When you set out to become a writer you have to really commit to working at it – 24/7. And, it’s not easy writing and rewriting, day in and day out, chained to a desk. That’s why some of the most successful writers throughout history sought out some very odd places to work.
One of the more interesting places some well-known writers have chosen to write was at a book store on the Left Bank, in Paris called Shakespeare and Company (pictured above). Some of the writers who’ve worked (and actually stayed) there include Henry Miller, Ernest Hemmingway, Jack Kerouac and F. Scott Fitzgerald.
Over the years a variety of writers have stayed in the apartment upstairs (once used by the owner) or in one of the little bedrooms set up around the bookstore in odd niches, like next to the piano. Writers from around the world come to work and stay at the Parisian bookstore to this day. Some of its recent residents include screenwriter Darren Aronofsky (Black Swan) and author Dave Eggers (The Circle).
While some writers are drawn to public places, others prefer the solitude of the outdoors. For example, D.H. Lawrence wrote such sexually graphic novels as Women in Love under a massive ponderosa pine tree on his ranch in New Mexico. Lawrence was also known to warm up before he wrote by climbing a mulberry tree in the nude.
Virginia Wolfe had a special shed built out in her garden in Sussex, with big windows that opened onto a beautiful view of Mount Caburn. She liked to write in this “writer’s lodge,” as she called it all year round. She did complain, however, that during the winters she could barely hold a pen her fingers were so cold.
Dylan Thomas, known for the play Under Milkwood, and the novel Adventures in the Sklin Trade, liked to write out in a 6 foot by 7 foot shed near his home in Laugharne, Wales, overlooking the Taf estuary. Inside he had a small desk, a bookcase and some chairs. On the walls he hanged photos of his favorite writers.
According to author Roald Dahl’s widow, Felicity, he needed to get away from the noise his five children made around the house in order to concentrate. Dahl was inspired by a visit to Thomas’ shed. He took down the exact dimensions and created his own writing sanctuary, where he worked on the screenplays for Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory and You Only Live Twice.
George Bernard Shaw also liked to write in a shed in his garden. His shed was constructed on a revolving platform, which allowed him to get enough sunlight all day long. In addition, he had his staff refer to the shed as “London,” so they wouldn’t be lying when they said he wasn’t home – he was in London.
Another unique place authors have chosen to work in is the bathtub. For example, Dalton Trumbo, the screenwriter of Roman Holiday, Exodus, The Brave One, and Stanley Kubrick’s classic, Spartacus, liked to write, and even take meetings with producers in the bath.
If you’ve seen the movie based on his life story, Trumbo, you’ll recall the setup. He had a tray that spanned the tub from side to side – where there was room for a yellow pad, an ashtray, and a cup of coffee. Kirk Douglas, the star of Spartacus was so thrilled with his writing; he gifted Trumbo a parrot that the writer kept near the tub for company.
Others who enjoyed the womb-like comforts of the tub include Edmund Rostand (author of Cyrano de Bergerac) and mystery writer Agatha Christie enjoyed the womb-like comforts of a warm tub. As the story goes, Christie ordered an extra large bathtub built in her one of her homes, with a ledge on the side where she stored her favorite snacks.
Another writer one could certainly call eccentric, William Faulkner, once outlined the entire story to his Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, A Fable, on the walls of the office he liked to write in. Apparently, he enjoyed the feeling of being totally immersed in his work.
Faulkner’s wife, however, did not appreciate this unique approach, and painted over the walls in white paint. Not to be outdone, Faulkner rewrote the entire outline, chapter by chapter, back onto the walls and then shellacked over them so they’d stay that way forever. To this day, one can visit Rowan Oak, Faulkner’s home in Oxford, MS, where you can see the offensive writings on the wall of his office.
The venues where many writers have chosen to work are parts of a routine, a routine that’s essential to their craft. Writing is often about spending long hours doing the same thing every day, putting a pen to paper, or sitting at a keyboard, playing around with ideas in one’s head. You can’t blame these occasionally unorthodox artists for making their days a bit less harrowing by finding comfort and inspiration in some very strange places.
Where do you like to write?