These places are sacred to me for their light, the sanctuary they afford, and the warmth of supportive relationships they manifest.
—Timothy Leo, author of “Of or Pertaining to the Dog Days”
My writing space is tucked away in the back of the house and overlooks my garden. Even in its overgrown state, the garden is always full of flowers and new life. Listening to the windchimes and the birds always helps me get in the zone!
—Alexandria Delcourt, author of “The Marcos Highway”
This is my kitchen table—not the only place I write but of my favorites. Writing is such a personal process—one which requires that I edit out loud to identify cadence issues—and best done alone in my apartment. The window reminds me that I am living in and a part of this great city, adding to its magic the only way I know how: with words.
—Jason McMonagle, author of “Eulogy”
I spend so much time sitting at this desk, thinking about one thing and ending up somewhere entirely different, it amazes me that anything ever gets done.
—Carolyn Murdoch, author of “Ambition”
I often write at my drafting table, where as a child I spent long afternoons drawing, painting, and making collages. This space has always offered me safe harbor for experimenting with ideas, discovering languages, and creating new worlds. Although my work continues to change, I love that the table never does--it's as familiar and comforting as an old friend.
—Lauren Hebert Duncan, author of “How to Defy Gravity”
I try to write in my home office, which I've had a lot of fun decorating with old thrift store frames and plants. But most of the time I end up on the couch because somewhere throughout the process, it becomes too hard to sit upright.
—Arshia Simkin, author of “Bastard-Girl”
My writing room is in a sunroom on the fourth floor of my house. It gets very hot especially in the summer yet I try not to move downstairs. Through the glass I can see ordinary things, a hose, the roof decking, but because i'm so high up, I can also see extraordinary things, the imagined ancestor's shoulder, my sisters smile. I just spent an entire year writing a poem about the remaining strand from a spider web hanging off the rain gutter.
—Harriet Levin Millan, author of “Bucharest 1918”
My writing area is pretty basic, if not rudimentary. I write on a second-hand IKEA desk, which probably cost $50 (when it was new). The desk is positioned in a window and close to a separate, bay window -- light is important to me, whether for writing or for living more generally. In the window sill I keep photos of family, souvenirs from trips, in this case from Moscow and Guatemala. My apartment is in the Capitol Hill neighborhood of Washington, DC, and faces one of the oldest Black churches in the city, founded in 1827. To me that represents a different kind of light, and hope.
—William Fleeson, author of “The Border, the Border”
This is my desk. The place where I've worked for 30 years. It's actually a six foot long door that I like to spread out on. On the bulletin board are dozens of reminders, clippings, notes for ideas. It has some kind of order known only to me. The figures that line the desk are some of my angels. I began collecting them when I was a young woman, first traveling the world. They are my muses and my protectors when I work. This is a bittersweet photo for me. In July I will be dismantling it but for a good cause. I'll be moving upstairs into a newly renovated studio and my daughter and her family will take over the ground floor of our house where my office currently is. I've already begun the process of documenting and photographing my current space so that, for the most part, I can recreate I want to hold on as we transition into this new and exciting phase.
—Mary Morris, author of “The Paperboy”
I don't have a desk; I have a blue bucket. I've had it for 30 years. We've always lived in small houses, and I've kept my manuscript-relevant papers and books in a bin I store under my bed and carry to the kitchen to work. That small journey stirs my soul, every time.
—Sandra Scofield, author of “Little Ships”
I’ve been told that a window—looking up from the page, say, and letting the gaze drift to a patch of sky—is enough to jostle the mind from a rut or open one to a broader range of imaginative possibility. Through this window, reflected here in the glass of my beloved red painting, I can almost see the ocean.
—D.S. Waldman, author of “Phosphenes”
In a room that looks out on the western horizon with seven species of trees darkly framed, I tend to write at night, generally from 10pm to 1 or 2am. A light in the corner. A photo of James Welch. Two gifts from my beloved wife, Jennifer. A few books I cherish. A stone from my friend Katherine. A tile from Mexico. The imprint of an American Copper butterfly. The words 'arise, shine' in gilt letters on the sacred text. An image of the Queen of Heaven. An unseen crucifix. A buffalo skull.
—Shann Ray, author of “Winter's Gate”
This coffee shop has been the site of so many dates and overspending on coffee. But in that same vein, it’s the place I’ve written my best work and even now, on the last days of being 29, writing here always re-centers me and the mission I feel is meant for me.
—Oswaldo Vargas, author of “Northern California”
This may look like a desk, but it’s actually a portal, my only entry point to the realm where poems may be waiting for me. If I dare enter.
—Laura Budofsky Wisniewski, author of “Having Never Said the Kaddish”
Because I migrate seasonally, my work space changes, each desk taking on a particular local savor from the postcards, notes, quotes, small objects, and stacks of books that pile up around it. Here’s where I worked in Johannesburg, South Africa, for fifteen months between 2016-2018. Among the postcards on the wall are images of Saint Moses the Abyssinian from Deir Mar Mousa in Syria, Leonardo’s “Portrait of Lady with an Ermine,” and Margaret Courtney-Clarke’s photo of a Berber bride from her “Imazighen” series taken in Morocco. Over the desk there’s an Edmund Jabès quote on a post-it note: “The foreigner allows you to be yourself by making a foreigner of you.”
—Penelope Pelizzon, author of “Animals & Instruments”
What's kept my writing space sacred during these past few years--when it would be so easy to feel "stuck" at the same desk--is bringing as much warmth as I can into it. For me, that's coffee and candles, always, but I've also started hanging up notes from loved ones and fellow poets, and broadsides of poems. It helps take the pressure off and reminds me that most times, however solitary the moment may seem, to sit down to write is to resume a conversation with beloveds.
