The spirit of the writer's space

Interesting piece in the NYT Real Estate section last week--"For a Writer, a Home with a Hideout"--featuring the gorgeous Upper East Side apartment of author Roxana Robinson, but focusing on the relatively austere writing space she has there. A bit:
Raymond Carver, she points out, claimed that he wrote his short stories in the front seat of his car. Ernest Hemingway holed up above a sawmill in Paris... Annie Dillard wrote in a college library.... Ms. Robinson writes in an 8-by-10 space that faces a tan brick wall and was formerly a maid’s room.
Defining a work space that works is one of the most important things an aspiring/ emerging author can do for her/his career.

When I made the shift inside my head that I was determined to do this for a living, my family was in a seriously low ball apartment on the north side of Houston. We'd been bankrupted by my cancer treatment, so there was zero money for any kind of artsy indulgence and zero space available in our cramped quarters.

So I moved the sofa out from the wall about 2 1/2 feet and stacked up three clean banana boxes from the produce department at the grocery store. I topped my "desk" with a square of Formica counter top plucked from the trash in a nearby neighborhood, and Gary neatly duct taped the rough edges. My folding chair wouldn't fold, so I had to leave it set up, which meant I had to climb over the back of the couch to sit down.

That 30x60 inch space was the "office" in which I finished my first novel and wrote my second. I called it "my office" with genuine gratitude and not a shred of chagrin. Since pulling the sofa out was how the kids and I had often made a "fort" to play in, they were a little irked that they weren't allowed to play in Mom's Office. They could, however, sit on the back of the couch and lean a head on my shoulder as I typed, and often, as I worked late into the night, Jerusha would sleep soundly, straddling my lap with her cheek against my chest as I typed with my arms around her.

The first royalty check from my first novel was the down payment on the house we live in now. I promptly scored the second biggest of the four bedrooms for my office, and Gary built in a fantastic wrap-around desk. There's a big window where I feed the birds, bountiful book shelves, a beautifully hand painted storage cabinet, and a comfy easy chair for reading and conference calls.

I love my office.

So you'll think I'm crazy when I tell you that a couple weeks ago, when things were a bit stressy for me, I went down to the living room, shifted the sofa a couple feet from the wall, and worked through the night sitting on the floor with my lap top on a laundry basket. Make of that what you will, but remember as you work through the week, it's the spirit of the space that makes it your own. And it's you that makes it work.

We'd love to hear about your space! Drop a line and feel free to share cell cam photos.


Suzan Harden said…
Hey, if it takes the laundry basket behind the couch to get the words flowing, more power to you, Joni.

I can't talk. Lately, I've eschewed my office with the lovely cherry desk in favor of the twenty-year-old loveseat in the living room to finish the latest wip,
Phyllis Bourne said…
I couldn't wait to get a house so I could have a real office, no more having to move my stuff off the kitchen table (usually when the writing was clicking) for dinner.

Now I have a beautiful office and it stays pristine, because I'm never in it. LOL! I can't squeeze out a word unless I'm at the kitchen table.
I've taken over the over-sized leather chair and ottoman in my family room, off of the kitchen. I got into the habit when my desktop was on the fritz two years ago and never moseyed back to my messy, perpetually disorganized office to do any more than print and pay the bills. Partly because I like putting my feet up and working on the laptop. Partly because it's more welcoming out here. The trade-off is I get interrupted more when my son and husband are home, but as one's usually off at college and the other works 24-hour shifts, it's generally not a problem.
LOL, Phyllis. It figures! Our routines quickly become sacred temples to the muse.
Joni Rodgers said…
Oh, Phyllis, I'm jealous of the pristine office! Mine's a debris field right now. There's method to the madness, but way too much going on.

I have to say, wi-fi has revolutionized my work life, because I can hang out at the kitchen table when Gary gets home in the morning or work from the sofa while he snores in the easy chair on the weekends. Being able to change venues makes it possible for me to put in longer hours. (The truth about my office: I started out working at home and ended up living at work.)
Gary said…
Pssst...I don't snore. What a viscious rumor to spread.
Becky Smith said…
Loved your "behind the couch" story. (Especially the part about writing with your child in your lap; what better inspiration is there than that?)

My writing spot is a recliner inside a storage closet. I've also written in bathrooms and trucks and kitchens and airplanes. Hey, when you gotta write, you gotta write!

I also relate to your experience with cancer; my daughter was diagnosed with Stage IV Neuroblastoma Stage at six and wasn't expected to live a year.

Seven years later, she is doing fabulously and is a word lover of magnificant proportions. She has written a couple novels, one of which is 100 pages!

I love your blog!

Becky Smith
Joni Rodgers said…
Right, Gary. (I always forget the rule: any strange emissions are to be blamed on dog.)

Becky, thanks for stopping by. I looked at Smithellaneous, and your family is delightful. Huge love and a big "rock on" to your daughter -- my little sister in survivorship!

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