Monday, January 01, 2007

The place in which I work

Patty here...

I love the idea of holing up in a cheap motel on the beach and writing. The room would have no telephone, no television, no wireless Internet connecting me to my email. I’d be there alone with a laptop, and a bottle of Jack Daniels (just for ambiance) because according to Faulkner “A writer without a bottle of whiskey is like a chicken without a goddam head.” And the room would be very very quiet.

Years ago somebody gave me a book called The Writer’s Desk by Jill Krementz. It’s full of photographs of famous authors taken in the rooms in which they write and includes a short quote about each author’s writerly routine.

Ross Macdonald
is pictured in an easy chair next to a bed. A board is stretched across the arms of the chair forming a writing surface. Sitting at his feet is a spaniel of some sort. The wall behind him is covered with wallpaper that features large mallard ducks, maybe to please the dog.

Macdonald says:
“Writing is about 75 percent a good memory for people, and not words…I keep on changing the plot. I might stick with the main outline—who kills whom—but almost everything else is likely to change.”

Eudora Welty liked to write in the early morning. Here’s a picture of her office.

“I don’t care what the weather is. I don’t care what the temperature is. I don’t care where I am or what room I’m in. I’d just get up and get my coffee and an ordinary breakfast and get to work.”

William Maxwell says:
“I like to work in my bathrobe and pajamas, after breakfast, until I suddenly perceive, from what’s on the page in the typewriter, that I’ve lost my judgment. And then I stop.”

Joan Didion opines:

“I need an hour alone before dinner, with a drink, to go over what I’ve done that day. I can’t do it late in the afternoon because I’m too close to it. Also the drink helps. It removes me from the pages. So I spend this hour taking things out and putting other things in.”

Willie Morris writes in the afternoon.
“I work on an enormous oak table that I had especially built…My cat, Spit McGee, who has one brown eye and one blue and is named after a swamp boy in a children’s book I once wrote, often jumps on the table and gets in my way, usually sprawling languidly on my manuscript…I welcome these intrusions when I’m starting a new book, because the book takes a little time to unfold. Once it does, I make Spit McGee sit on the floor.”

P.S. This is't really Spit McGee but I included the picture because I think the guy's wearing William Maxwell's PJs.

Philip Roth, not unexpectedly offers:
“I don’t ask writers about their work habits. I really don’t care. Joyce Carol Oates says somewhere that when writers ask each other what time they start working and when they finish and how much time they take for lunch, they’re actually trying to find out, “Is he as crazy as I am?” I don’t need that question answered.”

This is where I work.

It’s not as orderly as Eudora’s office, because I do a lot of other things there besides writing, like managing my life. The empty Voss water bottle (soon to be bud vase) is on the desk along with the Maltese Falcon and graduation Gumby. I have notes stuck to my computer screen reminding me of things I shouldn’t forget but always do. There's also a page from a Bad Cat calendar showing a snarling kitty-cat. The caption reads: “Away with you! You’ve disturbed the darkness in which I do my best work!” It makes me smile every time I look at it.

William Buckley wrote in the backseat of his car. Hemingway sharpened pencils to get in the mood. Amy Tan surrounds herself with objects from the past. Some people take long walks, some write in the morning, some in the afternoon, some at night. What about you? Where do you go and what rituals do you employ when you begin a creative project?

Happy Monday, Happy 2007. Wishing you all good health and great happiness.


  1. from Jacqueline

    My dear Patty, this is exactly what I needed today - the day I embark upon my new novel. Of course, the story is in my head, my reference books at my side, my poster-size post-its stuck to the wall (three together: one to track my characters, one to track the story, and one to make notes on those areas where I need to do a bit more research), but today is the day that the rubber hits the road, the words hit the page. And only three months to my deadline.

    I have a word goal each day (I try to hit 1500 word)s, sometimes I just make it, crawling towards the finish line with sweat on my brow, and sometimes I cruise way past because the force is with me. And I try to end in the middle of a sentence, or at a cliff-hanger, so I have a place to begin again the following day (thank you, Mr. Hemingway).

