Where Real Writers Work

The desk and chair Charles Dickens used while writing Great Expectations sold for £433,250 at auction in early June. It is the original of the desk shown in Filde’s drawing known as “The Empty Chair” and upon it were written Dickens’ last works.

When I looked at “The Empty Chair” I immediately wondered: How did Dickens ever get any work done in such a neat room? Impossible. Someone must have cleaned it up before they let the artist in. I don’t know any writer who could even begin to work in such a sanitized environment.

Certainly Dickens’ contemporary Mark Twain didn’t. Go to the interactive map of Mark Twain’s House. Click on the Third Floor “Billiard Room” to see where Samuel Clemens did Mark Twain’s work. Even now that it’s a museum, the curators haven’t forgotten to spread around some clutter to simulate the great man at work. (While you’re there, click on the First Floor “Entrance Hall” and look at the three-story spiral staircase. Legend holds that whoever seeks to be a writer should touch the staircase’s mahogany railing. Now wipe the fingerprint off of your monitor.)

Thanks to Google, it’s easy to find lots of photos of science fiction writers’ offices to illustrate the same point. A collection of links appears after the jump.

Arthur C. Clarke’s home office
http://blogs.wnyc.org/radiolab/files/2008/03/clarkeblogpic.jpg

Amy Thomson’s office
http://www.goatchurch.org.uk/atrips/usa/california/amyoff.jpg

I agree 100% with the caption, which reads:

This is a science fiction writer, Amy Thomson’s, office. Note how all access to a view from the window has been blocked off. This desk screams at you, “Get to work!”

Larry Niven’s Office (1998)
http://www.larryniven.org/images/larrynivenpics/p1010015.jpg

Larry Niven’s Office (2001)
http://www.larryniven.org/images/larrynivenpics/p4300007.jpg

Poul Anderson’s Office (2001 – on the day of Poul’s funeral — Niven, Bear, Pournelle present)
http://www.larryniven.org/images/larrynivenpics/p8040027.jpg

Jerry Pournelle’s Office (2001 – but it’s Alex in the photo)
http://www.jerrypournelle.com/images/s2001.jpg

Nelson Bond
http://dailymail.com/Life/200805270178

L. Ron Hubbard at the typewriter
http://home.tampabay.rr.com/sp/hubbard-typewriter.gif

Samuel Delany at Temple University
http://www.temple.edu/newsroom/2007_2008/04/images/delaney.jpg

John Scalzi’s home office
http://scalzi.com/officehell123007.jpg

David Brin’s Study — an interactive 360 view. (Far too neat! Does he write in another room?)
http://www.sandiego.com/history/brin/view.jsp?pic=1

Diana and Mike Glyer’s home office
http://extras.mnginteractive.com/live/media/site205/2008/0424/20080424_010626_SH24-AZSCIFI_300.jpg

The messiness of a writer’s office may not correlate with the quality of the text being produced, but it seems that the intellectual ferment experienced by every determined writer always leaves a heap of stuff that doesn’t end up in the wine.