By Gwen Florio
Some of my most important, inspiring research (cough, time-wasting, cough) comprises looking at posts about where authors write. You’ve seen them: “10 Stunning Writing Studios!” or “40 Inspiring Workspaces of the Famously Creative!”
They have a lot of things in common, these places worthy of their exclamation points. Space, for starters. Lots of it. And shelves, dear God, so many shelves, although no matter how many, there’s usually a reassuring stack (or ten) of books on the floor. Many have windows overlooking some pastoral scene. Some have sofas (sigh), and some even have fireplaces (whimper), and a few are free-standing sheds or cabins (full sob).
Let’s be clear. I’m thrilled to have a small spare bedroom, a step up (literally 24 steps up) from my former spider-infested space in the basement. But my too-cluttered-for-real-work desk takes up the space that might otherwise hold a sofa (ah, the naps that might have been) and artwork-crowded walls mean the bookshelves are relegated to other rooms.
Truly, though, the only thing I really need is my writing chair, which I rescued from a neighbor who was putting it out for the trash. The computer rests in my lap, and the dog sleeps at my feet, and the coffeepot is just downstairs. Sometimes, I haul my butt down to a coffee shop a few blocks away and work there, on the advice of an artist friend who said, “If you don’t get out of the house once in awhile, you’ll get weird.” Said friend is far too tactful to note that I’m already pretty weird.
Anyhow, in the interest of further “research” I queried some author friends about their own workspaces, and the things they deem crucial. Here are some responses, and my unsought reactions:
Best conditional element
J.J. Hensley (Chalk’s Outline): Finished basement with turntable and speakers nearby. Scotch may be involved.
Most oblivious to her own actual glamorousness
Aimie K. Runyan (Promised to the Crown): A table at the community rec center. I’m so glamorous.
Most enviable response
Meagan Beaumont (Promises to Keep): I have a tiny house at the back of our 1 1/2 acre property. Essentials are:
3) books (research, I swear!)
Best closet librarian
Craig Lancaster (This is What I Want): I wrote the past two books mostly from a recliner, with dogs perched on each armrest. I think it’s only coincidence that those two books have been my least successful (commercially—I happen to dig the shit out of them). That said, I’ll be writing the next one from a proper desk in my proper office in our new house. Seriously, though, for me the locale isn’t as important as the environment. Quiet, please. Thank you.
Most colorful space
Elisa Lorello (She Has Your Eyes): I’ve been calling my new space an “office,” but I’ve always preferred the term “studio.” It will really feel like one when I get a couch or some kind of comfy seating in here. If all keeps up, this will be my dream studio. I painted it orange—good for creativity—and bought a campaign desk rather than a bulky desk begging to be cluttered, as I’ve had/done in the past. Planning to have artwork of my book covers made and hung on the walls.
Additional unsought designation of Most Adorable Writing Couple (Craig and Elisa)
Elisa (continued): I’ve got a window—subterranean (Craig’s and my offices are in the basement), but plenty of light coming in! A window is always a must. That said, I like having a change of scenery once in a while too. In those cases I scope out a coffee shop, or hang out on the bed, or something like that. Before we painted the new space and got the desk set up, I was parked in the library (by a window, of course).
Most efficient MFA strategy
Migueltzinta Solís (Drug Cartel Kittens For You): My most productive writing this quarter has happened during boring lectures!
For the next month, I’ll get to step into one of those dream studios as part of the Willapa Bay Artist-in-Residence program in southwestern Washington. The website photos show residents’ cottages featuring solitude, sweeping views and—be still my heart—even a nap-worthy sofa.
But as much as I like to think I’ll write oh-so-much better in that perfect space, my guess is that I’ll sweat and swear just as much there as I do at home, which will serve as a dandy reminder of what’s really important: Whether luxurious cottage or my dumpster-diver chair, no space is worth a damn without the writing itself.
Gwen Florio is a veteran journalist whose first novel, Montana, won a High Plains Book Award and Pinckley Prize for crime fiction, and was a finalist for an International Thriller Award, Shamus Award and Silver Falchion Award, all in the first novel category. Dakota was published in 2014 and her third novel, Disgraced, came out in March 2016.
To learn more about Gwen Florio’s novels, click on the covers below: