Our friends and family know it well—they’ve grown accustomed (or, with hope, at least mildly tolerant) to us slinking down the stairs at 1 a.m., quietly withdrawing from weekend parties, leaving behind a trail of Post-It notes with odd little bits of errant stories scrawled on them.
You often hear that writers live much of their lives in their heads, which is true—but we also live much of it at that curiously intimate place: Our desks.
Any time I travel anywhere, I’m powerless to the nerd temptation to visit this writer’s house, that writer’s studio. While there, I stare at the trinkets scattered about their desks—gavels, statues of cats, sepia-toned photos, tiny lost moments galore—and I ponder what each item meant to that writer. Why it was so important that it sat there during her life, the years following her death, and then some.
Last summer, I interviewed novelist Eyre Price (Blues Highway Blues) for WD magazine. In doing background research on his website, I found that rather than posting a simple bio page, Eyre had instead brilliantly taken a photo of his desk, and explained what each item meant to him. As he wrote on his site, “Everyone lies about themselves on the Internet. Writers spin lies for a living. Writers writing about themselves on the Internet … forget about it. But a writer’s desk always tells the truth about the person who works there.” (Check out his awesome explanations of the contents of his desk here.)
So we’re curious: What’s on your desk? In the Comments below, share what makes up that private world you disappear into again and again, or send a photo of your writing space to wdsubmissions [at] fwmedia [dot] com, and I’ll post it here. In a week-and-a-half or so, I’ll pick five random commenters to win a copy of the new February 2013 issue of Writer’s Digest magazine (or something else if you’re already a subscriber). And, hey, don’t worry if you don’t write at home—your desk could be a table at Starbucks.
Personally, I need absolute silence to write. I’m too easily distracted, so I put my desk in a basement that feels a bit like a bomb shelter (but in a good way).
Here are a few of the things on my writing desk:
The Desk Itself: It’s an old door that I refinished and mounted on sawhorses. Someone once told me that every idea is a doorway (something I’ve never been able to forget—and something that perhaps I took too literally).
Tea: Yeah, yeah, I know—the caffeine/writer cliché. But honestly, I can’t write without a cup of something hot. It’s a ritual. I buy cheap black tea by the pound, and sometimes don’t even sip it when I’m writing. It just needs to be there.
Baboon With a Camera Around its Neck: In my early years as a newspaper reporter, I found myself in a dollar store and thought this was too bizarre to pass up. Then, one day after covering a particularly sensational and violent story, I stared at the figurine and realized it stood for everything a journalist should fear becoming: a beast with wild eyes and a camera. It’s been on my personal desk ever since.
See No Evil, Speak No Evil, Hear No Evil Figurines: Just write it all, instead.
Pythagorean Cup (the one with the Parthenon on it): If filled to a certain point, you can drink from a Pythagorean cup as you would anything else. If filled too much, it spills out the bottom. Moderation and balance, and all.
Maps: They coat my walls. I’ve had a fixation with them ever since working at National Geographic (and especially after seeing how much work goes into each one, from the image placement to every careful word of text).
Miniature of Shakespeare’s House: A reminder of the often subjective nature of the truth. Did Shakespeare write his plays? None of them? Some of them? (I like to think he did. I love the idea that a commoner with average schooling wrote some of the best works in the English language, and everyone refuses to believe it.)
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