—Julia McDaniel, author of “Tithing”
I turned our front room into a little nook for both family and writing and have spent more hours here than I can count! After completing a painting project a few months ago and accidentally getting a little paint on the front table, I thought it would be fun to turn the whole table into an art project. My son, niece, and nephew participated in a finger painting party and did not disappoint! I always feel fun and uninhibited in this space. I also find lots of French (my second language) making its way into my pieces, as I often stare at the Red Car in Paris painting when thinking of a next line.
—Laura Faith, author of “If Holden Caulfield Were a Mother”
My studio is a converted garage behind our house in mid-city LA, which looks out over my small garden. For many years I’ve planted trees, plants and flowers in honor of my dead loved ones and I walk among them each morning, saying hello, remembering them and asking their advice. These ancestors oversee my creative space, my creative mind, and often have opinions!
—Julie Hébert, author of “Naked in the River”
Although I tend to work best in local coffee shops at home in New Hampshire, the past month I had the privilege of working on my next book at the Carolyn Moore Writers House in Tigard, Oregon, sponsored by Portland Community College. I would sit at the kitchen table every day and watch the deer eating in the open field. It was breathtakingly intimate, witnessing as they nourished themselves. I felt a kinship with them, their wide eyes, their hypervigilant attention to the slightest movement, noise, danger. That's what poets are like. We are called upon to pay attention to everything. That's how we survive.
—Diannely Antigua, author of “We Never Stop Talking about Our Mothers”
In the back of the house I have a beautiful, quiet room setup for writing. I have never written there--too much pressure. When I write, I like the casual openness of the kitchen table. I use the other desk to fold laundry.
—Grace Shaffer, author of “Pain Management”
I work a 9-to-5 job, so I usually write late at night, sitting up in bed with a bluetooth keyboard on my lap. This is the view out the bedroom window that I can’t see at night, but that I know is there. I’ve taken *so* many photos of this view over the years, looking for four perfect seasonal pictures of it, thinking I’ll paint them someday. In other words, laying away ideas—also the strategy for writing.
—Amy Miller, author of “The Church of the Crows”
When I write in front of the windows, I can see my childhood street and words float in all day.
—Katie Davis, author of “Adams Morgan”
Where I write/wrote, a great portion of my life was in South Mountain Park in Phoenix, Arizona. When I resided in AZ, which I no longer am and grieve daily. For the mountains in being my first confidant—where I read a loud Lorca, Neruda, Adnan, Darwish, Sharif, and Diaz. Ritually and rigorously. In grief, glory, and daily walks. The heat sun-stroke, green grasshoppers, and tall cacti I miss dearly. To realize I come from the mountains and will return to one day to rest. Until our next meeting, mi montaña.
—Maritza Estrada, author of “Infinite Earth”
My husband Dave and I did some work on our condo after COVID hit, and I got a chance to design my ideal writing space—in the nook of our bedroom. The long desk makes it easy to move between several different projects and I love having easy access to my diaries and books that I'm working with. I also have the best year-round view, thanks to San Francisco's eternal spring and with huge gratitude to my neighbors who do all the gardening.
—Olga Zilberbourg, author of “Quieter Than Water, Lower Than Grass: Growing Up Afraid in Russia”
Before I lived here, I had a beautiful office. Swooningly pretty. Pumpkin pine, window seat, ceiling to floor windows in a small woods. In winter it was spectacular.
—Amy Bloom, author of “In Love”
This is where I write in Chicago, about half a mile west of Wrigley Field. This is my desk when it's clean. I'm an incorrigible slob. Inside the computer it's clean and well filed. You can slightly discern that behind the computer is a photo of Paris windows that I took years ago. On the wall to the left is a picture of St. George and the dragon, depictions of which appeal to me though I'm Jewish. Underneath is part of James Joyce's head, on a fan I got one Bloomsday in Philadelphia. On the right, center, is a post card of Vassily Kandinsky's “Der Blaue Reiter” and below that is a photo of a French pre-War Jewish immigrant boy scout troop that I'm writing about. I interviewed the widow of one of the members. To the right of them is a brochure from Jaro Art Galleries on Madison Avenue, showing Josip Horvat-Joška's naive art from then-Yugoslavia.
—S.L. Wisenberg, author of “The Divide”
I stole a small corner of my one bedroom flat for this writing desk. It’s humble, often cluttered, and nevertheless a scruffy sanctuary of escape and creation. Growing up in a noisy house, I long ago developed the helpful (and sometimes antisocial) ability to write anywhere. Sofa with the TV on. Coffee shop at morning rush hour. Park bench amidst Welsh wind and drizzle. I think it’s the ability to write anywhere, which makes the repeated act of choosing to write a particular somewhere, so special, nostalgic, and – these days – productive by association.
—Caragh Medlicott, author of “Performance Anxiety”
The batik of a gnarled, enduring tree belonged to my parents, the sage velvet chair to my grandparents, and the natural light belongs to us all. I have a chair next to mine for my ancient cat, and I can see that the more spry cat is sunbathing outside. It's peaceful.
—Miriam Kuznets, author of “Cancer, You Scare Me”
Every morning, I sit with a cup of coffee at my kitchen table, watching the light grow in the window. Like this, I write for hours—usually until it's time for lunch.
—Sarah Balakrishnan, author of “Trump versus Superman”
Utter clutter. It's the only way I know.
