Deb Dana Writes from Her Brand New Desk (preferably in sweatpants)

When I decided to give up my full-time job to try my hand at freelancing and writing novels, I envisioned leisurely days spent at coffeehouses, where I’d park myself with my laptop while I sipped lattes and cappuccinos and penned works of genius. I’d become buddies with the baristas, who would shout to me over the hiss of the milk frother as they made another caramel macchiato.

“Hey, Dane — how’s the book coming today?” they’d ask, and I’d shout back, “Another three chapters in the can!”

For the record, this has never happened. I have, on occasion, written from a coffee shop or bakery, but not with any regularity, and I’m definitely not on a first-name basis with any of the baristas. I have also never written three full chapters in one day. Ever.

What I discovered, fairly early, is that I write best from home. I know: zzzzzzz. But there are two very important reasons for this.

(1) Getting to a coffee shop or a library or some other such location requires showering and putting on clothes that aren’t sweatpants, and honestly? Most days I can’t be bothered. I just want to eat my breakfast and dive into writing right away without worrying about my appearance or personal hygiene.

(Mom, if you’re reading this, don’t worry: I do shower and dress is real clothes eventually. Like, 6pm at the latest.)

This is basically what I’ve become:

LL – Pockets by tehdownloads


It ain’t pretty, but it gets the job done.

(2) I am, shall we say, a messy writer. After working in newsrooms for years, I don’t need silence in order to write, but I do need surface area. I like being able to spread all of my notes and drafts across a wide surface for easy reference. That way, everything I need is at my fingertips. You can’t do that at most coffeehouses — at least not without taking up valuable real estate that could go to another paying customer.

So I write from home. Until recently, that meant writing on the couch or at the dining room table. That was fine for a while — I wrote my entire first book rotating between the two (with the occasional day at Starbucks or Le Pain Quotidien). But my husband also works from home, and we increasingly found ourselves sitting three feet from each other, one of us typing too loudly, the other one chewing gum even louder, and neither of us getting very much done.

For a host of other reasons, we recently upgraded to a house, where I now — squee! — have my own office, replete with a desk, pencil holder, and office chair on wheels.

See the mess? I actually consider this an organized state. Pile on left: book #1. Second pile on left: book #2. Notepad and pen: notes for latest freelance article. Et cetera. There is a method to my madness, even if the method makes sense only to me.

What about you? Do you spread out when you work, or do you keep things neat and tidy? Do you work better from home or at the office (or coffee shop)?


26 Replies to “Deb Dana Writes from Her Brand New Desk (preferably in sweatpants)”

  1. Howdy, new Tuesday girl! I like the way you write. Great fashion sense, too!

    I too write from home. I consider not having to put on actual clothes a perk of the job.

  2. Your mess looks like a very organized mess to me! As for the question “do I spread out?” when I’m drafting, now so much. All I need is the laptop and maybe a set of notecards. But during revision and editing I spread out all right. Everywhere. Over all available surfaces, almost like some alien life form that is replicating at a terrifying rate.

    1. That’s a good point. I definitely spread out more when I’m revising as opposed to drafting. But in the scheme of the writing process, I feel like drafting goes by in a *whoosh!* whereas revising goes on…and on…and on…

      (Love the alien analogy, btw — can totally relate!)

  3. OMG SO ORGANIZED it hurts my eyes. Come over and organize my house please. Kay thx.

    That jammie clip is amazing. I actually had a dream last night that I looked in my closet and discovered like three amazing high-end sets of piped traditional pjs that I didn’t know I had. It was awesome. In my dream I was totally pumped and also relieved, like, well, now my fall wardrobe is taken care of.

    To be sure they all had pockets. Such a bummer to wake up and remember that I took my last pair of holey flannel pajamas and turned them into baby wipes a year ago.

    PS: More house pictures! Love that soft spring green on the walls. I want to get my HGTV ya yas out on my fellow debs.

    1. Haha, yeah, Liz Lemon’s jammies are WAY more sophisticated than my typical writing gear (example: I am currently wearing navy sweatpants that may or may not have originally belonged to my brother and a minor league baseball t-shirt I purchased in approximately 1995. No, wait, not approximately. Exactly. Exactly 1995.)

      And I will happily share more house photos! We did a bunch of renovations before we moved in, so at some point I should show “before” and “after” shots.

  4. Hi, Dana! I don’t think that looks messy at all! As a matter of fact, I’m now looking at my workspaces and feeling guilty about the squalor. But I am with you in writing at home – I have been toying lately with the idea of going to the library, but coffee shops etc. just offer too many distractions (I don’t mind going in my “uniform” – yoga pants).

    So glad to have you at the Ball – here’s to a great year!

    1. Thanks, Eleanor! The neatness is sort of an optical illusion. Like, “Hey, maybe if I put everything into piles, I won’t have to acknowledge that there are 5,000 pieces of paper on my desk!” But it does the trick ;-).

