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Productive Writer No. 10



Your Writing Space

Are you thinking about re-organizing your space for more productive writing? If you postpone writing because you don't have a good place to work, stop it! Start writing. Now.  


Several years ago I read Stephen King's book On Writing. King wrote Carrie and Salem's Lot at night after teaching in a Hampden (Maine) high school all day. He was earning $6,400 a year, his wife worked at Dunkin' Donuts, and they had no telephone because they could not afford one. He spent his summers working at a laundry where he handled bloody sheets from a local hospital, and from that experience he developed his idea for the novel Carrie. King's writing space? He wrote using a portable typewriter and sitting with a child's desk on his lap wedged into the laundry room of his doublewide trailer. King advises finding a room with a door you can shut and then writing at least 1,000 words a day before you open the door. Write every day. If you must, take one day a week off. "Eliminate every possible distraction" (King, 2000, pp. 151-152). King himself tries to write 10 pages, about 2,000 words, a day. 


Silvia, in his book How to Write a Lot (2007), included a photo of his work space (Figure 2.1, "Where I wrote this book"). The photo shows the work space he used for eight years when he wrote one book and 20 journal articles: His writing chair was a metal folding chair. His desk was a $10 particleboard folding table covered with a $4 tablecloth--his "nod to fashion" (p. 20). His writing spaces have included the living room, bedroom, guest bedroom, and bathroom, "there's always a free bathroom" (p. 21). Silvia has no Internet connection to the computer he uses for writing. "It's a distraction....The best kind of self-control is to avoid situations that require self-control" (p. 22). (This may be the best piece of advice yet.)


It's not about the writing space. Being a productive writer is about writing every day. The essential ingredient in writing success is drive, durability, tenacity (Keyes, 2003). "Determination is rare...more rare than native ability" (p. 49). 


Writing your thesis or dissertation, with an exacting advisor and multiple readers, can be one of the most challenging tasks you will face. But you can do it.


My favorite story in King's book is his description of the writer James Joyce, clearly in despair about his writing and being comforted by a friend. Joyce lamented that he had written only seven words that day. "Seven? But James, that's good, at least for you!" Joyce's agonized reply: "Yes...but I don't know what order they go in!" (King, 2000, p. 146).


I know you can write more than seven words today...and in the right order!


(I thought of you this morning as I read The New York Times Magazine story about Stephen King's son, Joe Hill. At age 41 Joe is a successful novelist in his own right. At age 11 he began writing two hours every day "with no exception for weekends or holidays" (Dominus, p.21). Have you written your two hours yet today?)


Jan Allen, Associate Dean

Academic and Student Affairs

Cornell Graduate School