—David Moolten, author of “Sled”
A writer sanctifies any place where new work is created, ideas are jotted down, breakthroughs are made, edits are hammered out. During the pandemic, my two sacred spaces have been the front porch and my office desk (pictured, with some of my composition tools of the trade). The porch faces west toward the wooded Herring Run ravine, a fairly untouched and wild greenway snaking through northeast Baltimore City. The office window looks south past the neighbors’ house to more woods; I can track clouds and the sun moving across the sky, and at night, the moon, as I work on the work.
—Matt Hohner, author of “Triptych”
I inherited the desk from my mother, the best storyteller ever. Her memory was remarkable: people, places, events. History was revived, making a long road trip seem like a hop. Her anecdotes could turn a gloomy afternoon into a motion picture.
—Barbara Lacewell, author of “Burning Cold”
When drafting something new, I like to go: pen and paper, typewriter, then laptop. The typewriter seems like an affectation for someone my age, but a friend and writer I admire suggested I try it. Whenever I begin on the computer, I get stuck on the little things too early. The typewriter just helps to keep you moving ahead. As for the photo above my desk, it’s a gift from my girlfriend, a still from Husbands directed by John Cassavetes. He’s one of my favorites, and the picture is a constant reminder while writing to 1.) Be unafraid, and 2.) Have fun.
—David Astrofsky, author of “Franca”
For me, my most sacred writing place is the next blank page in my unlined, 8 & 1/2 by 11 inch black notebook, where I write everything first by hand—longhand as we say—& in black ink. I carry it everywhere. And every time (& space) I open it, it feels like home. Or at least that it's brimming over with possibility... I try not to be overly attached about when or where I write. As the song says: “Any time is the right time to be with the one you love.”
—Rick Hilles, author of “A Late Valentine”
In my bedroom, my writing station has a real sense of color to it. I like to have a wide range of inspirational material at the ready, various art books, photos, and trinkets within arm’s reach, multi-colored writing utensils, from crayon to metallic sharpies. I like to write both poems and essays on sketchbook paper first so that I can jump around the page without restrictions. Typing comes later when I am in a more organizational mode. I have a desk, but I often write on the floor or upside down in bed. While generating new material, I need the space I’m in mentally to feel alive, so as many textures, figures and beautiful things I can bring into my physical world, the better. I also just like pretty things, unique items that look like they have a history, or that I have a personal connection with. I want my whole room to reflect that warm, lived-in spirit. When my room reflects my own energy, I am most comfortable to write and create. I received a framed copy of my New Yorker poem as a gift from some dear friends of mine that I keep above my desk to remind me that I am capable of accomplishing great things.
—Nicholas Goodly, author of “Wet Man”
The essayist Susan Griffin said a sense of emptiness always precedes creation. I’m sure others have said this. It can be intimidating, this emptiness, so I choose to face it head on in my own way, working in blank spaces, at least for now. This is my little exercise in building trust that the characters and story will emerge from this emptiness in their own time. The blank work space tells the story, the space is all yours; the writer also has your undivided attention. Come out and help breath life into it when you’re ready!
—Ifeoma Sesiana Amobi, author of “It Was a Small Room”
When I was a child, my mother bought this table and told me that when I was older I could have it one day. Here we are, around 23 years later and you can still see my childhood handwriting on the table from where I had to practice cursive, now it’s where I’m trying to finish a manuscript.
—Gardner Dorton, author of “Anthropocene”
I work full time as a public defense investigator, which leaves me with little bandwidth (or time) to sit down and tinker with words. While I live in Brooklyn, much of my fieldwork takes place in Manhattan, and I spend hours of my day commuting from one part of the city to another. This space is sacred to me for two reasons: the abilities to unplug and tap in. On the subway, I get to dabble with writing on the go, read, and take note of what's impressed upon me as I move through my day-to-day. I feel that people--not institutions or establishments--are the great storytellers of our world, the true wielders of language. So it's liberating to be on the ground among them, absorbing stories, imagining myself and others as one of many protagonists, infinitely significant even if just for a fleeting moment, as we inevitably make ourselves invisible and quietly disappear into the throng.
—Jenzo DuQue, author of “Papi”
This is where I sit and write.
The standing clock behind me and the garden in front. The clock reminds me that the time is running and the garden says there is hope and I see new life every day; new flower, new leaf, new bird and a new worm.
I write about people around me. there are about 300,000 Tamils from Sri Lanka here in Canada and most of them came as refugees. Yesterday I met a refugee who had a poem.
The dog is drinking water from a bowl
It sees the sky
And drank both the sky and the water.
—Appadurai Muttulingam, author of “Goat Milk Puttu”
I write wherever I can find quiet and solitude: in various rooms of my house, in public libraries, sometimes in bed, and — weather permitting — I love to write in this chair in front of our house where, thanks to all of the trees and plantings, only the birds and squirrels and occasional startled mail deliverer know I’m there.
—Geri Modell, author of “Mr. Thing”
The Brooklyn Bridge is a place I like to frequent that feels sacred—a metallic thread of connective tissue, vibrating with life and hovering over a void. There's a sense of being simultaneously grounded and untethered, caught between dark, rippling waters and sparkling city lights: a pocket between two worlds where there's room to play.
—Rachel Han, author of “Caravaggio”
If my office were just a desk, chair and some bookshelves, it would be sacred, but mementos, books, art and photographs, make it moreso. Cropped from the photo, is a life-sized raven puppet attached to the ceiling by a fishing tippet. When I need inspiration, I stand from my chair, put my hand into the cavity, a move meant to "bring the bird to life," and have a conversion.
Across from my desk, is a large photograph of Black Elk. As a young man, Black Elk took at least one scalp at Little BigHorn. This special human serves as both an inspiration and a bullshit detector.
