by Janis Patterson
I belong to a number of writers’ groups, some of which – at long last! – are starting to meet in person again. The particular group of which I speak is composed of all kinds of writers from working professional to stark-beginner aspirant, and was finally having a real meeting after two years of Zoom-ing. The conversation level was astounding as we all talked full speed full volume catching each other up on what had happened since our last real gathering. (As good as Zoom is for the meat of meetings, it is not up to personal interaction and exchange!)
One woman, who had joined the group only a few meetings before the shutdown, was holding forth, proudly showing photos of her new office. She had acquired one of those monstrous L-shaped desks that can eat half a room. It was festooned with several shelves of reference books, plaques of inspiring quotes, beautiful pictures, a few lovely little objets d’art and even a gorgeous silver vase of fresh flowers. A large brand new Mac computer took pride of place in the typing area and – to the envy of my uncertain back – a new, bright red X-Chair sat in front of it. I will it admit, it took a great amount of discipline not to drool openly over that.
“Now,” she concluded with pride after finishing a highly descriptive virtual tour, “I can be a professional writer.”
When pressed for an explanation she said, “Well, one has to have a professional office in order to be a professional, doesn’t one?”
The eyeblinks in the room were almost deafening.
“It’s lovely,” someone said. “It must make writing so much easier. How many books have you done?”
When The Husband and I inherited our house, we turned the guest bedroom into my office by the simple expedient of adding a small desk and a cheap office chair. Even though I have been publishing for decades I had never had a real office before and it was heavenly. For a number of family reasons, though, it ceased to be an option and I moved my writing center onto a table in the family room, a room shared with our animals, the TV and a newly retired husband. My output did not drop, though – at least, not significantly and not for long. I know a prolific multi-published novelist who writes at the dining room table, and another who has a card table squashed into the corner of her bedroom. There was one who turned the built-in bar in their home into her office and another who has a day job stays late every night for an hour and a half or so to write simply because she cannot write in the chaos of her home. In fact, I know more professional writers who do not have dedicated offices than those lucky few who do.
“You mean you haven’t written anything?” another asked incredulously. “It’s been two years since we last met.”
She looked offended. “How,” she replied only a little huffily, “could I have written anything? It was only delivered last week.”
There was nothing any of us could say to that. We separated into other conversational groups, metaphorically if not physically shaking our heads. This woman had had two years of what basically amounted to house arrest (she does not have a day job) and while many of us had taken advantage of the enforced lack of external activities time to write even more apparently she hadn’t written at all. I myself wrote 1 ½ more books than I would have normally done in that time span, and many of my professional writer friends did even more.
This woman had obviously spent her time poring over design magazines and websites. Now, she proudly proclaims to anyone she can get to listen, since she has a professional office she is a professional writer.
Hey, lady, professional writers WRITE. We write in dens and dining rooms. We write while waiting at the garage and in line waiting to pick up children from school. We have been known to scribble facts and ideas and scraps of dialogue on paper napkins while at lunch. Some of us even write on our phones wherever we happen to be.
I am not a total grinch. Her office is lovely (how I do truly envy her that red X-Chair!) and I wish her much joy in it. It will not, however, make her a professional or any other kind of writer except a wannabe. Only writing and selling makes a true professional. The agents/editors/publishers/readers won’t give a flip if she writes on a huge L-shaped desk or a card table. What matters to them is the story, the words, the worlds she creates… and you can’t order them from any design house.