  5. Dana, I knew there were many reasons you and I were both Tuesday girls. Tuesday girls know that if it comes down to hygiene or getting that great line down in a MS, there’s no contest. In fact, I’ll see your no-showering-until-dark and raise you no-toothbrushing! (Which is, you know, problematic when you pop those bon-bons regularly as we writers do;))

  6. Well Tuesday girl Dana maybe we should call you PJ girl?(I know Erika you are going to be called the 1rst Tuesday girl,like your new name).
    Dana, looks very very neat to me, are you sure you write from there (oh I see you cleaned it up for the picture, now show us what it really looks like).

    Can’t wait to see the before and after pictures (especially since I am a Realtor for almost 40 years).

    Looking forward to reading your posts. What is the name of your book that will be Launching and when.

    See you next Tuesday.

    1. Hi, Marcia! My book is called The Girls’ Guide to Love and Supper Clubs, and it comes out February 5 (Five months from tomorrow! Not that I’m counting…). Thanks for stopping by the Ball!

  7. That looks pretty organized to me! I’m a write-at-home girl because I need relative quiet, am easily distracted AND I hate leaving my house. Like ever. If it wasn’t for the day job, I would be a total hermit.

    And it amazes me how many writers use laptops – I so need my desktop computer for writing. I can manage a bit on the go on my notebook or husband’s laptop, but am so much more comfortable with my real keyboard and big-ass monitor.

    1. Thanks, Joanne! I use a laptop for portability. Over the past year, we were back and forth between DC and Philly a ton, so having a laptop meant I could write from either location. But I, too, like a big-ass monitor, something a laptop definitely lacks.

  8. Hi Tuesday! Thursday checking in!

    Love your desk! It’s much more organized than mine. I have piles too, but mine always seem to be teetering on the brink of disaster (actually, that’s more of a “life plan” than just a pile description, but I’ll pretend I’m talking about the piles exclusively…)

    I write best from home and work, and have private offices both places, though I think I have fewer distractions at the law office – for reasons Thursday’s post will make perfectly clear.

    I completely approve of your dress code, btw. Having a teenage son has put a bit of a hamper on my PJ-wearing tendencies (actually, I have a GREAT flannel onesie with feet (!) that I love to wear while writing on winter evenings, but mostly I’m in sweatpants or shorts). My son considers it thoroughly embarrassing that his mother would even consider wearing PJs with feet.

    1. Ha! When I was a kid and misbehaved, my mom would threaten to show up to school in a fluffy, terrycloth robe with bright pink rollers in her hair. Needless to say, the threat kept me in line. So I kind of understand where your son is coming from (although I fully support your onesie wearing!).

  9. Hi Dana,

    This is my first time visiting the 2013 debs (and congrats to you all!). I hung out here with the 2012 debs quite often, and now I’m back. I enjoy this blog immensely, not only because I hope to be a deb myself with my novel, but because I find the topics inspiring and humorous.

    OH, I’m a spreader-outer, for sure. I have two extra-long executive-style desks (ugly things) with paper piles all over them. There are usually piles on the floor too. In fact, I tend to have masses of paper drifting over every horizontal surface, even the bed. (Currently, my manuscript in comfy on my bed because that’s where I was working over the weekend. :-))

    Cheers! Lisa

  10. Hi Deb Dana,
    I wrote 90% of my academic publications in a coffee shop (and I did know all the baristas). Ahhhhh but that was in Austin. Now I’m in New Haven–I’m sure you know it well. And I’m trying to write my first non-fiction book. I write outside on our patio with my feet up or I write in a big comfy chair (with my feet up) while looking outside. I have to do it early, also in my pjs. Otherwise, it just doesn’t get done.

    Looking forward to learning more about you and your book!

    1. Very cool that you’re in New Haven! I used to study and work in coffee shops there — if only to keep from going insane. But that’s because I lived in an old, tiny dorm. If I’d had a patio, I’m sure I would have stayed at home, too! Good luck with your book!

  11. Hi Dana – I am quite jealous of your (neat) desk and OFFICE, as I sit here on the couch beside a loudly-purring cat kneading a pet-hair-covered fleece he shares with the dog. Bliss :). I write (or should I say, market, because that’s all I’ve been doing lately!) around 6 a.m., after I clean my horse’s three stalls and before I go to my teaching job…or whenever I get a chance after school! Empty nest now :(, so I have more time. I plan to put a desk in my den and hopefully a bookcase so I will feel more official :). I like the mobility of my laptop and have been known to bring it in the car (even on the way to a store or restaurant) so I can take advantage of any spare moment!

    1. Totally agree about laptop mobility. In fact, I’m considering buying a new, lighter one so that it’s easier pack on the go! My current one is 5+ years old. But it still works, so I’m hesitant to upgrade unless I absolutely have to. We’ll see…

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