Strategically placed are Native American artifacts and a cannonball from a battle during the Civil War, flattened on one side when it was shot into a tree. There's crazy stuff from my time in Vietnam, including a punji stick I removed from the webbing between the thumb and first finger of my medical platoon sergeant's left hand.
I have too many books, but there are a few hundred I value for both literary, spiritual and personal reasons. Within arms reach, filling the length of two long shelves, are James Salter, Jim Harrison, Tobias Wolff and B. H. Fairchild. There are six shelves of books that keep me from forgetting the horrors of the American war in Vietnam. Visible in the photograph, on the middle high-shelf in front of my desk and stacked horizontally, are Mary Oliver's poems.
—HC Palmer, author of “Field Notes, Sketches, and Watercolors: Birds of the High Plains”
This is my writing desk. It is set up to allow me to work both on digital drafts and handwritten ones. I always handwrite my first drafts of poems. My writing notebook, my fountain pens, and my notepads are on the left side of the desk. Above my desk hangs a print by Esao Andrews titled “Letting Go” that my grandmother gave me. She was the one who got me into poetry and reading, so I always keep that print near where I write. Below my monitor is my small collection of polar bear figures. This desk is sacred to me because it gives me the space to be alone with the page. And with my writing, that’s all that matters at the end of the day—that relationship to the page.
—William Fargason, author of “When My Brother Tells Me I'm Obsessed with Sadness”
People viewing the scenery from my cottage are astounded at the beauty. The entire Upper Yellowstone River Valley is spectacular. But land doesn’t become sacred because of how it looks. Land becomes sacred because of how it makes you feel. To be scared, land has to instill a desire to make a sacrifice on its behalf. Because I am willing to dedicate my time, money, and life, caring for this land, we can say that it is sacred.
Three of the little skunks I wrote about in this story waddled in front of me last night, and never raised a tail in distress. You can bet I was overwhelmed with joy. Every morning, the same herdlet of deer greet me. This afternoon, a fox I know came by, and two days ago while I was planting, I looked up to see three racoons sleeping in the trees. They've been here all summer. Because of these individual wild animals, the entire natural community of living and nonliving things is sacred to me.
—Catherine Raven, author of “Top Drama Will Be Renewed for Another Season”
My office is, truly, one of my favorite rooms in the house, and it’d better be because I spend three to four hours a day in here writing. Conveniently located next to the laundry room and kitchen, it was, oddly enough, originally meant to be a mudroom. But what a waste of space, we realized, here in Florida, where there’s virtually no mud, we rarely wear jackets or coats and never boots. I quickly claimed it for my own. My notes and files are within easy reach and some of my favorite books line the shelves. A bonus, a necessity, really, is the fact that it's as far away as I can get from my husband, whom I love, but who is, among other things, a ham radio operator.
—Julie Weary, author of “Hereafter”
I live steps away from a creek, and from the window above my desk I can see it all: children riding tricycles, goats chewing dry brush, and fishermen carting around ice boxes. I consider myself an accumulative writer. I love having piles of books around me so I can rifle through them as I write, and a window nearby to allow me into the world without leaving my desk. What changes beyond the window is sacred, is essential to my writing practice. I can't say anything without first seeing.
—Sarah Ali, author of “Navel to Knee”
This was my husband’s study, where he wrote over a dozen books. The window used to be obscured by stacks of books, the room was all dark wood. A year after Tom died, I cleared out the books I didn’t want and painted everything white and made it my own. It was a cathartic move.
—Barbara Williams, author of “Handsome Jack and the Senator”
With two small kids, what’s sacred to me is not my writing space but my writing time, when I can carve out a brief silence in the midst of chaos. That’s when a table, a window and a cup of tea are enough to get to the sentences that have been waiting all day.
—Sasha Vasilyuk, author of “Destined”
Renting a space for writing always struck me as an unimaginable extravagance. But in October 2020 I read Leslie Marmon Silko's novel Ceremony, and in the preface she described her sweet, quirky writing space, a law office gifted to her by a friend. "The first thing I did was buy a can of Chinese red enamel and paint the plywood desk top. I brought an old percolator down to make hot water for instant coffee." When she wasn't writing, she napped on the desk. This was back in the 1970’s.
Homebound and stuck-feeling during the pandemic, this stayed with me as a picture of perfect freedom. Later that month, I got an offer to sublet the downtown San Francisco classroom where, for years, I've taken writing classes from my favorite teacher, Gail Ford. My office is in the beautiful historic Mechanic's Institute, with a big window (that opens!!!), overlooking a busy, fascinating street
It’s just a room with a plastic folding desk, a weird ergonomic chair, and a unkillable houseplant. But this room transformed my writing practice. The space has a magical property: I'm able to maintain boundaries between work and modern life. If I want to use my phone, I step into the hallway. Like Silko, I spend lots of time lying down—in my case, on the floor on my yoga mat—writing and dreaming and, obviously, napping. It’s the most permission and freedom I’ve felt yet in my practice.
It must be said, I wrote "The Forest Path," my first published fiction story, in this room!
—Anna Ferrandou Sawyer, author of “The Forest Path”
I choose this spot to write for the way I can corner myself in books, morning light, and apples. From here, I’m able to write in the companionship of a large apple tree flush with red apples falling, rotting, getting picked, waiting. I’m new to this home, so for today the sacred is any moment I can make sanctuary in this room of light that reaches for me through the apples.
—Makshya Tolbert, author of “Ursula granger and i walk mulberry row during bottling season”
I have a hard time keeping still, so wander around a lot while I write, and have a few favorite spots in the hills and on Stanford campus. Here is a photo of one of my favorites, taken back in March, after a rain.
