I love to follow my friends on Facebook and have been bemused by Nancy Pickard always going to a coffee shop to write. (Hey, I know J.K. Rowling did it too and it didn't exactly hurt her). But there is no way I could sit in a noisy, public environment like that and get any work done. I need my own confined space and no distractions. I can't have music playing or I'd listen to it. I can't be facing the window or I'd stare at the view. We have quite a big house and in theory I could choose any one of five empty bedrooms as my office. In fact I still keep to the smallest of those rooms because I have everything around me where I need it. I can swivel my chair to reach a bookcase or the credenza or either printer or the white board on which I jot notes. I have my award certificates on the wall to remind me what I can achieve if I do my best work. And in full confession mode I have a few toys to play with: the hologram top to spin, the wind-up teeth.. I won't go on. Too embarrassing.
I have to know that I'm in MY space, where I can talk through scenes out loud if necessary, swear if necessary, bang my head against the desk if necessary, or even do a happy dance when my agent phones with good news. When things aren't going smoothly I take to my car, another confined space, and drive around in my car, talking though scenes out loud. Thank God Bluetooth was invented because now nobody thinks I'm a dangerous lunatic if they see me mouthing and gesticulating while driving.
So it was interesting to me, a couple of weeks ago, to read that Nancy Pickard has finally succumbed and rented an office to work in. I've been threatening to do this for years - the actual process of "going to work" and being in a space where I can't be interrupted by husband asking where we put a particular file he needs. I've never gotten around to it although the condo in Arizona was intended to be that kind of space, far from telephone calls and obligations. Now if only I could get John to take up a time-consuming hobby...
So Sister Reds: where do you work at your best?
DEBORAH CROMBIE: You'd think I'd have figured this one out by now. Like you, Rhys, I can't write with what I think of as immediate distractions. No TV, no music. But I can do coffee-shop writing, although I don't do it as often as I used to. That's a different kind of distraction--white noise, really, while at the same time I feel free from household demands; ringing phone, dogs barking, the UPS man, husband wanting to know what's for lunch . . . But I'm basically lazy and I like being home. And I do have a lovely, cozy office (my daughter's old bedroom) redesigned for no purpose other than WRITING, with a lovely BIG desk that I can spread all my stuff out on and my favorite London photos and maps on the walls.
The last couple of years, however, I've developed a sort of seasonal migration technique. I write in my office (upstairs) in the winter. It's warm and if I want to take a thinking break I can curl up on the chaise in the window and watch the bare tops of the trees. But as soon as our back garden turns green in the spring I move down to the sunporch, where I have another Aeron chair and a little rolling laptop table I bought at Office Max for $30. And ten windows, so it's like being in a green sea. And I like being close to the kitchen, which to me always feels like the heart of the house. I suppose in my ideal world, I'd have an office that was next to the kitchen, with windows on the garden and opening onto a screened porch for nice weather, and a woodburning fire for chilly winter days...
But my prime rule is that the writing space can't be used for any other kind of work. No filing or bill-paying or business stuff. Just writing.
And step one in taking yourself seriously: set up a space where nothing else takes place but you writing. Mine is a little sun porch. For awhile I wrote in a baseball cap because of the glare; pleated window shades were my first investments in my career.
LUCY BURDETTE: Funny I remember very clearly when I started writing (mid 90's), we had only one computer and it was in the living room. So I had to share that iMac with stepkids and husband, the television and all the other family racket. We finally moved to a new house that had a writing cubby built in it just for me. I keep my junk spread out there, but I still usually write with laptop in bed. (Debs, I think that makes me even lazier than you!) And I would no more share my computer now than my underwear...
DEBS: Lucy, did I say I got dressed?
JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: Working in my pjs is half the reason I became a writer. I am, in fact, writing this in my pajamas.
RHYS: How primitive, Julia. At least I'm in my robe!
Strangest place I've ever written - on the ferry from Dar es Salaam to Zanzibar.
DEBS: I want Rosemary's office. Jan, I have Roman blinds in my sunporch so just move them up and down according to the time of day and the angle of the sun. But I still want Rosemary's office . . .
Technically, my office is in the parlour, complete with my reference books, research papers, business-related stuff, etc. However, it gets VERY cold and drafty in the winter, and in the summer, with the kids home from school, it's impossible. Even with the doors shut, everyone barges in and out to share their vital mother-related needs with me. So during the warm-weather months, I often decamp to one of the local university libraries. Quiet, air-conditioned, and there's no chance I'll be lured away from the writing by a load of laundry or a sudden spurt of guilt over the dust in the living room. (It's amazing how tempting housework can be when you're hitting a hard patch in the work, isn't it?)
But it's a lovely lovely tawny-colored room with a fireplace, and floor to ceiling book-and-Emmy shelves, and my desk, which is an antique horseshoe-shaped thing, is tucked into a bay window. Outside is massive and ancient maple tree. Yes, I battle the sun situation in the summer, but I also wear a baseball cap for that one glary hour.
All my stuff is on the desk--the bottle of wine Sue Grafton gave me, and a rock that's carved with "imagine" and "patience" and a feng shui mirror because my back has to be toward the door, and I know that's not good.
I love to write on the Acela train in the quiet car--the landscape zooms by, and it's gorgeous, and peaceful, and it makes me feel like Agatha Christie.