Writing Space

Writers tend to love their tools. As a kid, I wrote with a certain type of very soft-leaded mechanical pencil. When my pages were stacked together, the graphite on them would smear, so that in time, the words became almost indistinguishable on the sheets of uniform, cloudy gray. (This problem was exacerbated by being left-handed, with my writing hand always dragging across what I’d just written.)

I loved my IBM Selectric typewriter in college. When I got a Smith-Corona word processor the summer before I came to Japan, I thought it was the greatest invention ever. My first computer was a PowerMac, and I ended up collecting six different keyboards for it. Keyboards are the tactile interface between writer and machine. I relished the differences among them–some big, some small; some standard, some ergonomic; some with firmer resistance to the keys, some with softer; and each with its unique, satisfying click-click-click. The old Mac gave up the ghost after ten years of faithful service, and now I have a laptop PC starting its third year on my desk (with only two keyboards besides the one built into it).

A few years back, Jill Krementz came out with a book and related calendar, The Writer’s Desk, which offered glimpses into the places writers worked. I really enjoyed seeing the austere, converted boathouse in which E.B. White wrote…the comfortable clutter around Stephen King…the long table with Isaac Bashevis Singer ensconced at one end…. I’ve long been fascinated by the actual, physical spaces and conditions writers choose for themselves. (I see that the book is still available on-line.) So I thought you might be interested in seeing my current writing space.

Here it is! I like a full-sized keyboard, so that’s a Microsoft ergonomic laid on a wooden plank I bought at a hardware store. The plank rests on four wooden spools from my mom’s sewing drawer. It’s fitting that an artifact of my mom’s is present to hold up my keyboard, since it was Mom who taught me by example the process of writing stories and sending them out, submission after submission.

The picture was taken in February of this year. I was keying in line-edits to my novelette “Lucia’s Quest”–that’s the manuscript you see to the right of the computer. In a way, though, it’s misleading to call this my writing space: I do a lot of writing here, but I do just as much on a kitchen table, using an AlphaSmart Dana. I do write almost entirely by keyboard now. Gone are the days of gray graphite hands!

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4 Responses to “Writing Space”

  1. Daylily Says:

    I enjoyed reading about your writing space and your tools. Interesting how technology has changed the process of writing. I wrote my first music on staff paper with a pencil. Very, _very_ slow process. I “graduated” to the Professional Composer software on a MacPlus, then Finale Allegro on a Quadra 605 with a Roland JW-50 music keyboard (so that I could play the music into the electronic score), and now Finale on my iMac with the same Roland JW-50. The constant through it all has been my 1913 Story and Clark full upright piano, which has been my companion in creating music through moves between six states. I have known this piano since my first piano lessons, 48 years ago. An acoustic piano is essential to my writing process. Sometimes old technology is the best!

  2. I yelled "Gorilla!" Says:

    Great to see where the magic is now happening. Funny thing, though — I doubt if I will ever to able to erase my image of you at work, in your study, with a dim lamp on and a flimsy piece of hemp being twisted repeatedly.

  3. Tandemcat Says:

    My image is of someone bent over an IBM Selectric, switching typeface balls! 🙂

    In my writing, I’ve used a variety of small battery-powered computers, from the Tandy WP-2 to an HP 200LX, a Cidco MailStation (I found out about that from Fred!), and today’s pair of Jornadas, a 720 and an 820. The 720 is small and light enough to go anywhere, and, like the 200LX, I can easily hold it in two hands and type with my thumbs while I ride my exercise bike! (Actually I can do that with the MailStation, too, but its screen isn’t backlit.)

  4. Chris Says:

    Tools is a very interesting topic. I recently was having a discussion with a fellow science friend about the various calculators we’d had throughout our career. I realized that I had pegged most of the events of my life around the calculator I had at the time. Some of the watershed moments of my life are “keyed” (pun intended) around my purchase of an HP-11C RPN calculator in 1989. I still have it and it is my “baby”. I use it most days at work and when I pick it up it just “feels” like my interface to science!

    The “tactile” interface comment you made applies here as well. There is nothing that feels the same as a good ol’ classic HP calculator!

    As for workspaces, treasure yours! In corporate America we are quickly all losing cubicle space. I need my bookshelf but we are losing space for “luxuries” like that. Thankfully much info is available online nowadays. But again, there’s nothing like the tactile sense of a book. I’ll wind up with a tiny little cube, but I’ll fill the thing with textbooks.

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