The New York Times’ article on author Roxana Robinson’s writing office is typical of the New York Times — over-the-top breathless. The photo is to die for. The room is a sparsely furnished, sparsely decorated bedroom. Robinson sits on the bed and types away at her laptop, and one can imagine that she never even thinks of her surroundings, so perfectly calibrated are they to fade into unconsciousness.

If there were any justice in the world, the article will make it impossible for her to ever work in there again.

Well… no. But I compare it to my own nook and I think that Robinson has got the right idea, even if she does have a ton of money and plenty of literary cred, and even if the article makes the space look like an idealized version of the writer’s garret, like a movie set or something.

You can’t write without a room of your own, and the room itself can’t be distracting.  In my pantry/laundry room, I have my computer and my pile of papers, books, and music. This is where I write and edit. It’s off the kitchen and I can close the sliding door (it gets hot but I have a fan). There are no windows. I look up and I stare at pegboard. In another life the room was a workroom. It isn’t lavish and it isn’t pretty but it gets the job done.

I don’t know what I would do with the meticulously kept office showcased in the Times. I’d probably get nothing done.

Anyway, here’s what mine looks like (and yes, off to the right, that is toasted sesame oil and supermarket-brand cheerios):


Just a little different.


dave · July 19, 2009 at 1:09 am

I love it. Robinson’s office is hardly spartan; it looks like a typical kid’s bedroom. (And she shouldn’t be sitting like that; it’s bad for her back.) I greatly prefer your writer’s garret. Now that is an honest workspace. Hopefully it’s not too uncomfortable.

J M McDermott · July 30, 2009 at 6:32 am

That particular writer was a teacher of mine in my undergrad years, and subject of many of my stories about how not to approach writing and workshop.

She’s a very nice person, honestly. And, I honestly believe that’s her writing space, and it’s clean and organized and meticulously decorated and everything is in its place.

Patrice, your description of her writing space as presented in the article is exactly what her prose is like. Sparse, over-the-top breathless, gushing New Yorker-ness, all surroundings fade into the subconscious…

Yet, there’s no edge to it. There’s no place where something dangerous is hiding in the drawer. You could no more imagine a secret marijuana stash as you could imagine something strange in the brown box – a wonder woman costume she dons when she’s alone, knick knacks from an adventurous backpacking jaunt across Europe when she was broke, photographs of ninjas… Anything of the unquotidian – anything that speaks to some place in the mind where things are out of place.

How can we dream, if we don’t have the kind of writing space where we can work in our pajamas, unfiltered by the lens of an audience?

I’m sitting in my desk chair right now, but my computer is on the bed, because the desk is a mess. The bed is half-covered in clean clothes I haven’t folded, yet.

I would rather tolerate some clutter than lose writing time during the week. I can clean when my brain is fried.

Patrice Sarath · July 30, 2009 at 6:03 pm

Well, and you saw mine. ; -) I keep thinking that the Times piece should have been in Real Simple or one of those lifestyle mags that cater to the upper-income demo. If Martha Stewart were to make over my writing space, I’d have to shoot myself.

Writing spaces should be cluttered, makeshift, and full of scraps.

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