Writer's desk: How writers build the sanctums where they write (Literary Feature - Part I of II)
(5 months ago)
Solitude and silence are what most writers seek to produce a full-length novel or non-fiction book. But what do writers do when all around them is chaos and noise? They sit back and build a peaceful environment where their creative juices flow seamlessly.
There is no denying the fact that some of the best novels have been written by writers with few resources at their disposal, often at the early stage of their careers when they struggled to make ends meet. A perfect writing universe, thus, may not be a prerequisite for quality writing. But even then, some writers carefully curate the existing surroundings to suit the mood of their novel.
Consider, for instance, British writer Chris Cleave, whose books are published in 30 languages and have been adapted for screen and stage worldwide. The writer's highly acclaimed book "Everyone Brave is Forgiven" was written in a corner of the The London Library, surrounded by stacks of books. There was no view but the one that he brought with him. Usually the light from the small window was leaden and the soft buzzing of the electrical transformer box drowned out any distracting background noise.
"The writing desk was steady and just the right age, 50 or 60 years, I should think -- so that it offended neither with antiquity nor with recency. Scratched into it were the initials of people I couldn't guess at. As a place to write, it was neutral. It was notable for not even belonging to me, so that I felt no irritating obligation to fix anything broken, or to clutter it with proofs of my existence. Apart from my laptop and water bottle, I never took anything with me to the writing desk. I kept the laptop clean and my mind in the early 1940s. When the novel was finished, I was finished with the space I had written it in," Cleave had told this correspondent earlier.
Then there are those like Meena Alexander, one of India's foremost poets, who like to move around when they write. Alexander is, in her own words, essentially nomadic in this essential practice, and carries her little notebook and pens on buses or on the subway. Sometimes when she is walking in the park, she is writing her poems in her head, in inner space, so that the colour of the sky, or a child suddenly running across the path enters into what she is composing, the words and breath co-mingling in that fluid state essential for the creation of the poem she composes.
But Alexander also has a deep desire to be tethered, to be housed.
"I have a favourite bench I sit on in a crowded cafe with a cup of coffee. The clatter and bustle do not trouble me. In a strange way they comfort me, provide a fellow feeling. We are all in this world together and the poem, even as it nestles in the crevices of the brain, is in and of the world," elaborated Alexander, who lives and works in New York City, where she is Distinguished Professor of English at Hunter College.
In her apartment in Washington Heights is a desk where she sits exclusively to write. It is made of solid wood and behind it is an old piano that her son rescued when it was being thrown out. It is on this desk that Alexander sets her pen and paper to create books that have been adored by readers and critics alike.
"And then there is another desk, in the studio I have recently rented, in a room above a stone church, part of the Cornerstone Studios. I go there when I can for the utter quiet it gives, the seclusion that protects the soul, a space of meditation. Out of the window, I can stare at the leaves of the elm tree outside. The hope is that, bit by bit, the rhythm of thought and feeling can be sculpted into form," she added.
While both Alexander and Cleave are based outside India and seek a rather simple, unadorned environment to pen their books, some of the most popular contemporary Indian writers like Ashwin Sanghi, Amish Tripathi and Shashi Tharoor have built rather fascinating writing rooms for themselves, in the very heart of noisy New Delhi and Mumbai.
(This is part 1 of a 2-part story. Saket Suman can be contacted at email@example.com)