the writer’s desk


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.)”


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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5 thoughts on “the writer’s desk

  1. Hi there. I was just browsing through some lit blogs this morning and happened upon yours. I really like your content. Thanks for sharing!


    • Thanks, Jess, for stopping in and for leaving a comment. I’m glad you like the blog. I often enjoy browsing through blogs too, and I was wondering how you went about it. Did you use a certain search term? Or did you find a list somewhere? Hope you’ll come back!


  2. Love the first two quotes in this post!
    I have to say, that although I have `my own`study, or my writing room, I really don`t need a space to write in. For a while, when the kids were still babies, I used to run out to a cafe to write, and I was worried that I would not be able to write in unfamiliar territory so to say, but I had no problem. Sometimes I carry my laptop around, and so far, I`ve been able to enter that writing zone pretty much anywhere. But, my favorite place to write is outside 🙂


  3. I am set in my ways about where I write. I had company for a week last week and could only write on my laptop instead of my place by the window (where the guests were staying). So I didn’t write at all.

    Head on over to my blog to collect your award.


  4. Jennifer and Tricia–nice to see the two opposing views laid out so nicely: “I can enter the writing zone anywhere” and “I can only write in my place by the window.” But both of you seem to prefer some connection to the outside–it’s Jennifer’s favorite place to write and Tricia likes to be by her window.

    Tricia-thanks for the lovely blog award!

    Jennifer, I particularly like the Russell Banks quote. It hadn’t occurred to me why I prefer to write on the computer when so many feel a much more direct connection writing longhand. But his description of “sneaking up” on himself with the computer makes sense–typing seems far less intentional than composing letters on paper. Also, when I see my handwriting it seems too personal, whereas the typewritten words surely have nothing to do with me.


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