Roald Dahl’s desk, found in his “writing hut,” was a winged-back chair with a long tray that was covered in dark green billiard cloth. The tray/desk was balanced arm to arm on the chair, sometimes supported by a rolled pillow. Before settling himself into the chair and positioning the writing tray across his middle, he would first stick his legs in a sleeping bag in order to stay warm. (Now here was a man who no doubt would have appreciated a good Slanket. Alas, for him, progress moved too slow.)
Jane Austen wrote at a dainty octagonal wooden desk while seated in an uncomfortable-looking, cane-bottomed chair that was positioned by the window for the light. Flannery O’Connor’s schoolroom-style desk and straight-back chair were wooden too, minus the cane bottom but with the addition of a floral needlepoint pillow. Virginia Woolf, Kirkegaard, and Nabokov eschewed seats altogether and often wrote standing up.
Some people are coffeeshop writers, enjoying the white noise of conversation as they create. Others write in quiet libraries or peaceful parks. When searching for advice to writers on where to write, you may find the mildly offensive exhortation to “Designate a room in the house as an office, and when writing, always sit at a chair and desk as if you were at a real job.” Fair point; after all, Hemingway once said that “There’s nothing to writing. All you have to do is sit down at a typewriter and open a vein.”
I do have a writing office in my house, and I love it–it’s a tiny room upstairs, narrow because of the enormous built-in bookshelves stuffed with things that I treasure (like my ever-expanding collection of signed books–getting literary superstars Margaret Atwood, Amy Tan, and David Sedaris to sign my books ranks up at the top of my “I can die happy now” moments), things I use (like my too-many books on teaching college composition), and things a Lit major like myself is required by Lit-major law to dig (Shakespeare, Edward Albee, and Euripides have to hang out on the shelves with Stephen King and Yann Martel, because all the shelf’s a stage, and all authors merely players). The entrance to my office is a wooden Dutch door, salvaged by my husband from one of his jobs. I don’t care that it’s supposed to be an exterior door–it is for ME and I love it so.
My desk seat is a red vinyl director’s chair, a hammock for the butt. My writing desk is another salvage–from the 1930s and enamel-topped, it was given to me by my late Grandma Jean. I had to scrape and scrub to get the rust off of the legs, but it was worth it. Once while watching the awful movie Walk on the Moon, starring terrible Diane Lane and only-good-in-LOTR Viggo Mortensen, I yelped in delight when I spotted my table on the screen. Then I finished watching the movie and was sad for both me and my table.
So yeah, I love my table, but let’s get real–I am more of a recliner than a sitter. Therefore when I DO write in my office, I shun the butt hammock and too-good-for-Viggo desk and instead stretch out on the antique fainting couch I found at a local flea market. Obviously I have smothered it in pillows because comfort (and Michael Jackson) are king, and I am queen.
But to be really, REALLY honest, I spend 98% of my writing time not at a desk, not in an office, but propped up on more pillows on the bed in my bedroom. Regardless of how uncool it is to admit that my writing is best when I lounge on the bed, gazing out at the trees beyond the window (So unprofessional! Not like a real job at all!) it’s the truth: a semi-prone position works for me.
Now before you judge me too much, allow me to direct your attention to other lie-abed writers such as Truman Capote, Mark Twain, and Edith Wharton. And as to the question of where the best place is to write, I humbly submit that we vein-openers should do what we do in the way that we do it, and we need make no apologies.