—Daniel Mason, author of “The Toll”
Having a room of one’s own never gets old. Sometimes I look up from a bout of writing as Virginia's 4:30 pm light streams across my page and think, how unbelievably lucky. I like to write outdoors to remind myself I’m messy and impermanent— a part of the river, the mosquitos and mud. But when indoors, I’m happiest with reminders near me of how when I show up to the page, I don’t show up alone. Many of the things on my desk or chalkboard are talismans from ancestors, family, or dear friends. I’m also happiest with a cup of coffee and a snack somewhere near (pictured, a cardamom sourdough donut, a poem of its own).
—Raisa Tolchinsky, author of “Teshuvah”
I find myself returning to place as the foundation of character and necessity—the foundry for character development and as a stage for action. No place means as much to me in the struggle to bring my novel down from the gods––more or less as they intended—as Shelburne Farms, a sanctuary for my own personal growth, ever since I discovered this place in my mid-twenties.
—Joel Gardner, author of “Halcyon”
I'm fairly dogmatic about how I write—I need it to be the same every time, same light, same view, same sounds. I'm easily distracted. I have this desk, and behind it (less photogenically) a little couch where I tend to read. Nothing happens except in those two spots. My dog, Sneaky Pete, is necessary—when I write, he's beside me or curled up on top of my feet on the couch. Always, but lately especially, writing poetry feels like sitting down with my little archeologist's brush, bit by bit revealing the exact texture and shape of what's troubling me. The dog, sleeping, is comforting, grounding—a reminder of the more wonderful parts of living in this world. Sometimes my work needs this reminder.
—Rosalie Moffett, author of “Resolution”
Outside the window of the room where I write, a catalpa tree sifts light and shade, the wind shifting its heart-shaped leaves just slightly while the young slender poplars behind it toss and shiver and bend. The catalpa's quiet presence calls up quiet in me; sometimes that quiet calls up words that might become words in a poem. I don't know how long the tree has been here. I've read that catalpas can live for up to 150 years. I want it to stay and stay and I know that my wanting means very little. A teacher once told me Something is always happening, and though mostly I can't see or touch or sense the many happenings housed inside the enormous tree, they are, they are, they are.
—Kasey Jueds, author of “Coracle Means a Small Vessel, a Boat”
I call it The Red Table. I don’t have many objects or clothes that are red, but for some reason, I really like the color around me when I write, probably because of its associations with courage and ardor, two things that I think are essential to keeping up a daily writing practice. I have Isaac Babel there to watch over me and a little watercolor of a pine tree by my friend Charlotte, which reminds me of my home in the Pacific Northwest. This little place is sacred to me because when I sit down here, I leave behind the anxieties of this world and enter another one where my intuition and unconscious guide me. Now that I think about it, this is nicely encapsulated by the Zdzisław Beksiński print on the left, which also reminds me that the unconscious isn’t always pretty!
—Daniel Pope, author of “A Last Set”
As it turns out, I don't have a specific couch, desk, or cafe at which I routinely write. Instead, I do most of my writing while traveling, especially when said travel is by train. (I'm writing to you now from the Adirondack line.) I've taken many multi-day, cross-country trips on Amtrak, and so I'm sharing a photo I took below on the Empire Builder, which connects Seattle and Chicago. Most of my writing friends do seem to rely on steadfast routines for their work, but I find that a disruption to my routine—such as traveling away from home and having nothing to do except read, write, or stare out a window for days on end—is what helps me generate most readily.
—Matthew Kelsey, author of “Giant Looks Giant in the Mirror”
For years I wrote at a locally owned 24/7 café in town, but for the last year and a half I’ve written everything on my porch, at this beautiful table my mom made for me. She found an old, ruined piece of wood, refinished it, and painted it a beautiful teal color, and it seems a perfect example of how she’s always taught me that wrecked things are deserving of love. Lately, as long as I’ve got this table, a ton of cold-brew taken to-go from that café, and music—I can’t write without music—the work will always come.
—Brandi Nicole Martin, author of “God Forgive Me, I Like the Drama of Watching”
Becoming a mother taught me a lot about the value of a single minute. I used to think that I couldn't write without inspiration; I needed a cup of tea and a comfortable desk chair, maybe even a candle burning. But now all I need is time. And one free hand.
—Tiffany Promise, author of “Johnny, Hit and Run”
The room in a house on an island on the Pacific Northwest. Sacred for its silence, its green, its hummingbird and deer, the occasional seal, bald eagle. A healing place. My good fortune. Sometimes we just need a window to see everything.
—Rae Canaan, author of “Ice Cream”
The chipped pink desk of my grandmother where I write from our third floor attic apartment in Moscow, Idaho. “To hell with it,” she said before she died just shy of her 99th birthday, “when I’m 99, I’m gonna tell people I’m a hundred.” (Trying to live, and write, with her moxie.)
—Janay Garrick, author of “Remembering Freetown”
This is a picture of my writing desk where I spend all my mornings. The way I gather things on its surface strikes me as something I’ll call “shrine-making” behavior and I think it’s almost an animal instinct in some people (I know I’ve done it since I was a kid)—arraying significant things (personally significant) on a surface, often in a kind of arc (in this case an arc around the clear space where I put my laptop to work). Things there: always shells, feathers, driftwood, seedpods, and rocks (I’ve collected small rocks and stones since forever—luckily I periodically move some outside into the garden), some artifacts—a bronze crane, a Krishna playing his flute in the forest, a postcard of a tiny Giovanni Bellini painting “Orpheus in a Clearing Playing Music to the Animals,” an Inuit carving of a man paddling his kayak, some brightly-painted, small wooden birds.
