Deb Erika on writing where you eat

I have never been a big fan of desks. Even as a first-grader when I made the transition from shared table to independent desk, I don’t recall an overwhelming sense of excitement. (I was more excited for the milestone of getting to use the cafeteria and getting no-bake cookies once a week. Go figure.) The truth is I’m terrible with drawers and nooks. I stuff them with anything within a five-inch radius.

I do, however, like tables. I like the idea of a big, flat, central space where life comes to a rest. Having lived in countless “cozy” (that’s rental-listings-code for tiny) apartments, I never had the space for a dedicated office in a separate room. Instead I grew accustomed to, and even fond of, carving out a work area in the middle of everything. (You could sit me down in the middle of Grand Central during rush hour and I suspect I could emerge an hour later with content—though, conversely, I can’t get down a bloody word in a coffee shop; I blame the distracting smells of beans and baked goods.)

Which is probably why for the last two years, my office has been one end of the beautiful cherry dining table that my husband made. While there are many days I look over at our table and feel very guilty for covering its beautiful surface, I couldn’t imagine working anywhere else. As the picture shows, it doesn’t hurt that I have—most days—great light, easy access to coffee refills, and perfect views of bird visitors (hence, the nearby copy of Sibley’s Guide for identification). I love music when I write, but mostly when it is only instrumental. Sadly our CD changer is on the fritz so I often find myself having to get up because of maniacal skipping, but I can’t bear to replace it. (I tell myself the frequent up-and-downs keep the creative juices flowing and, in some alternate universe, make up for missed trips to the gym.)

Of course, writing where you eat can have its downside. Some nights, between my husband working on his teaching lectures and me writing, our table looks more like an air-traffic control room than a dining area. But I’ve found it helps me to close up shop at the end of the day and move the computer into the other room. Sort of like putting up a Murphy bed in the morning. My way of “leaving the office.”

So what about you all? Desk, table? Coffee shop or train station?  Gym or CD changers?

52 Replies to “Deb Erika on writing where you eat”

  1. I have a computer hutch I thought I’d love – it’s black – and like looking into the mouth of a dark dark monster. No light at all. Hate it. I discovered during Skype book appearances that I love working in my dining room. It’s in the front of my house, sunlit all day and feels sort of special. Your hub MADE your table?? Wow.

    1. Ah-ha! Table fever is catching–I love it! And I love your comment that it’s “like looking into the mouth of a dark, dark monster!” I think it’s so interesting (not unlike children’s toys that don’t end up being very appealing to a child) what the big, bad world of marketers and R&D can imagine an “ideal” workspace to look like, and make all the numbers work, then, at the end of the day, when you finally sit in front of the thing, you say, Eeks! This doesn’t work!

      1. Yup. the exterior looks great, the interior should be white. I’m going to paint it, I think. I like using it because I have a docking slide in it and have the mouse. In the dining room I’m mouse free – not as quick for me that way.

          1. It’s not an old docking station – it’s a stand up unit I just SLIDE my laptop into and i use my laptop screen, not a separate monitor. the keyboard is hidden under the holder – I use a separate keyboard and mouse. I’d take a photo but it’s TOO DARN DARK! It’s from Kensington.

    1. Hi Kathy–aren’t tables wonderful? I think for me it’s the idea of the (somewhat) boundless space of a table. Desks with all their nooks seem so confining to me. If we had the extra space, I’d do just as you do: a table in a separate room.

  2. Love your workspace! So cool that your husband made the table. My hubs made a lot of our furniture, too, mainly because we were so poor when we first got married that if we wanted furniture, he had to build it. *grin* And, of course, I love it so much I could never bear to part with it, so it still peppers our house.

    I write by a window, too, with lots of natural light streaming in. I like to stare aimlessly out at the birds and squirrels (and the cats that chase them) while my mind wanders through plot mazes.

    1. Morning, Linda! Yup, you hit the nail on the head there. (Couldn’t resist the woodworking joke, now could I?) We wanted a cherry dining table and couldn’t afford one made so hubby–talented and dashing as he is–made one and boy do I love this table. Clearly.

