06 October
The Writing Life

Where I’m Writing From:

...the view from the bed...

The bed. The California king. In the master bedroom (not grand, but cozy, in the far bottom corner of the house). There’s nothing unseemly about the location; it just happens to be where I work these days—having to do with various developments: like, last winter I slipped on the ice in Vermont and broke my coccyx; like, my desk chair, which I’ve replaced with one of those enormous exercise balls, was lousy to begin with: but who can actually sit on a ball for any length of time (without bouncing—and bouncing isn’t actually conducive to reading or writing or thinking, not for me anyway); like, my college graduate has come home to L.A., so I can’t hole up in her room anymore. Long and short: if I were to open a fortune cookie? If it were to read, “You will finish an essay tomorrow”? Without affect, all joking aside, I’d be able to add in bed. Moreover, it turns out, though my husband is skeptical, this is as fine a place as any to get the job done. (Why is he skeptical? He’s afraid the work will interfere with my sleep, infect my dreams—and if only that were true; that’d be as good a reason as any to work here, right?) On the bed, I can spread out my papers every which way; if my feet get cold, my sock drawer is closeby; it’s quiet down here, and not dark exactly—more like a tree-house than a cave, thanks to the Chinese Elm that grows just outside the sliding glass doors—and the atmosphere, remote and isolated, promotes writerly/readerly immersion. Plus my office—my actual office—is just on the other side of the wall, if I happen to need a file or a book or an extra pencil.

But does it matter where we work? I think it must. It matters to me anyway, especially (though you might suppose it’d be the other way around) once I’m in the throes of whatever it is. This is not to say that whole paragraphs haven’t rushed me in Trader Joe’s, in line at the ATM, even at stoplights (the car is very good place to work, just ask Susan Straight, who’s written nine beautiful books, parked and waiting to pick up her daughters from here and there); goes without saying, of course, we should always carry a notebook, or, if we’re as put together (as dapper!) as New Yorker reporter Gay Talese, we might consider cutting cardboard into pieces to fit the interior breast pockets of our blazers. See and this is the sort of inside information that delights and inspires, right? Why didn’t I think to ask Aimee Bender, who read and spoke about writing to MPW students in Doheny library last Monday night, where exactly she spends that allotted two hours a day: would she be able to write those perfect stories just anywhere, or does she—like Virginia Woolf and me—need a room of her own?

“Houses, rooms, our designs of all sorts and all material things will eventually vanish,” wrote Mark Helprin earlier this week in an essay in The New York Times, celebrating not just his own work space, but the value of serendipity in a writer’s life. And last August Dani Shapiro blogged about “creating a narrative out of puzzle pieces…I have a feeling,” she went on to say, “that those of us who spend our days alone in our rooms working out stories on the page and in our heads obsess about the question of pattern and randomness.” Perhaps it’s because our work is mysterious and confounding in that way, that so many of us need the illusion, at least, of a safe, familiar reality, however impermanent it might turn out to be. And we have to believe, don’t we, that if we show up there with some regularity, we’re more likely to benefit from some wonderful ‘accident.’ Gay Talese says his “bunker,” his “subterranean think tank,” is where he can work “without any distractions.” Give yourself a treat and let him take you on a tour. And for more on where writers live and work, visit A. N. Devers’ wonderful site: http://writershouses.com/.

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8 Responses to “Where I’m Writing From:”

  1. Dinah, great post–and an excellent reminder that writing is not just an intellectual activity; it’s a physical one too, one that requires a body, tools, a location, etc.

  2. Dinah Lenney says:

    It’s true, it’s true… Some of the best stuff happens for me, finds it’s way to phrases and sentences, as I’m walking or swimming, something about the rhythm of swinging (or thrashing) my arms, maybe? Thanks, Prince…

  3. Sally Ashton says:

    The bed’s my favorite place, too. All about the spreading out possibilities. Or maybe it’s a John and Yoko thing. They were just too cool.

    • Dinah says:

      Sally! Yes, exactly, spreading out, I agree… Did you see the piece about Yoko in last Sunday’s NYT? The idea that she actually used a bed as a bed… I’m surprised she doesn’t sleep in the bath. Or something… Thanks for reading.

  4. Howard Ho says:

    After many years of calling my work space “my man cave,” I’ve finally realized that it’s not a man cave at all. A traditional man cave consists of something like a couch and a TV, presumably used for watching sports and action movies, with a bar in the back and sports memorabilia on the walls.

    My man cave is simply the place where I work…a darkly-lit corner surrounded by books, a computer sans internet, and a piano keyboard.

  5. [...] a lot of ways to increase your creativity and productivity as a writer. Dinah Lenney ruminates on writing spaces; Rachelle Gardner proposes software to track and analyse your productivity; Tim Kane suggests [...]

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