Saturday, October 10, 2009

Writing Space

I've always been interested in interior design.  Like many people, I feel happier when I spend time in a beautiful space.  That said, I have a strong suspicion that the popular notion of a beautifully designed writing space is, well, crap.

You know what I'm talking about, right?  I'm not arguing against Virginia Woolf.  I'm arguing against this:

This picture, which I recognized from a Pottery Barn catalog, appeared in a great blog post on a related subject last week.  It is representative of a fantasy writer's room that is popular in decorating magazines and books.

I would kill for this room.  I would like to believe that if I had this room, it would magically transform me into a bestselling author who also happens to be great looking and an impeccable hostess.

The truth is that I don't have an imaginary room like this because I don't have an imaginary life.  I have a real life, where computers and lamps have power cords and white furniture has stains and windows look out onto neighbors' houses and the actual objects I use every day are not color-coordinated.

In my real life, a desk has half-empty drinks and stacks of junk mail, magazines, and books.  It has dirty socks and crayon drawings deposited by my children.  It has a big ugly printer.  In fact, there is no room to write on this desk.  I write on the couch.

Of course some actual writers do have awesome spaces.  But I think they are the exception, and even they probably started out on a card table in the laundry room like Stephen King.  On the flip side, I have known real people who had amazing writing spaces, and never accomplished what they hoped to in them.

Here's the thing.  Writing is hard.  It's all-too-tempting to externalize our shortcomings into things we believe we could control if we only had enough money/space/time/etc.  I can't write because I don't have a good space.  In other words, we like our excuses.  It's natural, but it's lame.


  1. In his book On Writing, Stephen King has a story about how he had a great writing space with the perfect desk--and he got no writing done there. However, he astutely blames that on the fact he was an out-of-control alcoholic at the time.

    When he got sober, however, his perfect writing space was poisoned with associations to drinking, so he got a little desk, stuffed it in a little boring corner of his house, and actually started to produce good writing again.

    So Stephen King agrees with you! Writing is a mindset, not a list of physical requirements.

  2. is it sad that I want that room? I want it so badly because even though it won't help me be a better writer, it will be a beautiful writing space all others will envy!

    yeah - reality is the humongous cluttered mess that my desk truly is.

  3. J.J., thanks for that affirmation! I read On Writing just after it came out and forgot about that particular story.

    Ello, I want this room so bad I have measured it out, priced it out, and rehearsed the speech wherein I explain to my husband how this would be a far better use for our dining room. Fortunately or not, I know that once it's in my house, it'll look exactly like the pile of crap I already have. For it to work I would need a much bigger house with much more storage... and a housekeeper and an assistant... and I would need to be a completely different person :)