the writer’s desk

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Eudora Welty's desk on the cover

In a comment to yesterday’s post, a reader reminded me of Jill Krementz’ photographs in The Writer’s Desk, which was published in 1996, the same year as Infinite Jest, and is now out of print. I had forgotten all about this book.

I pulled it off the shelf, and I’ve been enjoying the photographs all over again–of Toni Morrison, Russell Banks, John Irving, and Susan Sontag. Russell Banks writes:

“The computer is the most liberating because it is the fastest: I can sneak up on myself and write things that I would never dare to say or write if I had to write it out longhand…”

John Updike writes the introduction. There are three photographs of him: a corner of his messy desk, at work with a pencil in his hand, and standing up over a computer. He writes:

“I look at these photographs with a prurient interest, the way that I might look at the beds of notorious courtesans. Except that the beds would tell me far less than  these desks do….at these desks characters are spawned, plots are spun, imaginative distances are spanned.”

Stuck inside my book was an article from Poets & Writers, “The Importance of Place: Where Writers Write and Why,” from the March/April 2008 issue. Alexandra Enders writes:

“Writers need to find a way to access creativity and that can begin with the physical spaces they occupy when they work. (Paradoxically, when the writer is writing well, is truly immersed in the project, the space dissolves and becomes irrelevant.)”

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Susan Sontag's desk

I do find that having a “room of my own” where I’m surrounded by books helps me during the creative phases of my writing. When it comes to revision, though, especially late in the process when I’ve worked on the same words many times, a new place–the quiet of a library or the noise of a coffee shop–will often give me the new perspective I need.

When I don’t have a room of my own, I’ve found that little rituals can serve the same purpose–a cup of coffee in a special mug, the lighting of a candle, turning a chair to face a different direction, a deep breath.

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