      I can’t wait for your post on Friday, knowing I have a sister in bird-and-squirrel staring. The joke in our house is that our birdfeeder is our cable TV–endless entertainment. And perfect for when I can’t get that darn scene to click…

  3. What a nice place to write. I also have a fantastic view of squirrels, chipmunks, and five bird feeders, with five acres of woods as the background. But, alas … no table. I suppose it doesn’t matter since I’m not writing, except book reviews.

    The table is beautiful.

  4. I often write at night, when all the bunnies and squirrels and birds that congregate outside my window have tucked themselves in, but I do think there’s something lovely about having a room of one’s own with a view, if you’ll allow me to conflate my quotations.

    We went all digital with our music years ago, and it was a great choice. No more scratched or skipping CDs, and all that space regained. However, there is something to be said for having to get up and down periodically! Saves you from flat writer’s behind!

    1. Oh Eleanor, bless you dear for contributing to my no-gym,just-skipping-CDs illusion. I’m taking it for all it’s worth!

      My husband keeps saying we will have to go digital. The fact is they don’t make the changer we have anymore. Sigh. Giving up putting those LPs back into those sweetly-scented sleeves was tough enough, now this?!

      Carolina Curmudgeon

  5. Another birder! I’m a very amateur backyard birder, but love that we have this in common. I often also look out at my feeders and baths, drawn by lively chickadee calls.

    I love your sparse, uncluttered space, Erika, and do sometimes sit at my dining room table (from Sears, and nowhere near as lovely as yours)to do hard-copy edits. But as you already know, most of my time is spent in slob corner, working away at my desktop computer.

    1. Joanne, dear, I thought we went over this yesterday. You, missy, are not nearly the slob you think. I didn’t see one dirty cereal bowl. Not one pile of dried-out orange peels. Not a single empty candy wrapper licked clean (Zoe, I’m looking at you!) I rest my case! Show me some fly-gathering perishables, and then we’ll talk 😉

      Oh, we’re going to have fun with all of us birders, yes! And aren’t chickadees so wonderful? I love the spunky birds. LOVE them.

      1. I adore chickadees. There are trails near our house where they will come to your hand for birdseed. Such a happy place… *sigh*

        (fly-gathering perishables? ew, gross, no. I’m just a cluttery slob)

  6. I have done a lot of writing where I eat lately. I go in “where I work” phases (Thursday’s post will be about where I wrote my book, but I change spaces for different projects) and lately our dining room area has been it. Which has meant that I basically stare at the refrigerator all day. Not so good for my “get-this-body-ready-for-book-launch” project, but what can you do….

    1. Can’t wait for your post, Rachel. I love the idea that you change spaces with each project.

      As for the get-this-body-ready-for-book-launch project, I’m banking on the above-waist Skype view to work its magic. Or Photoshop. As they said to Steve Austin (and Jamie Somers) “We have the technology; we can rebuild him/her/.”

  7. What an incredibly beautiful writing area — and so much more so that your husband made it (and your view looks absolutely lovely, too)! I’m with you, that I don’t like desks, same problem with stuffing drawers! I do, however, love tables and we seem to collect them. Right now we have 6 tables in our house. I usually work on the kitchen table or one in the office (an old library table that I call my desk). A huge advantage of the dining room/kitchen table work area is that it’s central to the activity. Something I love. When I’m concentrating, it really doesn’t matter what sounds are around, I just don’t hear them!

    1. Birds of a feather, Julia (I just came from leaving a comment on your post and apologized in advance to your MEH for the bounty of birder analogies that will likely be coming his way today!)

      I too have had a collection of tables. But 6?! That’s fabulous! I’m thinking upcoming blog post on wordsxo, but that’s just me 😉

  8. I sit at a small, unfinished wood desk that matches the bookshelf but I also have one of those folding tables (the kind you can buy at an office supply store) for spreading work out on. I also sometimes sit in my chair to write, using a lap desk my husband bought me. I love my little office!

