Writers love to see where other writers write. Come to think of it, non-writers also love to see where writers write.
I remember one memorable trip I took to Key West, Florida, where I visited Ernest Hemingway's home. Overrun with six-toed cats and wallpapered with photos of immense fish, it also had a palm-cosseted blue tile outdoor pool and an open, sunny writing room over a building adjacent to the main house. (photo above left)
I remember the near-reverent hush that came over our tour group as we passed through that room. I found myself wanting to touch his typewriter, give those keys a few good clacks of my own. I'm no Hemingway fan, but I couldn't help but feel awe as I stood in the space where he wrote Nobel-prize-winning novels. This is where it all happened, I thought. As if a writing place is somehow magical space.
So not my office.
I wrote my first novel in the basement. Granted, there's heat, and the floor is carpeted. But my "office" was a windowless area off the furnace room, and I allowed it to become a dumping ground for files and boxes of photos and ... shells from Florida and my old baby shoes and ... oh, the list goes on. The horror, the horror. I've actually included a picture of that computer desk in the slideshow I present to students when I do author visits. I wrote Brett McCarthy: Work in Progress here:
Things picked up a bit after Brett. I abandoned my hopelessly dark and messy cave and moved to a corner of the den, where there are windows and a delightful woodstove. I can get away from everyone here and work in relative quiet and if I cran my neck hard enough can check out the weather through the line of small, high windows behind me. I wrote Jersey Tomatoes Are the Best here:
To date these far-from-magical spaces have worked for me, but I'll confess: I want more. I want the Hemingwayesque Florida studio. I want the daybed for lounging when I feel the need to "create" from a horizontal position. I want the cozy writer's cottage surrounded by flowers, perhaps with a view (the ocean?)and most certainly with an amazing desk. Pottery Barn makes a nice one:
Ask anyone who knows me: I'm not a materialistic person. I rarely shop, I don't care about cars or jewelry or stuff of any sort. The only things I buy which I probably don't need to buy are books (I'm a sucker for a beautiful hardcover ...) But when it comes to a writing place, and I check out where writers work, I feel true longing.
When we first moved to Maine, my writing place was pretty amazing. It was an old stable which had been converted into an artist's studio and it gleamed with blond wood and white bookshelves. One entire wall was lined with long windows, and the only heat source was a woodstove. I would write on a makeshift desk that looked into the yard, and whenever I pulled my attention away from the page I could see the resident red squirrels run up and down the trees.
Unfortunately, that studio was part of a rental, and we eventually had to move. I took to writing in coffee shops after that, mostly because we had very young children and I needed to get out of the house for a couple of hours. The "white noise" of patrons chatting and the smell of really, really good coffee actually helped me carve out a focused, creative space in my head, and I got some good work done at Wild Oats and The Bohemian Coffeeshop in Brunswick.
Still, as I take my first tentative steps into a third novel, I'm wondering whether an upgrade is possible. One writing friend put a shed in her backyard and fixed it up into a very cozy writing "house." I think Annie Dillard writes in a shed. It's worked quite well for her ....
Of course, the good news is that while an extraordinary writing place is a wonderful thing, it's not a necessary thing. Quiet, paper, and a few square feet that you can walk away from and trust that what you've left there will remain undisturbed until your return, is really all that's needed. Ultimately, the magic is all in your head. In the imaginative mess of one's own we writers create.