Writing Space: Shabby without the Chic

Wendy Van Camp over at No Wasted Ink runs a series about Writing Spaces. Each post showcases a catalog-perfect photo of a stylish room or nook. Wendy writes science fiction, and her posts can feel like glimpses into the futuristic paperless offices we were promised a couple of decades back, that somehow never materialized.

I admire the writing spaces Wendy profiles—so beautiful! So inspiring! So tidy! But they are SO not me. Don’t get me wrong, I’d love a space like Treehouse or Shabby Chic. But if I had a space that looked like that, it wouldn’t stay that way. Because when I’m writing, the layers of trash and treasure pile up faster than the snow outside my window this winter—especially if the writing is going well.

February was a particularly productive month for me, writing-wise, so you can imagine what my writing space looked like. Go ahead. Imagine it. It’s probably worse than you think.

Want to see? Scroll down.

Keep scrolling.

It’s down there somewhere under the layers of clutter…

Oh, here it is:

Marianne’s desk in the middle of a writing sprint.

Shocking, I’m sure—especially to those of you living under the impression that I’m well-organized. And I am organized—but only in what Einstein called the fourth dimension, time. The three dimensions of physical space? Not so much.

Early last week, I was struck with the need to rethink parts of the plot of my middle grade novel. When I’m hashing out a plot, I tend to pace around and putter a lot. I decided to put that nervous energy to work by clearing off my desk. A few of the items I unearthed from the piles:

  • Three books on writing craft
  • Two pads of white lined paper, one with notes about the novel and another with notes I took during a phone call about a freelance job
  • A clipboard
  • My missing calculator and a kitchen timer
  • My checkbook, which I hadn’t yet realized was missing
  • A 3-ring binder with a style sheet for a different freelance job
  • Papers related to the community theater production I’m currently producing
  • A folder of plot critiques from a past Writers’ Rumpus meeting (those came in handy)
  • My signed copy of Alison Potoma’s The Smith Family Secret, Book 1
  • Notes I took during a showing of Justin Bieber’s movie “Believe” back in December. (It was research for the novel. Really.)
  • A flash drive
  • A tube of lip balm
  • A pair of fingerless alpaca gloves
  • Handouts from the open house at my daughter’s school two weeks ago
  • The cable for charging my Kobo e-reader
  • The Kobo e-reader itself (badly in need of charging)
  • A pressed penny from Niagara Falls (Jen, would you like this as a prop for At Your Service author talks?)

Here’s what the desk looks like with everything put in–well, if not in its proper place, at least someplace else:

Marianne’s desk at its best. Tino the cat appreciates the clear path across the desk to the window.

But even at its best, this space isn’t worthy of a home magazine, mainly because so little thought has gone into it. It’s functional, but it has no style. It’s a cobbled-together mishmash of a folding table and computer equipment plugged into a power strip placed in full view on the tabletop, a grubby-but-favorite mouse pad, some trinkets and totems, etc. etc.

I’m imagining how I’d answer questions from a home style editor reporting on my writing space:

“Yes, that is 1960s period wood paneling. Very retro, kind of a suburban Mad Men look… What’s that? It can’t be retro if it’s original? Who says so?”

“Curtains? Yes, I suppose there are some, somewhere. Probably in the ironing pile on the rocking chair in the master bedroom.”

“The current window treatment? That’s an old towel slung over a curtain rod, held in place with clothespins… Why would I do that? One day the sun skipping off the snow gave me a headache, and this solved the problem fast so I could keep writing. Shabby chic, don’t you think? What’s that? It’s simply shabby, without the chic? Well, maybe Simply Shabby is a new look.”

I’d love to have a writing space as beautiful and organized as the rooms and corners profiled on Wendy’s blog. But we all have our strengths, and interior decorating isn’t one of mine. The reality is that I don’t do much interior decorating at all—unless you consider the well-decorated interior life of my imagination.

Do you have a dedicated writing space? What does it look like? If not, where do you write?

Related post that answers the above question: There, write. There, castle on Jiggery-pokery’s Soup of the Day


  1. Hi Marianne, I found you via B.K. Winstead’s Weird World. Tomorrow I plan to post my blog “rebuttal” to the writing space photos. Like you, I had to clear off my desk for a before and after photo. Not sure how long the desktop will stay neat.


  2. I’d love to have a clean and well organized writing space; instead I stack things beside me, on the floor, posted on the wall. I’ve come to believe these are extensions of my ideas and if I did have a clean space, empty desktop and organized papers, I’d have an extremely difficult time being creative.


    1. I seem to remember someone saying, “a clean desk is a sign of an empty mind.” Not sure I believe that; I know plenty of people with good ideas and clean work surfaces. But it’s somewhat reassuring.


  3. I don’t have a specific place for writing. I use google docs so I can write revise a story on my phone if I need to where ever I am. I’ll have to think about where my writing space should be:) Great post, Marianne!


  4. Thanks for stopping by my blog. 🙂 My office is far from paperless, in fact I outline my stories with fountain pens on paper notebooks and my paper bound bullet journal is my best friend. On any given day, my modern glass desk is strewn with paper, pens, research books and leather bound journals. I do like tech and use it, but there is room for everything in a writer’s world. I liked your article! I’m glad that I’m not the only messy writer out there. 🙂 Keep up the good work.


    1. Wendy, that’s a relief! I feel better about the table full of index cards I’ve been shuffling around while figuring out the plot. That semi-organized mess spilled into the “television room” next door to the office.


  5. I really don’t have a carved out writing space. I take my laptop anywhere, on the three season porch on a sunny day, or by the gas fireplace on a cold day, or anywhere I want, whether traveling or at home. I have my submission files and books in a specific location, but love the freedom and knowledge that I can write anywhere! And by the way, Marianne, neatness isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be. As long as you’re organized, you can focus on the writing and the work. But one day, I wouldn’t mind a gorgeous study facing the ocean!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s