    I like the idea of a big, beautiful table – like yours! – but I think I would miss having nooks and crannies and drawers. 🙂

    1. Ah, Madeline–as I said, drawers and nooks and crannies can only be trusted to responsible people like yourself who won’t send them bursting! 😉 The flexibility and movement allowed by laptops are amazing! I too love the idea of being able to “move” my office when I need to–or when the sun is shining on our deck!

    1. Jen, ah yes, per our Twitter discussion this morning…

      But a comfy, cozy couch!–how could midday naps be resisted? (Er, or is that the point? Naps ARE growing more common in the workplace, I hear…)

  9. I used to write at our dining table & loved it — all that glorious space! Plus, it was a honey-blond wood & was so pretttttty in the sunshine. But then my wife got tired of always having the table covered with notebooks & papers and coffee cups, so one day she moved it into the basement and turned our little dining room in an office for me with an actual desk. I do like my little office, but I miss all the space of the table. Plus, with a table you can pretend you’re not really working — an office seems much more official & serious!

  10. Molly, whatever you do, DON’T let your wife and my husband confer on this–if he sends me off my little corner of our table, I’m doomed, doomed, I say! (But I may be safe in that we don’t have a basement here…Back in IN, however, we had a biggie.)

    Now back to this “theory” about tables allowing one to pretend one’s not really working. Well, I’m going to have to think hard on that. Right after I take Wasabi pea break and surf the web and call my sister and…

    1. I am all about tricking myself into thinking I’m not actually working. (Which is why it was awfully shocking to see the galleys — I suddenly realized that this is actually going to be a book! WHAT? I was just playing!)

  11. I am becoming more of a “table” fan, though I have had dedicated desk space my whole life (starting with that roll-top desk mom and dad got me in 4th grade). However, recently, I’ve found that I really enjoy STANDING at the kitchen bar. I have plenty of space on each side to lay out the oodles of papers I am working on (this is for freelance). But even for my fiction writing in the ‘studio on wheels,’ it is a big, flat surface. And the other important thing – just like at your kitchen table: a view! Like you, I must see the birds, bunnies, squirrels, etc. as they run by. They are very inspirational to my writing -both freelance and fiction!

    1. I love the idea of a standing area. It’s funny, having spent years as an illustrator, and in architecture school, I too used to work a lot of the time standing at a drafting table. There is something very comfortable about it. When the weather’s nice, I will often perch my laptop on the deck railing and stand and type and I really love that.

      Of course, if I had your views, Melissa, I would NEVER get any work done. How do you manage to stay so productive without closing the blinds? 😉

    2. Legend has it that Thomas Wolfe (author of Look Homeward, Angel — not Bonfire of the Vanities Tom Wolfe) wrote standing up, longhand, using the top of his refrigerator as a desk. And then I think he would throw his pages into a pile & let his editor Maxwell Perkins worry about trying to shape them into a coherent narrative.

      According to Wikipedia, Perkins “induced Wolfe to cut 90,000 words from his first novel.” 90,000!

          1. Also, Thomas Wolfe was writing in the 1920s, so refrigerators were much smaller back then. Okay, I think that’s the extent of my weird Thomas Wolfe trivia! 🙂

        1. Joanne, I know we haven’t met in person, but I assume you’re not 6’6″ — if you were super tall, the fridge might suddenly seem more appealing!

  12. My husband can’t understand why I insist on dragging my laptop out to the dining room and working on the dining room table when I have a perfectly good office. I will have to show him this post.

    Of course, in my case there’s also the fact that I’m a major slob and my office is a disaster area…

    1. Elise, you just need a change of scenery, that’s all. 😉 It’s no different than when all the kitchen counters are covered with dirty dishes and you start stacking them on top of the fridge.

      Wait, am I the only one who does that?

    1. Oh, I envy you writing in a MOVING vehicle, dear. I can barely read a map in a moving car without needing to down a whole package of Dramamine. The idea of writing on a train is just about the most romantic thing ever!

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