Where Writers Write - William Faulkner

Faulkner House Books, New Orleans

William Faulkner wrote his first novel, Soldiers’ Pay, at 624 Pirate’s Alley in the 1920s. Now the house has been turned into a bookshop bearing his name. (Photographs)

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Writers Write offers the best writing courses in South Africa. Writers Write - Write to communicate

Where Writers Write - Jesmyn Ward

Jesmyn Ward in her bedroom in Pass Christian, Miss.

"I have a room in my house that will one day be a writing and library space, but right now that room is so disorganised that anyone who sees it must think that I'm developing a hoarding problem. I'm not. I just don't have bookshelves, or a desk, or file cabinets yet. 

But I do have boxes and boxes of books and paper. I don't understand why the rest of my house is fairly spartan, and yet the room I intend to write in is burdened by everything I need to do one day. There's the sewing machine I need to take to my grandmother's house so she can give me lessons. I haven't taken it out of the box yet. There are at least two bags of clothing that I've been intending to take to Goodwill for the last seven months. There are boxes of receipts I'm saving for my taxes. 

If this room is reflective of my writing mind, then procrastination is clogging that mind. In addition, the time I have to write is already limited because I have a newborn. This means that I write wherever and whenever I can around my house. I've written while sitting on my bed, balancing my computer and my kid on my lap. I've written at the dining room table in the breakfast nook. I've even written in the bathroom. However, writing in these places poses problems. If I write in my bed, I'm tempted to fall asleep or read or play with my daughter. If I write in the dining room, my family distracts me, or the television does, or suddenly I realise the kitchen needs extensive cleaning because, again, I'm a champion procrastinator with limited time. 

I've found that I do my best work and the most work when I write in a corner of my bedroom, in a rocking chair, where my bedside table has become, by necessity, a small bookshelf. Somehow, I'm making it work."

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Writers Write offers the best writing courses in South Africa. Writers Write - Write to communicate.

Where Writers Write - Edwidge Danticat

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Haitian-born, Edwidge Danticat in her Miami work space, with her daughters, Leila (left) and Mira.

"I like looking at faces while I work. Not actual faces, but paintings and photographs. I keep a pile of pictures, intriguing faces torn from newspaper or magazine pages, from which I might borrow distinctive features and gestures for my characters.

The paintings and prints around my desk are mostly gifts from friends and sometimes total strangers. I live between Miami’s Design District and Little Haiti neighborhoods, which means there are always amazing things to look at around me.

I was sitting in a neighborhood deli once having lunch with my daughters and trying to do a bit of work at the same time. Sitting next to us was Dr. Ferdie Pacheco, Muhammad Ali’s former physician and a well-known artist. At the end of the meal, he handed me a drawing that he had just dashed off on a napkin. Once when I went to visit my friend Edouard Duval Carrié in his Little Haiti studio with my oldest daughter, he took a picture of us and later enlarged it and put it in one of his signature frames. I like to keep those things nearby because they remind me of the indispensable generosity of my immediate and larger artist community.

However, the picture that has been with me the longest is a photograph of Jean-Michel Basquiat, which I’ve had since moving into my first solo apartment in my mid-20s. A friend who knew how much I love Basquiat gave me that picture, and fearing that writer-type notoriety might go to my head, wrote on the card that accompanied it, “Don’t ever believe your own hype.” I’ve had that picture on all my desks, at eye level, ever since.

Sometimes when I’m stuck and can’t write, I just sit there and stare at Basquiat. Or I sit under my desk and stare into space. Either way, I know that when I’m ready to get back to work, there will be all these faces there to greet me, silent witnesses to my days of both agony and joy."

Find out more about Edwidge Danticat here

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Writers Write offers the best writing courses in South Africa. Writers Write - Write to communicate.

Where Writers Write - Jonathan Lethem

Jonathan Lethem's study in his summer house in Blue Hill, Me.

I’ve written portions of six or seven books in this study, but it doesn’t really belong to me. The alcove in which the desk is set, the field and tree line through the windows, the surrounding acres, all of these are borrowed from another writer, named Esther Wood, whose grandfather built this farmhouse. She lived and wrote in this house for many years, and then for a long time after she’d lost her eyesight she went on living here, until she, at age 97, died in the bedroom upstairs, as had her father and grandfather, in all likelihood. Her books have titles like “Deep Roots: A Maine Legacy” and “Saltwater Seasons.” For decades a columnist for The Ellsworth American, Wood was a descendant of this town’s 18th-century founders, and the local historian; really, a living emblem of the town’s relationship to its own history, which remains fierce. In our neighborhood Wood is a more famous writer than I could ever possibly be. I’ve long since learned that if I want a plumber or electrician to visit the place, or simply in explaining where I live to someone local, it’s best to cut to the chase and say “Esther Wood’s house.”

We’ve altered the house as little as possible. I commissioned the built-in bookshelves, which were carpentered to keep to the look of the molding; the room seemed to have been waiting for them. While sitting here writing my mostly urban books I’ve watched deer, fox and bobcats cross our field, which must be some sort of forest freeway. I always figure the creatures are auditioning for a cameo in Esther Wood’s latest book or column. They’ve got the wrong writer.

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Writers Write offers the best writing courses in South Africa. Writers Write - Write to communicate.

Where Writers Write - Julian Barnes

Julian Barnes at his desk in North London.