    I drink copious amounts of tea, and when I am in the zone, I completely forget which century I am in, let alone that I am in my office, at my computer, writing.

    Stephen King, in his book, "On Writing" (my #1 book on the subject), says that you can complete a first draft in 12 weeks if you write 1200 words a day. Well, let' s see, shall we?

    Thank you, Patty - this post is a perfect way to start the new year. Bless you!

  2. Omigosh, Our Jacqueline, your deadline is three months away?! I am so totally inspired by your dedication and discipline. I'm plodding along toward a June 1 deadline, which compared to yours seems far away and completely achievable. Ending each day's work with a cliffhanger is a great idea. Mind if I borrow it?

    I also loved Stephen King's book. Maybe I'll reread it just for inspiration.

  3. I have a Post-it note on the computer that reads: "Interruptions. Timidity. Bad Temper. Loss of Nerve." It's a quote from Elizabeth Hay's A Student of Weather, and she used it to describe the four excuses that a struggling young artist gave for not painting that day.

    They are my four reasons for not writing, too.

    So my ritual is to sit down at the computer, read the four excuses and figure out which one is bugging me that day.

    "Timidity? Oh, you again."

    Then I can get over it and start.

  4. Louise, you are now responsible for one more post-it note on my computer screen. My biggest faux excuse is interruptions.

  5. My only ritual is to play computer mah-jong until I win. This clears my head enough and frustrates me enough so that I'm ready to think about the book. I don't need a particular environment to work in; working in a huge newsroom with a bunch of people always surrounding me and lots of noise has trained me to shut out the rest of the world and concentrate on the words. I don't even put music on, because I don't hear it.

    Like Jacqueline, I'm starting my new book today. I also got back to working out this morning, but I'm not calling anything a "resolution," I'm just hoping to start the new year right. I don't count words, but pages and am aiming for 5 pages a day, which means first draft should be done in a couple of months. Fingers crossed.

    Happy happy new year to everyone here at Naked Authors!!

  6. Best wishes on the new book, Karen! I'm sure it will be another award-winner. And Happy New Year to all you First Offenders.

    I once asked a 70-year-old acquaintence of mine if she'd teach me to play mah-jong, but she declined. She said her mah-jong ladies played for money, and she feared for my safety if I made a mistake.

  7. from Jacqueline

    Today's plans are under threat from "drop-ins" already. But I'm determined to get those words done, come what may.

    I was having a clear-out of my office yesterday (since July it has been a staging post for me to pack and unpack my case between book tour engagements), and found an old calendar - my calendars always feature horses. I pulled a page from that calendar, which will be my inspiration for the year, I think. It shows a beautiful Lippizan dressage horse, with rider, waiting to go into the arena to perform. The inscription:

    "I am not afraid .... I was born to do this."
    (from Joan of Arc).

    So, as I take up my trusty sword (Microsoft Word), I shall banish that dreadful fear that grips when the blank page looms forth!

    And yes, I know it's a tight deadline, but that's the way it goes - I was too tired to start writing the book back in mid-November after my long book tour. A couple of years ago I wrote PARDONABLE LIES almost entirely from hotel rooms while on tour, but I never want to do that again.

    Gosh, I wish I had until June, that would be just lovely.

  8. Jacqueline, pardon this "drop in" but with your love of horses, why not put up a picture of Barbaro....if he isn't the "poster horse" for shear will and determination then I don't know who is!

  9. Anon, you're always welcome to "drop in." No pardon required.

    I saw the Lippizan horses perform when I was in Austria years ago. What amazing animals they are.

  10. Today is the first test of my one resolution--to complete and submit a manuscript this year. Hopefully sooner rather than later. :)

    Of course, there was a family Christmas today, but I am free to work for the remainder of the evening.

    My big test is simply banishing everyone extraneous from "my" world. I have found recently that I narrow my concentration quite nicely, if necessary, by writing a few hundred words "borrowing" someone else's characters. And I'm about to let go of that crutch--it's served it's purpose. The bridge is complete.