As I say, I think for some people shrine-making is an obscure but powerful impulse. Always thought someone should write a small, poetic essay about it—the kind French writers used to do. There’s also a practical reason to fill up the space on my writing desk—otherwise I would have it covered with a chaos of papers and books and such a desk would (and does) get me confused and depressed by that part of me that is chaotic. I don’t mind the chaos in my brain—that’s part of making poems—but the chaos of papers on a desk disorients me, whereas these objects calm me.
—Gregory Orr, author of “Pandemic Villanelles”
For thirty years, I’ve visited a place on Lake Michigan where I get to write with this view. It makes for a better photo than the unfinished basement where I normally work, but looks aren’t everything; context also matters! Both places are special because both places are home.
—Dave Waskin, author of “Perishables”
What I Need to Write
Art and contradictions: a hand-blown lamp discovered on a drive through Rev. War battlefields, Persian rug from the city of Isfahan, known for its ancient gardens and ultrahigh-speed centrifuges. Dead things: my 80-year-old house built of extinct American Chestnut and wavy window glass, books by dead authors, water circulated endlessly through a radiator in winter. Living things: a photo of my husband in a Hawai'i garden, books by living authors, air currents stirred by a fan in summer. Connections into our online, pandemic-riven, world: lots of electrical cords, a walking desk set up for hours-long meetings and workshops, a collared shirt to throw on before removing accordioned paper from the camera lens. Outside the frame of this photo: a door left open to narrators.
—May Kuroiwa, author of “Return to Halalai”
I write on an old desk in an office converted from a one-stall garage in a pink house on an isle near the Gulf of Mexico. All day I watch the osprey, roseate spoonbill, ibis and anhinga fly back and forth.
—Heather Sellers, author of “On a Late June Evening in My Driveway”
My writing desk is always cluttered with a rotating assortment of my favorite knick-knacks and tsotchkes, as well as a stack of whichever books I'm reading at the moment. I take particular inspiration from my insect collection and that beautiful crack in the wall. Just out of frame, there are two bookshelves, a few musical instruments, and the stacks of junk I moved off my desk for the purpose of this photo.
—Anthony Immergluck, author of “David Comes Home”
Nothing sacred about my space. My very messy kitchen table is where I write. I like being in the middle of it all, even if no one else is around. My eyes fall on trees and other foliage in three directions. And in the winter there’s a fireplace to keep me warm so the room feels quite cozy. I like to have a bunch of books tossed around, even if I’m not reading them. It’s my hope that their energy will seep inside me.
—Dolly Reisman, author of “The Order They Died In”
Lately, my favorite space to write is on a cushy sofa scooched up close to the window. I surround myself with pillows and short story collections and green tea. When I come to a pause in my writing, which is often, I look out the window. Sometimes a butterfly or squirrel or deer will pass by, but usually it’s just the trees, and I stare at them without seeing, thinking of what to type next.
—Terri Nowak, author of “Tracy Who Loves the Idea of Horses”
In the best of times, the contents of my home are constantly shifting -- and never more so than this year when I was teaching remotely. I have an office set up for writing, but teaching invaded it. The respective materials and mindset are complementary and at odds. I ended up decamping to the kitchen table, and that’s where I’ve stayed until now.
The table itself is an antique enamel-topped farm table that belonged to my grandmother, who told me story after story about her childhood and family life. “Hiding in Thickets” is based on one in particular: when my father came down with rheumatic fever at age twelve and had to stay in bed for six months. He was never able to find the words to tell me what it was like, so I decided to do it myself, for him. I started with what he did while my grandparents were at work – mostly target practice in the driveway and visiting the neighbors’ chicken coops.
I’m writing this piece at this table, with its view of the back woods. While writing I regularly see deer, a fox, even a black bear strolling through in the early morning. I love how at sunrise the light, pink or orange or golden, lowers over the trees, the shift in the quality of time passing when I’m writing a story.
All of this – the table, the window, the wildlife—makes for a sacred writing place.
That, and the proximity of the coffee maker.
—Karen Malley, author of “Hiding in Thickets”
Because I have three kids, finding a writing space that is quiet, let alone “sacred,” has forced me to become very utilitarian about the choice of where and when to write. The top priority for me is to find a time and space in which no one is going to ask me to get them a glass of water, clean the bathroom, or put the clothes in the dryer. I have come to alternate between the couch at 5 AM; the front deck--assuming the sun is out; or, what has actually become my favorite spot, the car, parked in front of the bank. Not only does the car provide privacy, but I find that being in a space one would normally not associate with writing poetry, tends to put me in an alternate headspace—as though I were suddenly removed from daily life and responsibilities. Maybe that is the closest I am able to come to a spot that is “sacred.”
—Ann Pedone, author of “After Nazim Hikmet’s ‘Things I Didn’t Know I Loved’”
Writing new poems often feels impossible, but having the right desk makes things easier. Not too much easier. So many things have to go right for a poem to take off (the right ideas have to be percolating; I have to have been reading poems that inspire me; I have to have slept well enough; and be freshly caffeinated, or just have come back from a run, extra alert). And sometimes getting up and writing somewhere strange, or shifting antsily about from room to room, becomes necessary. But still, having that one sunlit desk in mind, knowing it’s waiting there for me – its surface neat and mostly empty, with a few beloved, silly objects on it (tiny Philip Larkin doll, hippo, kaleidoscope) – can make the difference between giving up and clicking on youtube, or sitting down and actually starting to write.
—Adam Scheffler, author of “I Want to Be Jeff Goldblum”
I thought about cleaning off my desk and pretending I had an orderly space, but this is what is—an aggregation of whatever I'm drinking, reading, or crafting, plus a cat or two. There's even an oven mitt in there, and I can't remember why. I have the computer in that room because it's near a window and a power outlet. The giant monitor saves me a lot of back pain and eye strain.
