A Moment of Jen
THE NEXT BEST THING — In Stores July 3rd!

Wednesday, April 29, 2009
posted by Jen at 4/29/2009 01:24:00 PM

In preparation for having my own workspace photographed as part of their ongoing series about where writers work, Entertainment Weekly's editors were kind enough to send pictures of the three workspaces they’ve featured before.

I learned that Neil Gaiman works in an adorably rough-hewn woodsy little cottage in the forest. Presidential biographer Robert Caro writes at an ascetic desk, between walls lined with push-pinned notes and timelines, and a killer view of Central Park.

A bestselling mystery writer, who evidently did not get the memo that you’re not supposed to build a memorial library until you are, you know, dead, works in a grand room filled with leatherbound this and mahogany that, with priceless historical artifacts scattered throughout.

As for me, I do most of my writing on a laptop in different neighborhood coffee shops. When I'm home, I write on the vanity in my closet. To be honest, it’s a pretty big closet – more of a dressing room than a closet, which also has the benefit of being the only place in the house where there’s two sets of doors between me and the children.

There is, of course, an actual home office in my house, with all of the framed bestseller lists and book covers, the foreign editions and the “In Her Shoes” movie poster. I’ve never written a single sentence in there. That’s where my assistant works.

Here's the story: after GOOD IN BED had been sold, but before it was published, I went to Book Expo in Chicago and snagged an early version of Stephen King’s ON WRITING.

In it, he talks about writing his early short stories and first novels on a child’s desk balanced across his legs in the trailer where he lived with his wife and young children.

When he became successful, that changed. “For years I dreamed of having the sort of massive oak slab that would dominate a room – no more child’s desk in a trailer laundry-closet, no more cramped kneehole in a rented house. In 1981 I got the one I wanted and placed it in the middle of a spacious, skylighted study (it’s a converted stable loft at the rear of the house). For six years I sat behind that desk either drunk or wrecked out of my mind, like a ship’s captain in charge of a voyage to nowhere.”

“A year or two after I sobered up, I got rid of that monstrosity that put in a living-room suite where it had been…I got another desk – it’s handmade, beautiful, and half the size of the T. Rex desk. I put it at the far west end of the office, in a corner under the eave.”

King continues: “Put your desk in the corner, and every time you sit down there to write, remind yourself why it isn’t in the middle of the room. Life isn’t a support-system for art. It’s the other way around.”

I was totally taken with that idea, and by the time I could afford the massive oak slab, the leatherbound this and mahogany that, I was thoroughly disabused of the notion that I needed any of it.

There’s also an element of superstition: GOOD IN BED was written on a folding bridge table, covered with an Indian-print tapestry that dated from college, and set up in my second bedroom with my old, modem-free Mac Classic perched on top.

IN HER SHOES was written on a new laptop, on the same desk, in the tiny little bedroom in a new house. LITTLE EARTHQUAKES I started on a rickety red-painted wooden desk in the kitchen of a rented house in Cape Cod, six weeks after my oldest daughter was born.

I believe in not messing with what works, and I like King’s idea that writing is sort of a commentary on life, not life itself, and that it works best when it takes place on the margins, in the corners, on airplanes and in hotel rooms, in the second bedrooms and spare moments of your real life.

So last week, prior to the photographer’s arrival, I walked the careful line between What My Workspace Actually Looks Like and There Is No Way That’s Going In A Magazine Because My Nanna Will See.

I cleaned up the clutter, relocated the suitcases and the bags of clothing destined for Goodwill, straightened my stacks of books, and brought in fresh flowers. I purchased pretty new glass knobs for the dresser drawers, and, of course, new shoes.

The plan, I think, is for the shot to run sometime around the July 14 release of BEST FRIENDS FOREVER. In the meantime, here’s the Irish cottage where Maeve Binchy does her thing. I could work there, I think.

Finally, I have two books to recommend: Jean Hanff Korelitz’s ADMISSION, about a Princeton admissions officer struggling with her own secrets as she criss-crosses New England in search of the perfect freshman class – a total eye-opener for anyone who went to a school like that or is already worrying about getting kids in. I was completely engrossed. I was also completely terrified, and am currently, ardently hoping that by the time my girls are high-school seniors college will be available in pill form.

I also adored Kathryn Stockett’s THE HELP, a debut novel with an audacious premise – a white woman writing, in the first person, in dialect, about black maids in the South in 1963.

The book succeeds because none of the characters are two dimensional – not the maids, who are heroic but flawed, not the white ladies who employ them, whose motives are likewise mixed (Skeeter Phelan, the would-be writer whose book-within-a-book aims to blow the lid off the segregated ways of the Junior League, isn’t so much a saintly crusader as she is a lonely, confused twenty-three-year-old looking for her ticket out of town). It’s a wonderful, old-fashioned, cry-your-eyes-out novel.
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