"I have worked in this room for 30 years. It is on the first floor, overlooking the tops of two prunus trees, which flower before they leaf, so that in a lucky year there can be both snow and pink blossoms on bare branches. The room itself has always been painted the same color, a bright, almost Chinese, yellow, giving the effect of sunlight even on the darkest day. I began working here on a small desk with a table set at right angles to it; then I had a desk built to cover the same floor plan but with the triangular hole filled in; later, I had it expanded to take a computer and more drawers, so that it is now almost horseshoe in shape. My old (and late) friend the novelist Brian Moore once spent a fortnight working here, and remarked afterwards that it made him feel like a TV newscaster: he kept expecting, when he turned, to see a female colleague at his elbow waiting to take up the next news story. I use the computer for e-mail and shopping; the I.B.M. 196c — 30 years old itself — for writing (or rather, second drafting: nowadays I generally first draft by hand). It is getting increasingly difficult to find ribbons and lift-off tape, but I shall use the machine until it drops. It hums quietly, as if urging me on — whereas the computer is inert, silent, indifferent. The room is usually very untidy: like many writers, I aspire to be a clean-desk person, but admit the daily reality is very dirty. So I have to walk carefully as I enter my study; but am always happy to be here."

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Writers Write offers the best writing courses in South Africa. Writers Write - Write to communicate.

Where Writers Write - Richard Dawkins

Richard Dawkins in his cluttered home office near Oxford University.

"Well, I don’t write only here. My untidy habits drive me to follow the slash-and-burn (or Mad Hatter) principle. Work on a virgin table until the mess becomes unbearable, then move on to a clean table in a clean room — or, on a beautiful summer day like this, one of the five tables dotted around the garden. Trash that table and move on again. Actually, in the case of the massive 8-foot-square, 6-inch-thick, rough-hewn stone table (Purbeck Jurassic limestone), “dotted” is hardly the word.

But there’s more to be said about the mess. There’s a weird sense in which I relish the contrast between the paper compost heap and the order and clarity of what’s inside the laptop computer lurching aslant it. I’m pretty obsessive and a perfectionist about what I write. Each page is read over, several dozens of times, and it changes every time, for the better I hope, by a sort of winnowing process that resembles natural selection — Darwinnowing I suppose we could call it. I find it hard to believe how writers managed in precomputer days. Only my first book, “The Selfish Gene,” was written on a typewriter and every page was a phantasmagoria of crossings out and Scotch-taped inserts. When eventually a clean copy came back from the professional typist, it was as if the sun had come out. The contrast between the Scotch-taped mess and the elegant typescript now comes to mind when I compare the deep litter on my desk to the permanently pristine page on the computer screen.

I was actually writing this very piece at the Jurassic table in the garden when the New York Times photographers arrived. But they obstinately refused to take their camera outside, preferring the chaos of my room."

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Writers Write offers the best writing courses in South Africa. Writers Write - Write to communicate.

Where Writers Write - Jhumpa Lahiri

This is Jhumpa Lahiri's apartment in Rome.

"In spite of the chandelier the room feels quite plain. It’s brightest in the mornings, when I tend to write. The desk belonged to the cardiologist of a former pope. The stones and shells along the windowsill are from Puglia. Two of the postcards are images of female figures from Mycenae. The third is a portion of a fresco by an unknown artist in the Villa Farnesina, in Rome. It depicts a balcony overlooking a city. An alternate version of what I see.

I sit at the desk to type. Otherwise I sit on the sofa, to write by hand or read. When I read and write in Italian various items surround me: dictionaries, a pen, notebooks in which I jot down unfamiliar words and constructions.

The desk faces the Alban Hills, the Apennines. The terrace, just beyond the doors, gives onto a sweep of time and space, from the Forum and the Palatine all the way to EUR, a neighborhood that Mussolini conceived. I see the Gasometro in Ostiense, the crooked ruins of the Baths of Caracalla, Jesus and the saints on the basilica of San Giovanni in Laterano.

When we were shown the apartment, the room was used for dining. But I knew right away that I wanted to work here. On occasion, in the afternoons, when the sun begins to set, I move out onto the terrace, where there is a bench and a small plaque etched with a line from Dante, to read over some pages. But I need to be inside the room to write.

For many years I had a map of ancient Rome hanging in assorted apartments in Boston, where I wrote most of the stories in my first book. This was nearly 20 years ago, when I’d only read and heard about Italy, before I’d ever come to Rome. Now I live here, with the city spread before me. It still feels unreal. When I’m working, I’m more aware of the sky than of the city. I look at clouds, at seagulls. It’s almost like being at sea."

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Read more about Jhumpa Lahiri here

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Writers Write offers the best writing courses in South Africa. Writers Write - Write to communicate.

Where Writers Write - Jodi Picoult

Jodi Picoult starts her working day at 07:30.  She says, ‘I go up to my office. It’s just two floors up in my house. I first deal with all my emails. I get about 200 emails every day and I answer all my fan mail myself. I don’t have an assistant. After that I work. I write until 15:30, and then I magically become a mom again.’

Jodi writes five days a week, and takes weekends and school holidays off. Her mother and her agent are her first readers.

From Amanda Patterson's Interview with Jodi Picoult

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Writers Write offers the best writing courses in South Africa. Writers Write - Write to communicate.

Where Writers Write - Frances Spalding

'But what I gained with this house was an enormous desk. It is an artist's working bench, with slots on one side where canvases can be stored. In Vellacott's day it was thick with oil paint and the grime of charcoal. Without my asking, the builders, while renovating the house, one day sanded the surface of the desk, to great effect. As a biographer and art historian, I often work with images and text.' ~Frances Spalding

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Writers Write offers the best writing courses in South Africa. Writers Write - Write to communicate.