—Paige Welsh, author of “Callisto”
For the past few years, I have jotted down most of what has become poems from an L-shaped couch. I shared this space with my wife who is also a poet. She is one foot shorter than me, but I have taken to saying that she is seven feet tall because she requires more allotted space than I do on our couch (as only a seven footer could (lol)). I used a laptop then. Now, I have been banished to the island of Patmos which is a second bedroom where husbands go to teach via Zoom. This has become my sacred space. It is not the same as having a place to stretch my legs, but it is necessary not to disturb a thinking giant.
—Chaun Ballard, author of “American Standard Version”
I move around a lot, mostly between Cairo, where I'm from, and New York City, where I've made a reluctant home over the past seven years. But wherever I go, be it a sublet in Brooklyn or my Cairo home, I try to decorate my writing desk with objects that mean something to me. A few items I've carried around include a stone I picked up in the White Desert in Western Egypt, photos of Wadi Rum, Jordan by my friend Kari Rosenfeld, and my copy of Anne Carson's Plainwater.
—Sara Elkamel, author of “What This Elegy Wants”
This is one of my frequent writing spots, early in the morning before my son wakes up. Everything is quiet; the effects of caffeine are fresh. This is my lucky chair—just enough recline to be relaxed, but not so much that you start to doze. I like the typewriter because I’m a romantic but also because it lets me feel uninhibited when writing early drafts.
—Tyson Morgan, author of “Karass”
I don’t really use a desk! Right now a desktop is set up in my son’s nursery but I rarely use it. If I’m home I generally write on my bed or on the couch. If I’m on the train I’ll write on my phone or sometimes I’ll sit somewhere and write in a little notebook. Really wherever I can.
—Kate Axelrod, author of “Making Things Up”
I feel so lucky to have a space where I can have all the books and resources I'm engaging with close at hand, and where I can spread out, editing a manuscript on one desk while writing new work on another. I start writing every morning around 5:30, and it feels like a cozy place to sit down with a cup of coffee.
—Erin McCoy, author of “Innocence and Other Poems”
Here's a picture of my favorite perch:
A bright corner windows, a view to the trees
—Carol Light, author of “Sins of Omission”
Minrose Gwin #Deskie: "My work space is mobile, usually involving a futon. My feline ghost writers, muses, and armrests are always part of the scenery."https://t.co/CHEet7UDQd pic.twitter.com/FUPGlCfMyT
— Narrative Magazine (@NarrativeMag) April 26, 2021
Gina Franco #Deskie: "During my last days in Tucson, I saw this yellow captain's desk. It seemed so out of place there in the desert, this thing designed for the sea. While I haven't returned the desk to the sea, it has a way of returning me to my desert." https://t.co/rQLEfiOFb5 pic.twitter.com/Yst10ootEA
— Narrative Magazine (@NarrativeMag) April 16, 2021
Kirstin Valdez Quade #Deskie: "My main requirement in a workspace is a window to gaze out of. Early in the pandemic a vulture perched on the roof opposite and stayed there a good long time. Yikes." https://t.co/8cXWSn8C3k pic.twitter.com/iFP9w4Mdus
— Narrative Magazine (@NarrativeMag) April 9, 2021
Jessica Van Dessel #Deskie: "Setting [my desk] up was the first time I'd made something I wanted to happen, happen, without waiting for help or permission from anyone else, and it reminds me that if I did that once, I can do it again." https://t.co/KjF76b8jN7 pic.twitter.com/3G4OLGM3iy
— Narrative Magazine (@NarrativeMag) April 7, 2021
Sandra Sidi #Deskie: "I write by hand in very cheap notebooks, one line or a scrap of a scene at a time, in completely non-chronological order. I discovered the cheaper the notebook (97 cents or less) the less nervous I was to put a line onto the page. " https://t.co/vV4FBRSJYU pic.twitter.com/BrxQW6Styl
— Narrative Magazine (@NarrativeMag) March 31, 2021
Tishani Doshi #Deskie: "I still haven't found a beautiful ergonomic chair, so I sit uncomfortably on this one until I need to lie down (bed, nearby). I live by the sea so my books live mostly behind glass."https://t.co/x4RjGNVUaz pic.twitter.com/4WNNzIqkQ0
— Narrative Magazine (@NarrativeMag) March 24, 2021
Martha Witt #Deskie: "My desk isn't much to look at. It came to me pre-stained & chipped. This ratty old desk grants me all the permission I need to make a mess of things in that first go-around, the most difficult part of the process for me." https://t.co/TlDMHuz9YS pic.twitter.com/ThmeJYhdhN
— Narrative Magazine (@NarrativeMag) March 18, 2021
Allen Wier #Deskie: "When I turned 21, my parents gave me an antique rolltop desk with the tongue-in-cheek caveat that they would reclaim the desk if I hadn't published a book by the time I turned 30. I wrote my first three books there." https://t.co/LFUwhHVHzY pic.twitter.com/EEbZfgOidu
— Narrative Magazine (@NarrativeMag) March 17, 2021
Jo Ann Beard #Deskie: "This studio is in the loft of an old barn, where hundreds of bats roost during the day. At dusk they take off into the evening air. This is the best thing that happens in the barn, including any possible writing." https://t.co/30Y7DkmHuY pic.twitter.com/aZnBbP7fm7
— Narrative Magazine (@NarrativeMag) March 10, 2021
