The Messy World of a Writer

What do you picture in your mind when you think of the places where writers write? I bet it's some sepia-toned image, with a gorgeous antique typewriter on a rich mahogany desk, right? Allow me to demonstrate:

Yes, that's the requisite old-timey writer's hat hanging in a ridiculously inconvenient place high above and behind the desk. I'm sure whoever he is, that man sits down at this desk and tosses it up there, making it on the first shot every time. How he gets it down is far less exciting. This is absolutely Hemingway's desk. It must be. Although it is missing the giant vat of whiskey soda that I imagine was present at every writing session.

This is absolutely Hemingway's desk. It must be. Although it is missing the giant vat of whiskey soda that I imagine was present at every writing session.

Okay, okay. Maybe this is a little too "classic author-type" writing area. Everyone knows contemporary writers like pubs and cafes, right? JK Rowling wrote Harry Potter in a cafe, after all. There must be some great juju that goes along with restaurant writing.

Ah yes, can't you just picture your favorite author huddled up in the corner seat of this pub, sipping red wine as she types up the next clever-but-popular bestseller on her Macbook Air?

This may be an accurate representation of an author. Who knows? Maybe all the writers I know are the exception, not the norm. Because the writers I know largely write wherever they can grab some space and time. On the bus, on the train, stuck in traffic, in their office on lunch break, in that glorious thirty minutes where both kids are napping at once, at 5am because that's the only quiet hour of the day, on the sofa with Dora the Explorer as the soundtrack, on notecards in the bathroom when they're supposed to be working.

You get the picture. I don't write at some fancy oak desk carved with inspiring quotes from famous authors. Although I am lucky in that I have my own study where I can spread out all my notes and pens and pictures. But it's a mess, dear reader. Let me tell you. Even when I feel like it's organized, to others it will look like a disaster.

This is the current state of the place where my ideas get put on digital paper:

I slapped a filter on this bad boy to make it look more glamorous. The pink sticky notes are not a normal choice, but they were on sale, okay? And then there's the nearly burnt-down candle that I light whenever I'm supposed to be writing to hopefully invoke some Pavlovian response (smell of candle = inspiration to write, which actually sort of works, by the way).

I've got my notebook full of notes and ideas and scenes for the novel. Then there are notecards with other ideas that I keep all around the house and in my various bags in case I think of something like a line of dialogue or a good idea and need to jot it down fast in order to avoid losing it. Also, I have every scene of my novel written on a stack of notecards in case I need to restructure.

On the wall, there are the 27 Tenets of Fiction Writing by Alan Heathcock, which I often consult for ideas, as well as further pink sticky notes of things I need to fix in my novel. One of my favorite pictures is leaning against the wall because I haven't had the time to frame and hang it yet. Then I've got my critique partner's notes about my manuscript printed and highlighted off to the right there.

Finally, and perhaps most inspiring of all, is the broken vegetable chopper and receipt on top of my pretty little set of drawers. This needs to go back to the shop and get exchanged, but no matter how long I leave it there, the thing just doesn't return itself. I think it actually expects me to take it.

This, my good friends, is the messy world of a writer. 

Maybe others do it differently. Feel free to tell me if you're one that does. But this is the way I work and, chaotic as it seems, it actually produces results. Sure, sometimes the cup on the desk is water or wine instead of coffee, but overall this is pretty much how my study looks every day. And you know what? When I'm finally finished with all the edits and revisions and my novel is prepared for publication, it's going to be a sad day indeed when the notes and chaos are finally put away in a drawer for good.

But then, I'll begin again.

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How about your desk? Is it as crazy as mine? Feel free to send me pictures. I'd love to know I'm not alone.