Monday, April 30, 2012

Geniuses at Work

I love seeing pictures of writers' work spaces. They give another glimpse into the creative process behind the books we read, a place where we can imagine the author toiling behind a computer screen, filling blank pages. It's easy for readers to attribute some special significance to the desk where your favorite novel was written, and in fact, some authors themselves are very particular about where they work. The writing space is another tool, just like a computer or legal pad, a special pen or a cherished figurine that helps the words flow. But what fascinates me most is the way a space can reflect the personality of the author, and how it may (or may not) affect way she works. Cluttered, neat, surrounded by books, or buried under Post-its, every writing space is unique.

I thought it would be fun to peek into the personal spaces of some of the Apocalypsies, to see where their debut books came to life.

A.C. Gaughen, the author of Scarlet (Walker Books for Young Readers) uses this super Macbook to change the course of mighty sentences and bend words with her bare hands. I heartily approve.

Laurisa White Reyes, author of The Rock of Ivanore (May 21, Tanglewood Press), says, "(M)y particular work space is a bit unconventional. I live in a 1600 square-foot house with ten other people: my husband, my five kids, and all four grandparents. Space is very limited (as is 'quiet' time.) My 'office' (if you can call it that) is a cheap Walmart desk in the corner of my bedroom wedged between my bed and the wall. I sit on my chair (which NO ONE else is allowed to sit on because it is the one square-foot of space I can call my own) and put my feet on my bed. Then I put my laptop on a wooden lap desk and write. I've written seven manuscripts this way in the past four years. My first four manuscripts (including The Rock of Ivanore, coming out in May) were written on my sofa in the living room with a laptop on my knees.

I like seeing other authors' desks because they always look so neat and tidy. My desk is never neat and tidy. It is a mess, piled high with papers and all sorts of stuff thumb tacked to the wall above it. I think I cleaned it a bit for the pic, but my normal writing environment is messy and I like it that way.

Oh, about computers--in the six years I've been writing novels I've been through five computers. I burned out two Toshibas, wore down two netbooks (an Acer and a Compaq) and finally just bought a Dell, which I am told should hold up a little better than the others. I sure hope so."

Rachel Grinti, co-author of Claws (September 1, 2012 U.S., May 24, 2012 UK, Scholastic) shares a picture of her working on her 11" Macbook Air: "It's nicknamed the Goblin King because I stuck a Jareth decal on the back (and because my writing folders and files are such a jumble they might as well be in a labyrinth.) I love writing on my tiny laptop! It fits in my purse, it's super light, and it's so comfortable to use on my lap. (I often curl up on the couch to write, but I also like to leave the house to work if I'm getting too distracted at home.) Goblin King is not the same computer I wrote my debut on--that would be the bigger, heavier laptop on the desk beside me in the photo. It's not very portable for me due to the weight, so I treated myself to a new writing machine after Mike and I sold CLAWS. And I'm finally learning to use Scrivener! Last but not least, my canine writing helper (or rather, one of the distractions of writing at home) is pictured as well: my Boston Terrier, Miles."

Like many of us, Tiffany Schmidt, author of Send Me a Sign (October 2, 2012, Walker-Bloomsbury) has multiple work spaces:

"Where I'm SUPPOSED to write--the writing nook we designed when we put on the addition. It's got whiteboard walls, a sign that says 'And They All Lived Happily Ever After,' a sparkly chair, and it's flanked by built-in bookshelves. Number of times I've written there--zero. (It's on the third floor & I get lonely.)"
"The treadmill desk--I do use this! And sometimes for writing not running. I love to walk and plot--but only during drafting. Once I hit revision, I have to be stationary."

"The desk I've tucked in the corner of our dining room (aka The Eyesore)--This is where most of my writing gets done. I'm an arms reach from the Schmidtlets' highchairs and occasionally have to fend off the flying food item, but it's at the center of our house so I can creep away to dash down books... a few words at a time."

Lisa Jenn Bigelow, author of Starting from Here (August 2012, Marshall Cavendish), tell us where her book started from: "I have an 'office,' but it's really just some space carved out from my kitchen, where my bookshelves, desk, and filing cabinets reside. I prefer to write with a dog beside me. My dog Carly was my constant companion while I wrote STARTING FROM HERE, and she was a great inspiration when it came to Mo, my novel's canine character. After she passed away, my dog Saffy (pictured here) saw me through the final rounds of editing. I'm a lifelong Mac user and draft my books in Scrivener before importing them to Microsoft Word. My MacBook Pro (pictured here), is named Grumblecakes, after a product in a Homestar Runner cartoon: 'Only liars and thieves eat Grumblecakes! And those people go to prison.' (Yes, it's random. So what?) STARTING FROM HERE was drafted on an older generation Mac laptop."

Jessica Spotswood, author of Born Wicked (Putnam), shows us where she writes: "I have a very nice little desk in my office, overlooking the thundercloud plum tree in our backyard. But I never work there. I sit on this flowered loveseat instead, hunched over my Macbook Air with incredibly poor posture. I write in Word--Scrivener has been helpful to organize my story bible for the Cahill Witch Chronicles, and to outline in, but I like having the entire story in one document. Before I begin writing for the day, I often go back and reread and edit the previous day's work. As a somewhat fanatical list-maker, I adore the Stickies feature--mine currently contain: Books to Read, 2012 Travel, Garden/Home Decor Research, BW Sales, Star Cursed Notes, and a running To Do list. My other favorite apps are: Google Chrome, Tweetdeck, Adobe Digital Editions, Write or Die, and Freedom. I also have the BW cover, my author photo, the latest draft of Star Cursed, and the Star Cursed outline on the desktop for easy access. Next to my loveseat, not pictured, is a fantastic little ottoman with a tray (this one, but in a lime green) with all the necessary things: a pot of tea, a mug the size of my head, packets of sweetener, a candle, a lighter, and reward stickers (I sticker my calendar for every 1000 words I write, or every event I do)."

