It’s a source of hair-pulling anxiety for artists of all kinds: how can you hold down a day job yet commit yourself to your art? It’s undoubtedly possible, but it’s daunting enough that apprentice writers often need advice on how to do it. Herewith, six artists (including writers Catherine Lacey and Shane Jones) explain how they pull it off. Related: Cathy Day on making a living as a writer.
The standing desk, on the other hand, is less capacious and sentimental. There’s very little room to store abandoned manuscripts, rejection letters, or knickknacks. Distractions are kept to a minimum. It’s taller, sleeker, and less hospitable than its slouchier cousin. In the way that it mimics a lectern, a podium, or a drafting table, it reminds the writer that this activity requires blood, enzymes, and exertion. Here is your novel, spread out like a map or a campaign speech. Here are your poems, arranged like blueprints. Pace, stamp your feet, fold your arms, but stay upright. Stand there like it’s the prow of a ship.
"While dedicated viewers of AMC’s 1960s Mad Men might think of the protagonist, Don Draper, as representative of mid-century manhood, in many ways he is, in fact, the precursor to the knowledge worker of today. He works in the office and out, takes naps when needed, and is driven by his urge to come up with the new language and image that will propel his ad company forward. He adds value through creativity.”
Marthine Satris, “Collared or Untied: Reflections on Work in American Culture”
Eventually I reach the grandstand, and as I walk inside I am greeted by a blinding expanse of white: maybe a few hundred people milling around, greeting each other after eleven months away like it’s the first day of school, clad in white-collared shirts and toting lunch boxes and already a bit weary, as if the first race has gone off and some angry drunk is shouting that their mistakes have cost him a huge trifecta. These are my people: these are the pari-mutuel clerks.
I’ve been writing every day for the past 40 years or so, sometimes getting paid to do it and sometimes not, and through all those years I’ve assumed I will keep doing it until my wits leave me or I die. In other words, I’m a long-time disciple of the gospel according to Reynolds Price, a believer that writers are people who are both blessed and cursed by the compulsion to distill their experience of the world into words on a page. But Roth’s startling announcement caused me to begin rethinking this assumption. Why shouldn’t writers be free to stop writing when they they’ve lost their appetite for the grind, or when they feel they’ve lost their edge, or when they’ve said everything they care to say?
Where do you write? Where do you work? Where do you update your Tumblr? The spaces in which we create can ultimately take on enhanced significance; we are, in a sense, where we’re from — and, beyond that, our words, in a sense, are what they are because of where they originate. In Let the Great World Spin, Colum McCann writes of leaving one’s hometown: “We bring home with us when we leave. Sometimes it becomes more acute for the fact of having left.” But couldn’t that be said of desks, or workspaces as well?
We’ve asked a handful of our regular site contributors to show us their creative lairs, and now we’re asking you to share yours with us as well. Tag your photos on Twitter with the hashtag #writespace, or feel free to share them on Tumblr with the same designation. We’ll post our favorites in the coming days.