at The New Yorker festival a few years ago  4) my Amtrak ticket stub from Saratoga Springs (where I was in residency at Yaddo) back to New York’s Penn Station in June, 2009; 5) a postcard that reminds me of my Pushcart Prize; 6) a John Derian paperweight that was a birthday present from my friend Amanda. 7) a spool of Victorian thread that was a gift from my friend and mentor, Michael; 8) a can of Gratitude from the Brooklyn Superhero Supply Co. (the store that is part of 826NYC); 9) a Russian matrioshka doll.

I also have big white magnetic boards on the opposite wall on which I’ve stuck an outline & notes for my novel. I find it really useful to be able to move index cards around on those boards so that I can see the structure of the book.
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Elliott Holt’s fiction has appeared in the Kenyon Review, Bellevue Literary Review, Guernica, and The Pushcart Prize XXXV: Best of the Small Presses. She has an MFA from Brooklyn College, where she won the Himan Brown award. She will finish her first novel in 2011 (or die trying). She lives in Brooklyn.

Jon Clinch

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I work in a closet. Most of the time, anyhow.

When my wife and I moved to Vermont from Pennsylvania a few years ago, we’d spent almost twenty years working together in a very nice and very roomy home office. In other words, we’d had enough of home offices. We were sick of home offices. But I needed a place to write, so I took the doors off the library closet and installed some cabinets and cut a stock tabletop to fit the space and that was it. It’s not a home office. It’s just a closet.

The library itself is full of things that mean something to me. The skiing poster, which keeps me company when my wife is out skiing. The mantle clock, which belonged to my grandfather. The Japanese fan, which was a gift from — well, from a Japanese fan. And pinned to the corkboard, a note from my friend Robert Goolrick that says “You really should be richer.”

Maybe so. But I’d probably still work in the closet.

Jon Clinch is the author of two novels, FINN and KINGS OF THE EARTH. He lives in the Green Mountain State with his wife, Wendy Clinch, founder of The Ski Diva.