January 30th, 2008

Egyptian hieroglyphics

Do you need room to write?

My Helpful Friend called to my attention an interesting feature on the Guardian Unlimited Books section titled "Writers' Rooms." It is, just as it says, all about the rooms where writers choose to do their writing. Some of the writers' comments about their spaces are interesting, like this one from Ronan Bennett: "The state of my desk is always an indication of how the writing is going. If it's tidy, I'm avoiding work." Or this one from Siri Hustvedt: "A room to write in isn't like other rooms, because most of the time the person in it doesn't see it. My attention is on the page in front of me, on what the people in the book are doing or saying..."

Writer Kate Mosse likes to be up high in the house; like me she works on a laptop that has no e-mail or web access. Joshua Ferris writes with paper and pen because he thinks better that way. He doesn't ask for quiet or isolation but only lots of elbow room.

The pictures are enlightening, too. Not surprisingly, historian Eric Hobsbawm's writing room is full of stacks of paper from his research. Some rooms look more like studies or libraries, crammed with books in every corner, while others look more like offices or even guest rooms.

It seems what writers have in common most is the act of writing rather than the place.