The Writers: Authors who create work greater than themselves
The Lesson: Read and write and read and write and read and write.
Read everything, write all the time. Sit in a chair and drub out the words.
Rise above the setting, with its comforts and distractions.
WWWW visited an exhibition of 100 of Krementz’s photographs at the Mark Twain House a few years ago. (We also backed up for about 100 yards on Farmington Ave in Hartford, but that’s a post for another day :) ). A stellar photojournalist, Krementz published a series of intimate and inspiring portraits of writers at their ‘desks’.
The collection of dramatic black-and-whites includes paragraphs about each writer’s work, routines, rituals, and writing history as well as writerly musings on the creative process.
Writer Jane Yolen says she’s always been jealous of artists. The smell of the studio, the names of the various tools, the look of a half-finished canvas all shout of creation. What do writers have in comparison? Only the flat paper, the clacketing of the typewriter or the scrape of a pen across a yellow page. And then, when the finished piece is presented, there is a small wonder on one hand, a manuscript smudged with erasures or crossed out lines on the other. The impact of the painting is immediate, the manuscript must unfold slowly through time.
A monk had his scriptorium. Montaigne had his solitarium. A writer’s space is magical ~ precarious stacks of books and paper piles, notes and clippings pinned to walls and corkboards, notebooks full of barely-legible scribbles, old books and half-drunk cups of tea.
We ooh-ed and ahh-ed over the photographs, thinking if only we had that ‘perfect’ writing place, the writing would flow with ease. If only we had that book-lined room with a view to the hills and the babble of a brook, if only we had a lofty deck and napping hammock, if only we had a writing desk like Virginia Woolf and fat peonies in a glass bowl. If only we had a writing space like that, the words would come.
In an interview on Booknotes, Krementz talks about some of the writers she met and photographed ~ Eudora Welty, John Updike, William F. Buckley, Jr., Walker Percy, E. B. White ~ in a seaside room as calm and spare as a Shaker meeting hall, Saul Bellow, Rita Dove, George Plimpton, Amy Tan, Tennessee Williams, Toni Morrison ~ with her simple binder and pen, Joyce Carol Oates, Isaac Bashevis Singer, Nikki Giovanni, William Maxwell, Thornton Wilder, Katherine Ann Porter, P.G. Wodehouse, Joan Didion, Philip Roth, Robert Penn Warren, Pablo Neruda, Jean Piaget ~ hunched within a flood of papers, Veronica Chambers, Eudora Welty ~ elegant, correct, and distant, John Cheever, Susan Sontag, Joseph Heller, Steven King and Kurt Vonnegut ~disheveled and barefoot. ……
Do you have a picture of your own writing desk or creative space on the web? Leave us a link in the Comments section. Or send an email and we’ll post it. Maybe you’ve got a great quote to share ~ like this one by Isaac Bashevis Singer.
Some writers say they can only write if they go to a far away island. They would go to the moon to write not to be disturbed. I think that being disturbed is a part of human life and sometimes it’s useful to be disturbed because you interrupt your writing and while you rest, while you are busy with something else, your perspective changes or the horizon widens. All I can say about myself is that I have never written in peace.
You can listen to the Jill Krementz interview on Book TV.
Now, take a peek at where some real writers drubbed out the words.
Isaac Bashevis Singer
E. B. White
Post script: Need more inspiration? Here’s a link to a series on writers’ rooms that ran in the UK’s Guardian newspaper, ranging from historical authors (Jane Austen, Virginia Woolf, Charles Darwin) to contemporary ones (Marina Warner, Sarah Waters, Penelope Lively). It’s available online here.