    Which said purpose would also include infusing me a bit of self confidence. ;)

    I'll also add that I've been taking up residence in a cubby in an upstairs, back corner of the local Public Library. Now that I think about it, a mere row from the shelf holding various "Smiley, P." offerings. And it's amazing how many of the librarians know my name.

    I have to admit that you have all encouraged me with some of your quite reasonable daily goals. Twelve hundred words, indeed.

    So, Patty, you have found a marvelous and wondrous first of the New Year topic. A happy and prosperous New Year to all!

  11. Patty, my "apology" was to Jackie, because she is distracted from her goal by "drop ins." I wish I had something witty or funny to add today, as is my penchant. Hopefully, you and Jackie will not have too great of a daunting task. Jon

  12. GO JEFF! We're all on your team, so keep those fingers nimble and write on.

    To Jon-Anon, as Marquise de Sevigne once said, "I fear nothing so much as a man who is witty all day long."

  13. from jacqueline

    I have my own version of Barbaro - as many of our readers already know. Her name is Sara, and she is the equine poster child for sheer rock-like will to live and thrive. (And I will definitely try to get some pics soon). Mind you, that Barbaro is something else, isn't he? What an amazing creature.

    At the end of the day, if a March 31st deadline is all I have to worry about over the next few months, I will consider myself blessed indeed - after all, I am well, I have a roof over my head and have food in the kitchen. Perspective is a wonderful thing!

  14. Jackie, indeed....and how could I have forgotten your brave and courageous Sara?! How is she doing?

  15. Hi Patty,

    Thanks for the rousing words of inspiration. I used them yesterday when I finally decided to take the horrifying plunge of changing my blog over to Google - before they did it for me. I read instructions intensively and then...leapt. Everything still works - hopefully. After that, and either side of dinner, I took a deep breath and did a little life painting. I set up a little tableau with a spike shell wearing a trimmed down peacock feather. I surprised my self! It actually doesn't look too bad. I've always run screaming from life painting from lack of confidence, but with all of your words yesterday and those of the greek chorus of commenters, I decided to stop procrastinating and just take a leap of faith. I even started a new little blog called 'Daub du Jour' (cause 'painting-a-day', as a title is already taken)to show the images gallery style. Though it might take a little while to start posting paintings - it takes ages for the oil paint to try. It should be operational inside a week.

    Hope everyone had a great NYE! I really enjoyed my Dark and Stormys. Now, back to painting...


  16. Marianne, I've resisted making the change to Google because I was afraid my computer would implode. You've given me faith to take the plunge even without a Darky and Stormy by my side.

  17. Patty,

    My blog is a small fledgling one with almost zero bells and whistles, frills and furbelows, nor long lists of years worth of archives. I already had a google account so I could log onto the blogger help bit. I read some of the problems others had and noted down the ones that would affect me. I created a test blog (Daub du Jour)and fixed it up like Muse du Jour. I had a frustrating time tinkering with the XHTML code in the template until I saw the magic tab that said "revert to classic template" of the same version as I was working on - not quite Identical as the one from Blogger, but nearly so. It worked!! This morning I decided to switch my two blogs over to join the new one. I held my breath and wished for a Dark and Stormy while it transferred. The only problem my computer seems to have is that it senses an error on the page of comments on Muse du Jour and produces a pop-up to tell you so. It may only be my computer or browser though, as it doesn't hinder posting comments.

    NOTE: Sign in to Blogger BEFORE you hit the switch over button. People have done it without signing in and lost the ability to access their blogs, let alone find them.

    Do what I did, play in Google with a mock up of the Naked Authors site first, to familiarize yourself with its peculiarities. I'll give mine a week or two then transfer Bob's.

    Sorry to stuff up the comments field with techo talk. :-D If you want any help or questions answered, Patty, email me offblog and I'll extend to you the benefit of my severly limited knowledge. :-D


    PS: I backed up all of my posts by copying them onto blank pages in MSWord before the shift. Spoken like a true ex-librarian.

  18. I'm sure that I'm not going to help at all, but I switched my blogs over some time ago. There were some minor "fixes", but following the instructions, I did well. And I like the additional flexibility and features of the new Blogger.