Where Writers Write

Monday, August 3, 2015

Most readers seem to have a fascination (if not semi-obsession) with where writers write. 

I think it's more of an interest in seeing and understanding the intimate space in which writers create, that world where writers go to leave this one behind. 

I have long held that fascination, too. As many of you know, Erma Bombeck remains an idol of mine, and I loved to read about how she locked herself away from her family to write undisturbed (save for the notes under the door). 

I have a plaque on the wall next to my desk of Margaret Mitchell which reads, "In a weak moment, I wrote a book." I love the saying, but I also love the photo on the plaque of her in her office sitting at her desk -- hands fluttering over her typewriter. 

I often love to sneak a peek into authors' writing spaces, both personally and electronically.  

One of the first things I wanted to see when Rita Mae Brown -- the legendary author of RUBYFRUIT JUNGLE and The Sneaky Pie Brown Series -- invited me to stay at her beautiful Virginia farm was her office. It was a bright room, with big windows, and a beautiful, old desk. On top? A typewriter. Rita Mae had nothing else in there: No lap top, no phone, no cell, no internet. She said she rose at dawn with the sun, and got her writing done, so she had most of the morning and all day to tend to her many animals. I think my agent and editor would murder me if I sent in a typewritten manuscript, but it is RMB after all. But, I did learn something: I rise early, too, like she does, and write. And I have learned to turn off social media when writing (and leave my cell behind, too). 

Though I have not visited their homes, I know many author-friends, like New York Times bestsellers Adriana Trigiani and Caroline Leavitt write from urban spaces while Nancy Thayer writes from her cottage in Nantucket (in an office with views of the water). I know authors that prefer to make their offices in a local coffeehouse or library.

My space is very important to as both a writer and a person: Our home is a knotty-pine cottage we call "Turkey Run," for all the wild turkeys who treat our paths and yard as their personal woodland interstate. I love my cottage, its history and its feel. It grounds me, as does Gary's gorgeous gardens, from which I pick fresh flowers for my office two or three times a week. 

My writing studio is a carriage house attached to our house. It is private, quiet, and -- the nice thing is -- I can leave it when I'm done for the day: I can return to this world. 

A peek at our carriage house in the winter


One wall leading up the stairs to the office is filled with the framed covers of my five books. This is -- and isn't -- done from pure ego. A friend sent me the first two, and when I hung them, I realized they were an important and visceral reminder of all that I had accomplished and -- now -- all that I have to accomplish. (I mean, an entire wall is still EMPTY!)

My desk sits facing two giant windows overlooking our woods and -- in the distance -- our neighbor's blueberry fields. The view is constantly inspiring and ever-changing: Summer screams green, and the windows are constantly wide open. Fall is a wonder of color, the sugar maples and sassafras visual overload. Winter is quiet and white (before we leave for the desert). And spring is nothing to everything all at once, an unfurling of Mother Nature. 

A huge sugar maple sits outside the windows, and a squirrel I call Dorothy Parker visits me nearly every day, eating acorns, staring at me, squawking at me to keep going. 

On my desk, I have my Mac, fresh flowers, all of my published books on one side of a lamp and a collection of beloved Bombeck on the other. There are meaningful photos of family, friends and pets, an assortment of bobble head dolls and raccoons (from fans of AT LEAST IN THE CITY SOMEONE WOULD HEAR ME SCREAM), a calendar filled with deadlines, glass vases filled with rocks and shells collected from nearby Lake Michigan and our coastal vacations (as well as a turkey feather or two). Usually, there are a stack of galleys on a pullout drawer that authors and publishers have asked me to read and blurb. A plaque that my artist aunt gave my parents after they built our family home titled "The House that Rouse Built" sits nearby, too. I rotate two favorite coasters for my coffee and water (and, OK, wine on occasion): One that says, "Mama loves her some boxed wine" from a dear friend (and in reference to IT'S ALL RELATIVE) 
LOVE coffee! (literally!)
and one from Oscar Wilde that reads, "Be yourself, everyone else is already taken."

Summer!


I have bookshelves filled with books, family heirlooms and photos, and my expansive Pez collection. A lamp with that looks like burnished wood sits by my desk. I have a couch behind my desk that serves as a comfy place for writers who take my writing workshops to sit (and sweat ... just joking) when they come to my retreats. (btw, I NEVER nap, so it's of no use to me). 

The walls around my desk are filled with framed accomplishments (my bachelor's and master's degrees, my first marathon medal with official time and photo at the finish line), some of my first published magazine articles, as well as a number of framed quotes.

The first quote is from Dr. Seuss and states: "The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you'll go."

The next is: "Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail," from Emerson. It was a quote given to me by Gary that helped to inspire, both humorously and poignantly, my Michigan memoir, At Least in the City Someone Would Hear Me Scream.

The next up is from Dorothy Parker, which reads: “If you have any young friends who aspire to become writers, the second greatest favor you can give them is to present them with copies of The Elements of Style. The first greatest, of course, is to shoot them now, while they’re happy.”

And, finally, from Erma Bombeck: "Great dreams... never even get out of the box. It takes an uncommon amount of guts to put your dreams on the line, to hold them up and say to the world, 'How good or how bad am I?' That's where courage comes in."

Always flowers!


At the top of the stairway are two leather chairs I call my Hemingway chairs and a leather ottoman that flank a fireplace (which gets a lot of use in the fall and winter). There is a pouf for our smaller mutt, Doris, that sits under my desk, and larger pouf for her sister, Mabel, right next to my chair. 

I have a stereo that I occasionally turn on to classical, jazz or Pink Martini (but I am noise-obsessed when I write, and must have complete quiet ... which is why Gary leaves every morning to go to yoga and coffee). 

I love my office. I love going to work. My commute is short -- a stop for coffee, a stroll in our walkway past our woods and then up 14 stairs -- but I love every step. 

Fab Fall!


A writer's space -- any artist's creative lair -- is a special place. I encourage aspiring and emerging writers to give themselves not only permission to call themselves writers but also to carve out a space that belongs to them -- be it at the dining room table, a desk in the laundry room, or in the sunroom (the place I first started in St. Louis). Claim it! Call it yours! Even over the shouts of your husbands, wives, children. Over time, it will call to you. Over time, you will return, and you will create. 

And, over time, your dream space and dream book will become reality. 

KEEP WRITING & DREAMING! xo 


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