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

Eric D. Goodman

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It recently occurred to me that for all my decades of writing, I’ve written at least part of every draft novel and short story at the same, simple desk. A modest, pine desk that belonged to my father. 

I was 12 when I wrote my first draft of my first novel in a spiral notebook and then transcribed it on an old PC in a forgotten word processing program called “Multimate.” I did so at my father’s desk. 

I remember Dad purchased it as a natural, untreated pine desk for his first PC back in 1983. One Saturday, he applied the red honey stain—and it’s remained intact for about three decades. 

When I needed a desk for my first computer and Dad decided it was time for a new desk of his own, I inherited the modest pine. I’ve always planned to get a newer, nicer desk—a handsome cherry wood or mahogany goliath with room for lots of scribbled notes. But when I recently realized how loyal this desk has been to me and my writing, I began to think: this will always be my primary writing desk. 

Of course I write in other places too—an office, writing retreats—but as long as the old pine holds up, I think I’ll remain loyal too.

I try to surround myself with things to inspire me when I write. Just about everything on or around my desk is there for a reason. Here are a few of my muses … 

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When I was an exchange student in Nizhniy Novgorod, Russia, I remember spotting this Don Quixote statue in an art shop. It was a little pricey for me as a student, but I kept coming back to look at it. “It’s you,” my friends said. Finally, my Russian professor advised me that I should buy it and always have it on my desk to inspire me. I did, and I have.  

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The candle holder was purchased in St. Petersburg, Russia, at a museum. It’s a duplicate of the dragon candle holder Leo Tolstoy used when he wrote by candlelight. 

The wooden manuscript box was a gift from my kids on father’s day. Although it’s usually filled with notes, not manuscripts. 

The glass paperweight is a handcrafted rendition of Venus made with ash from the 1980 Mt. St. Helen eruption. It was a gift from my family on my 40thbirthday. It’s heavy, making it useful when the window’s open on a windy day. 

A friend and fellow writer crafted the fountain pen out of wood from the desk of former U.S. Transportation Secretary and San Jose mayor Norman Mineta. This had special meaning to me as I was born in San Jose. 

My thesaurus and Strunk & White are always nearby … although lately I tend to find my sources online. 

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My favorite author, John Steinbeck, watches over me as I write. I picked up this woodcut at the Steinbeck Center in Salinas, right down the road from his boyhood home. 

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My writing studio is small, so a friend built in ceiling-to-floor bookshelves along one wall. That allows for a lot of books. About one and a half of the shelves are filled with signed editions. The shelf also holds family photographs and trinkets I’ve collected over the years. 

But the nucleus of the room is this modest pine desk. My dad’s been through three or four desks since he gave this one up. Someday he might ask for it back.

Eric D. Goodman has been writing fiction at the same modest desk for about 30 years. His debut novel in stories, Tracks, was published by Atticus Books on June 30. He regularly reads his fiction on Baltimore’s NPR station, WYPR, and at book festivals and literary events. He’s probably at the old pine desk right now working on revisions for his second novel.

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