The Writer At Work

Since literature may become a spectator sport it might be worth taking a moment to scan the playing field. Many of the fans who’ve wandered into a bookstore are unfamiliar with the human drama, the spectacle, the gladiatorial process, which both proceeds and accompanies writing a book.

Visual aid: Terry Teachout posted a brief description of his work space, and I enjoyed the hell out of it. His clothes closet occupies the same general latitude as mine; the fact that a man of his stature works in proximity to a clothes closet relieved some of the pressure that subtly builds as you type your alotted word count for the day. It’s all about word count; having a low one is the equivalent of failing an IQ test or having a high Earned Run Average.

There should be a Jane Fonda video-one thousand words, Jane, punch the air. The word count increases. The unsettling next step involves the cold analysis of what has appeared on the page.

Doubt rears its head. Unless you’re Bill Clinton-writer to be sure-you may pause to consult forty or fifty books before you proceed. After all, you are a reader first. Yeah, you could watch championship snooker from Cardiff, but no, you’d better work.

Attempts to capture writers at work have been rendered cinematically with the inevitable ripping of the page from the typewriter carriage, meatballing said page and hurling it aside. We pan to a lot of these white meatballs scattered across a room with a view of a major ocean. An ocean? Instead of dreaming of a summer house in the Hamptons, you could be asking youself, why on earth would anyone want to spend their time this way? And don’t even try to rip pages from your laser printer. Those things are expensive.

Now that you’re savvy to the hidden drama of the work in progress, perhaps your next visit to a bookstore will be that much more rewarding. Each book you pick up, discard, pick up again, should glow in your hand. After all, the whole idea is to reach you, enlighten and entertain you, make some difference in the way you feel. That’s what the page tearing and snooker watching is all about.


  1. Now that I’m 2/3rds into finishing my first novel, I am utterly amazed that anyone ever does this. The amount of work is simply astounding.

  2. A Sea of White Paper Balls

    David Thayer of Collected Miscellany discusses the writer at work — the solace he receives from knowing a major player works near his clothes closet, the frustration of word count (What? You only managed 497.5 words today? Slacker!), and fact that wri…

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