Writers often insist the creative process would go more smoothly if only they had a better work space.
A large office or a cozy alcove. An ergonomic chair and desk or a cushy armchair and generous table. Flooded with sunshine or bathed in dim, soothing light. Blissfully silent or humming with white noise or mellow music. Whatever the specifications, the perfect spot always seems out of reach.
After years of writing on the cluttered dining table of a big, noisy family and meeting deadlines amid the clamor of cubicle farms and newsrooms, I finally have plenty of space and solitude. Either of our guest rooms or our family room would make a great writer's den. But not for me. As it turns out, those are the places where my inspiration goes to die.
It's possible I'm still too steeped in illusions. I've stood in the parlor in Massachusetts where Concord native Louisa May Alcott penned Little Women and in Margaret Mitchell's Atlanta apartment, nicknamed "The Dump," marveling at the pocket-sized nook where she scrawled Gone with the Wind on yellow paper. I've visited the three Denver houses where my girlhood idol, Lenora Mattingly Weber, wrote dozens of young adult novels while raising six children.
Maybe I can't shake those romantic images, or maybe holing up behind closed doors feels like being a child exiled to my room as punishment. For whatever reason, I write best in the more central rooms of the house, the ones where I spend time doing many other things.
Much of my writing occurs on my end of the living-room sofa, Dell notebook on my lap and feet on the vast coffee table we use for everything from lunch to mending to Scrabble. It's great for composing essays, fiction or any material that requires little or no outside information. And if my husband's not writing over on his side, Turner Classic or MeTV provides a little low-key companionship.
When a piece entails phone interviews, however, there's no place like my kitchen table. That's where the liveliest discussions with family and friends usually take place, and I've found this dynamic also applies when I'm chatting with faceless strangers. Settling in with my coffee and notebook establishes the right mood, like a talk show set complete with fruit bowl and cookie jar, and I seldom fail to get a good interview there.
For hard-core research and photos, I've come to rely on our sunroom. The lighting can't be beat, so it's an excellent location for taking pictures to accompany magazine features. But the big plus is the mammoth poker table my husband and his buddy constructed two summers ago. Each slot at the octagonal table can hold a store of reference items -- books, handouts, notes, news clippings, legal pads, even a spare laptop for calling up online data. Its padded chairs are fine, but if I'm there for the long haul I prefer the comfort of my blue wicker rocking chair.
I'll never stop drooling over pictures of those wonderful settings where top-tier writers get it done. Yet as much as I envy their waterfront views, antique desks or shelves full of trophies and travel souvenirs, I doubt I'll ever be the atelier type.
I also wonder if the likes of Pat Conroy or Stephen Fried or Janet Evanovich ever play hooky from their work spaces, not to goof off but to seek a temporary change of venue. Maybe grab a notebook and head for the patio, laundry room or breakfast nook. An unlikely site--or two or three -- that somehow unleashes ideas, speeds up research or makes the words flow more readily