Komal Mathew #Deskie: "My writing spaces are always near my children. My favorite spot is my dining room couch. Here, there are plenty of interruptions–all the daily things that keep me writing from a place of love & belonging, not perfection." https://t.co/5TzfftkUvs pic.twitter.com/jHImEbKkbj
— Narrative Magazine (@NarrativeMag) March 3, 2021
Patrick C. Thomas #Deskie: "On the wall are several small paintings and quotes. The one that is helping me most right now is from John Gardner: 'The premise of moral art is that life is better than death; art hunts for avenues to life.'” https://t.co/HK8GcihRu0 pic.twitter.com/WNvoCCSLVQ
— Narrative Magazine (@NarrativeMag) February 18, 2021
Grossmann #Deskie: "I live in the heart of this century, one of exile and emigration. I live it, grateful that I have a place to begin from everyday. & that is my desk now, this breathing space of gratitude to life." https://t.co/ye027P4t3u pic.twitter.com/NBpMYTxv1h
— Narrative Magazine (@NarrativeMag) February 16, 2021
— Narrative Magazine (@NarrativeMag) February 4, 2021
Jessica Hincapie #Deskie: "I always try to have an office space set up, despite my inclination towards reclined writing. My Grandmother gifted me the white hand carved 'bombio' (room divider) from the 50's that she brought with her from Colombia." https://t.co/nJGGS0PuRE pic.twitter.com/eYCPr6maHi
— Narrative Magazine (@NarrativeMag) February 4, 2021
Rooja Mohassessy #Deskie: "I write on two cloth yoga mats laid out under the incense cedar, on the wooly mother of thyme lawn I planted from seed last spring." https://t.co/Ui4fAQzESG pic.twitter.com/06r2YjBYib
— Narrative Magazine (@NarrativeMag) February 3, 2021
Katy Gurin #Deskie: "I'm working on a long poem about the history of the earth, & I've a diagram to orient me as I research. When I finish a poem, I print it out & place it above the diagram, connecting it to a point in time with an arrow drawn in pencil."https://t.co/dMX1G2AuoY pic.twitter.com/NYqBn7UCo8
— Narrative Magazine (@NarrativeMag) January 22, 2021
Beatrice Rao #Deskie: "This easy chair loves words. It belonged to my granddad who enjoyed solving the crossword puzzle. Now mine, it’s where I read and weave my stories. It’s where I fall asleep too."https://t.co/f7Pe7a66Hh pic.twitter.com/JC4UN8QMci
— Narrative Magazine (@NarrativeMag) January 14, 2021
Jessica Lee #Deskie: "My desk has always been a place where I keep precious objects. The little green dragon & red armadillo help protect and defend my creativity."https://t.co/DNFfdRKJT2 pic.twitter.com/jZjPco4sAA
— Narrative Magazine (@NarrativeMag) January 7, 2021
Sean Wilson #Deskie: "Melbourne has notoriously unpredictable weather. So it’s easy to be transported to different places as the weather changes from clear to cloudy to driving rain and back again."https://t.co/aJpOUDZqQv pic.twitter.com/Ty7WPElCXA
— Narrative Magazine (@NarrativeMag) December 30, 2020
Emily J.-M. #Deskie: "I moved all the piles off my desk, took a tidy photo, & then put all the piles back. Sending that photo didn't feel right. This is more accurate. There are 4 of us in 750 sq. ft., so I'm just happy to have one corner that's mine."https://t.co/2EwpJE1FZY pic.twitter.com/lVcAo98QH7
— Narrative Magazine (@NarrativeMag) December 16, 2020
#Deskie by Mary Beth Witherup, author of Takotsubo Syndrome: "Minutes or hours or lifetimes later, an ambulance shrieked into the driveway. They dropped to Mom, shoving me aside. 'I didn’t call you for her.'"https://t.co/H3L3WFBQBG pic.twitter.com/TRUCGPeXbM
— Narrative Magazine (@NarrativeMag) November 25, 2020
Anne Haven McDonnell #Deskie: "Here's the studio where I often write (& do yoga). A couple of my talented friends helped me build it in the backyard of the house I share with my partner. We built the studio with mostly recycled materials."https://t.co/v2pQFbWgZb pic.twitter.com/ZkPoujfnSs
— Narrative Magazine (@NarrativeMag) November 17, 2020
#Deskie @Amanda_Vitale: "My desk, and truly the whole apartment, has become rather corporate due to WFH. Finding creative time is a work in progress, but there's comfort knowing there's no proper way to handle this adjustment.”https://t.co/7ybkvH3IDb pic.twitter.com/NxnXDof16t
— Narrative Magazine (@NarrativeMag) November 13, 2020
Catherine Pond #Deskie: "It’s rare that you can see to the surface but I cleaned today. I like the blue light here, & the way the window frames the tree. The faded pink wall across the garden reminds me of a far-away place, somewhere from childhood." https://t.co/FTNDuL4Jwt pic.twitter.com/F7unVlz9cP
— Narrative Magazine (@NarrativeMag) November 12, 2020
#Deskie James Richardson: "The most important part of my study is the window: it looks out into blended branches & down a steep hill to a stream. Sitting a while, I spread out into the view, or it spreads into me, & I feel larger, calmer, clearer." https://t.co/n1hj0Y46e3 pic.twitter.com/aC206lvgEj
— Narrative Magazine (@NarrativeMag) October 28, 2020
#Deskie by Luna: "I sit in a place where I'm accosted by ghostly musings clamoring to be willed into reality. Submerged in these thoughts, I write until fatigue walks in to finalize the effort & rescind access to the theater of continuous action.” https://t.co/FJIxBrdcWO pic.twitter.com/ELM94SAd7y
— Narrative Magazine (@NarrativeMag) October 7, 2020
— Narrative Magazine (@NarrativeMag) September 4, 2020
— Narrative Magazine (@NarrativeMag) July 31, 2020