Writers' Rooms


Note the revolver!


And a portable typewriter. And a few kinky tchotchkes. Not a woman to mess around with.

I’d like to imagine myself greeting the interviewer from BBC in my David-Lodge-like office, but the truth is, mine is more like Russell Hoban’s. And just what the hell is going on in A. L. Kennedy’s room? Not writing, surely.


And here are some more rooms/chaotic workspaces (not all of them those of writers):

I particularly like the one belonging to the Princeton professor: see if you can spot him! :smiley:


I am no neat freak. Just ask snort. But is it really possible to be productive in that environment? Doesn’t it actually wast energy to find what you are looking for than it would have taken to keep it neater in the first place?

Thanks, Hugh. These photographs make me feel positively virtuous about the state of the junk room we call our study :slight_smile: That poor Princeton professor – do you think he’ll be able to find his way out of there?

These all look pretty much like the squalor I live in. The thing is Jaysen, the room is a Tinderbox map. It might look like a total mess of squares and arrows to someone who just opened it for the first time, but to the person that built it, everything has meaning within meaning within meaning. That said, I think Prof Wolfgang Danspeckgruber is absolutely out of control. There is no Tinderbox in a pile of loose leaves a meter tall and two in radius!

Don’t get me wrong. I have clutter as well. Between cables, post its, and partial pdf print outs my wife refuses to even bring me lunch.

But I CAN write on a piece of paper on an uncluttered surface, never have to beware avalanches, and use storage to actually store things.

These go beyond clutter and into chaos. It makes you wonder what the rest of their lives look like…

Thirty years ago I was working on my Master’s at the Naval Postgraduate School. My thesis advisor was a brilliant scholar, a refuge of the 1968 Czech rebellion/uprising. His office would have made the Princeton professor’s office look tidy. In addition to the clutter you see in that photo, this professor had stacks of books and journals, each stack between 3-5 feet high. The stacks covered every free space in the office. When I would meet with him, he had to clear the 2-3 ft of books off the chair so I could sit down.

He knew where every piece of information was. One time we were discussing an aspect of my thesis and I referred to a journal article that I could not locate in the library. He went past four stacks and from the stack in the corner, near the bottom, he pulled the exact journal with the article I wanted, without even hesitating or thinking about where it was.

I always liked the motto: A clean desk is a sign of a sick mind.

Reminds me of two things:

  1. When we lived in Bangkok in the early 1970s, when I was running a language school, I went to visit the (non-Thai) personnel manager of a particular motor manufacturer to discuss setting up English classes for the local shop-floor foremen. His large and beautifully furnished office was absolutely tidy with everything placed as if measured by ruler — like the table settings at a Buckingham Palace banquet! — apart from a single sheet of clean A4 paper that he had been about to write on, which was not set at absolutely 90º to the desk-top. His immediate words as I entered were to apologise for the untidiness of his office!

  2. In the early 1990s, I had a brief period in charge of staff IT matters at the School of Languages of my then university of employment. I managed to get it through the powers that used-to-was to install a computer and a network link in every staff office. Our head of Arabic’s office was like exegete77’s supervisor’s … piles 4 feet high of students papers from his whole life in the university, covering every surface and all of the floor apart from a “corridor” through which he could reach his chair and the other … which also had a stack of paper on it that he had to clear off for me to sit down. I told him he would have to clear his desk so there was somewhere to put the computer — a 9" Mac, but I no longer remember the exact model! … One year later, not a sheet of paper had been removed, not an inch of space cleared; the Mac, now out of guarantee, was still in its box in my office and so I allocated it to another purpose. He was immediately knocking on my door, complaining that it was his Mac and that I couldn’t give it to someone else. I had to point out somewhat forcibly, that there was no way it could be installed in his office, and we couldn’t have expensive hardware languishing for ever in the box it was delivered in, still unopened. His office was still in the same state when I resigned about 8 years later, and he was the only member of staff without a computer.


Thanks, Mark. Interesting vignettes. Caused me to chuckle, picturing the professor’s “righteous anger” at not getting what he wanted, even though he could not get what he wanted.