Lynne Kelly, author of Chained (May 8, 2012, Farrar, Straus, & Giroux/Margaret Ferguson Books) likes to unchain herself from the internet, and sometimes her computer, to get work done:

"My MacBook, with the MacFreedom window up--when it's writing time, I have to lock myself out of the Internet so I'll stay away from temptations like Pinterest and Twitter and all those friends who live in my computer."
"I love writing in blank notebooks, especially Moleskines. I use the laptop when I'm revising or writing scenes I've already worked on, but when I'm drafting or trying to figure something out, I do better with pen and paper."
"Some of the elephants on the writing desk who keep me company while I'm working. Oh, and look, a copy of CHAINED has joined them!"
"The Sleep Machine app on the iPhone, set to 'Intense Focus.' I play that along with thunderstorm sounds while I'm working."
As for me, many years ago I wrote my debut novel, Fair Coin (Pyr), on a heavy old Dell laptop named Schmendrick, since retired. But I last revised the book on the large Acer laptop pictured here, which I've named Ace Rimmer, a character on the science fiction comedy Red Dwarf. (AceR, get it?)

When I work at my desk, I like to plug in an old IBM Model-M keyboard, because it's easier for me to type on and I really like the loud sound of the keys--the noise makes me feel more like I'm doing something as I type! I don't actually do much writing there these days, but I often use it for other projects: the large screen is essential for graphics editing and I need the powerful hardware for video editing, and this is the computer I prefer for killing zombies with friends or participating in online chats and meetings with my writing group in NYC via Skype. I'll also sit at the desk when I'm line-editing a manuscript, which I still prefer to do on paper.

I don't write at my desk much because I get far too distracted at home, and I don't have an ideal work area; my "office" is on the other side of the bedroom, which is divided by a large bookcase, and the other half of the desk is where my wife studies for school. I generally write on the smaller Acer Aspire One netbook on the left, named Penny (for the girl with the computer book on Inspector Gadget), in a coffee shop before work, at lunch, and on weekends. The netbook is small and light enough that I can carry it around everywhere, every day, and I often write my blog posts on it while sitting on the couch... Like I'm doing now! As much as I would like to have one perfect place to write, I've gotten used to writing whenever and wherever I can, including on long bus rides and while waiting in train stations. I've been experimenting with using Scrivener and Dropbox to sync files between my netbook and my laptop, so I can work from either as the mood strikes.

So that's where eight Apocalypsies like to write. Hopefully we'll feature more work spaces from the group in the future. How about you? Do you have an ideal work space? Where do you get the most work done?


  1. It's funny, how, even as Rachel and Tiffany's agent, I would never get to see their workspaces unless I did a surprise visit! Thanks Eugene!

    1. My pleasure! Now when they're late with their manuscripts, you can picture them not working there :P

    2. Joe, you're welcome to surprise visit anytime.

  2. If you like seeing how other authors work (as I do), you should check out my friend Jenn's blog, From the Mixed-Up Files of Jennifer Bertman ( She has done an incredible series called "Creative Spaces" which are interviews and virtual visits with writers and illustrators that shows how they work... both their physical surroundings and their creative process. It's so insightful and inspiring.

    She's a little behind on the series right now because she's been handling some personal production of her own: she just had a baby! But there's plenty of archived material to explore. I hope you'll check it out!

    1. I definitely will! I am completely fascinated with other artists' work spaces, and I like seeing other apartments and houses too--one of the only things I enjoy about apartment hunting. I know I've seen some other series like this, but I figure I might use it as an excuse to be nosy and ask my favorite authors, editors, artists, and friends to share their spaces and talk about the tools of their trade.

  3. This was really fun! I didn't know so many wrtiers used macs. ;)

  4. I am laughing so hard - Tiffany, my writing spaces are much like yours.

    I have an official writing office in the finshed attic. I *have* used it, but only off and on since we moved into our house almost two years ago. And there is a shared office on the second floor, but I've only used it once. Most of my writing takes place at the dining room table on the main floor (I've even moved my fancy office chair down there from the attic).

    Seeing so many couch-writers also makes me smile. I wrote Personal Effects, and revised it several times, in our old apartment, on the couch, laptop on the coffee table. And after hours of that, when I was particularly immersed, I would stand up and my legs would not want to unbend from the high-kneed position they'd been in for hours.


    1. Emily, I can't wait till my husband gets home so I can show him I'm not the only one who goes rogue from her writing space :)

      SOMEDAY I hope to have time to go up there and write... just not anytime soon.

  5. I love posts like these! It's so neat to find out how and where others write.

    I write in my bed, on my 11" Mac Book Air. I don't have any comfortable desks or chairs in the house. But even if I did, I'd probably end up back there anyway.

    A treadmill desk would be really cool, though. I want one of those!

    1. I want to set up a treadmill desk, too. I have a treadmill, but it doesn't look quite like the ones I've seen with desks attached, so I have to spend some time figuring out how it would be set up. But I think it would be cool to have!

    2. My "desk" is a metal shelving unit from Lowe's (or Home Depot?) with adjustable shelf heights.

      Then I decorated it with spray-glitter, ribbon, a cupcake stress ball, and a Jane Austen action figure. Easy-peasy!

  6. This is such an awesome post. I'd love to read more about other writer's workspaces, program choices, madness methods. Thanks so much for doing this!