How to write a book · Inspirations Scrapbook

The rescued desk – where do you write?

I’m addicted to those pieces in Saturday newspapers where authors show us round their writing rooms. The walls for Post-Its, the arcane but essential talisman on the desk, the flop-and-read area…. even if we all know that half our work probably happens in snatched scribbles at the Tube station, or in our heads while watching a film.

Anyway, here’s my own contribution, first written for the Authors Electric blog back in 2012. I’m sure some of the piles of notes have waxed and waned, but the general geography of where everything lives is the same. Writers are creatures of habit, I guess.

My desk is an old dining table. It has been with my husband longer than I have.

He didn’t acquire it by choice. Years before I met him his mother found it by a skip. She delivered it to Dave ‘in case he’d find it useful’. He didn’t, because he didn’t need two dining tables. So he put it in the box room. Then I moved in.

I was a private scribbler, a manic creative. The box room became my study and the table my playground, with a computer and a litter of notes. Short stories, a tinkered-with novel, naive submissions. Gradually commissions happened. My prose left the house as printouts and disks and returned as proofs and then real books.

The table and I had become serious.

It was not a lovely beast. Not just because of the haloes from hot mugs, the cigarette burns and the grooves from children’s scribbles. I’ve never seen wood that looked so like Formica. I sanded and painted the top, in a paler tone of the smoky lilac on the walls. The table’s legs were neither substantial nor retro spindly. But painted black they became svelte stilettos. Dave made me bookcases, also in black.

There isn’t much else in the room. In one corner is a Nepalese cushion, to be used for reading and for plotting out books on index cards. The cushion is a hypnotic-looking mandala with red tasselled corners. (Tasteful neutrals make me cross.)

Beside the monitor is a stack of CDs, chosen to witch up characters, places and scene moods for works in progress. Pens are crammed in a box that once held Laurent Perrier champagne. Leads and USB drives live in a distractingly hip Michael Kors sunglasses case (a charity shop treasure). Something, one day, will find a home in the tiny cylindrical box inscribed with the word Pride. Papers, cards and a quill from a pheasant’s tail sit in a wooden chest – a gift from a friend who died one Christmas in a car crash.

Between these fixtures are notes. Pictures, too, of random strangers I’d cast as my characters.

At the moment there are five or six books evolving on that desk. If you took a stop-motion film you would see them multiply, spread and vanish like the seasons.

Like the narrator of My Memories of a Future Lifel I’m a martyr to RSI. If Dave has to sort out a problem with my computer he curses the kneeling chair, the joystick mouse and the gusseted ergonomic keyboard.

The computers have come and gone. Relics gather, CDs and notes arrive and leave. But the foundling desk has been under it all from the start, through much discovery and the paperdrift of many books. And here it still is. I think it might even be older than I am.

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Where do you write?


23 thoughts on “The rescued desk – where do you write?

  1. I write on a “rescued” light-colored Ikea gate-legged table that takes up the half of my bedroom that is my office:) It holds my laptop, printer, lamp, and several messy piles of folders and books. My view out the window is of an apartment building under construction, but the view indoors is a large, black and white framed photograph of the lovely lighthouse in Tawas City, Michigan, which often gets me through…

    1. I hadn’t thought about the importance of the view, especially pictures inside. My window looks out on houses. For a while, one of them was being reroofed. This coincided with a book that needed some characters to build a school, so I had a ready source of reference just by looking at what was going on across the road! Inside, I’ve got mainly bookshelves. Like your lighthouse, they get me through.

  2. An evocative tour of your writing space evolution :0) I write a lot in the bath. Logistically it’s not the easiest place for most people, but I’m a water baby, so it’s natural for me. I don’t like to write at the desk where I do things like editing, or research as those states of mind seem to impress themselves on the environment, so I usually write in places where I don’t spend too much time in rational thought. But when I do ‘sit down to write’ it’s on a converted sewing treadle. My chair I found outside a chapel within the walls of an old Leper colony. It was a bit dusty and rain stained but quite a cool, retro design and was inviting me to take it home from beneath the shade of on ancient looking olive tree. How could I refuse!

    1. You write in the bath! I like your reasoning, but I’m one of those people who has never been able to use a bath for anything but bathing! And your dry-land setup is enchanting – your chair especially. What a treasure. Thanks so much for telling us about it.

  3. My arrangement seems positively prosaic compared to yours. Perhaps it’s all in how you relate the origins of each component.

    We live in a three bedroom log home with a daylight basement (two walls are open to the back and side yards). Two of the bedrooms are in the basement. It sounds bleak, but we each have large picture windows with a view of our back yard, which is acres of forest.

    When we dedicated the bedrooms to be our offices, we had desks built in with cabinetry and drawers. My desk forms a horseshoe that consumes three walls and gives me a diagonal workstation at the two corners. My walls are covered with fantasy art and maps as well as a quilted wall hanging of a farmscape and huge John Deere tractor (model 9400). Bookshelves, file cabinets, and a couple boxes of my old D&D materials fill the rest of the space. It may not be artistic or impressive, but it’s my own personal cave, and as a committed hermit, I’m very comfortable in it.

  4. I enjoyed your little office tour Roz. Always nice to see how neatly or chaotic other writer’s workspaces are, lol. You’re doing much better than me it seems on the neat front 🙂

  5. When I start a story I write in longhand, everywhere, especially in bed. When I transfer it to computer I write on a laptop on the dining table in the living room. I have to clear away for meals.I have a nearby bookcase and printer ( which has just gone wrong and scrunched up some paper!) and a shoebox with letters and notes and a chair with a load of files. It isn’t pretty! I don’t have a view. I’m facing the wall.I’m quite untidy and I’d better try to fix the printer.

  6. Oh, I love all of those books! What an inspiring atmosphere to be around, like Dickens in a London library corral. Kudos.

    I had a great writing sanctuary in the basement of my home in Alexandria, Virginia. I haven’t settled on the magic place here in San Diego, but we’ve only been here a year and our apartment is temporary. I find myself moving about it, unsure where to best access my muse. What I likely will find myself doing is writing outdoors, because you can pretty much do that year round here. I’ll let nature provide my surroundings.

  7. Bare bones writing environment starts with a desk top computer (many times the laptop too) a quiet place, hopefully quiet for hours for novel work. Natural light’s a bonus, but failing that a room with bright light is a must. If I’m writing a poem or short story a printer nearby is good. There’s nothing like reading my work out loud from a sheet(s) of paper. Inspiration doesn’t always boiling over when my study is near. I’ve drafted and polished a novella, poems, and stories in resorts and on cruise ships.

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