What’s on your desk (continued)

Posted Mar 8 2011, 8:30 am in

My Google Reader contained a cool link on Monday afternoon. Sean Ferrell, a brilliant author and Twitter pal, posted an essay about the many desks in his life. Sean notes he has a desk at work, a desk at home, but writes his fiction on his lap while riding the subway. I thoroughly enjoyed his post because except for one detail, our stories are pretty much the same. I told him this in an email and he said I should put this on my blog, so now you know who to blame (wide grin).

Like Sean, I have a desk at work. Mine is standard cubicle furniture. An L-shaped counter with a bank of drawers at each end, an overhead shelf with a light under it, and in the corner, a slide-out tray for my keyboard. I have two monitors: a flat panel and the laptop’s built-in display. I have an adjustable chair with a Velcro lumbar cushion that I constantly adjust throughout my day. I love this cushion. It helps me focus on the technical writing work I must do at this desk instead of on the pain in my back that results from too many hours spent at it.

The walls are covered in tack surface. In addition to the few dozen pictures of my sons, these walls are covered with company awards and memos, a heart-shaped love note from my youngest that says “Brown-eyed girl” in shaky, kindergarten printing, a sign that says, “This technical writer is powered by chocolate”, and a treasured print-out from the blog of author Jeff Somers, an author I greatly admire and whose books I thoroughly enjoy, because he replied to a comment I’d posted with “Patty-that’s genius!” Beside that is a print-out of a screen shot I took one day after returning to my desk to see several of my Twitter pals discussing someone in glowing terms. “Triple-threat,” one said. “Talent, brains, beauty,” said another.

They’d been talking about ME.

I’m not ashamed to tell you I shed tears that day. I hung up the screen-shot so I’d never forget the emotions those few tweets stirred in me, or forget to thank the kind people who posted them.

On the left side of the L, I have a pair of Slinky toys, the glasses I never wear, a corporate version of a Magic 8 Ball, and a stress ball. When I write technical instruction, much happens inside my head before I put fingers to keyboard. I find playing with toys helps me to focus on these mental tasks. On the other side of the L is an empty candy dish. I ate all the candy that was once inside it and can’t bring myself to discard it… or refill it. Beside my phone is a dainty cup with my name on it. Patricia – Enchanting spirit, full of grace and honor. Hmm. They must have forgotten the chocolate.

Unlike Sean, I do write fiction at this desk, but it’s technical fiction, which is often what the first draft of any user guide really is… until we work the kinks out of a new software product. By the time the software is released, my technical fiction is now technical instruction.

At home, I never had a desk of my own. I wrote on the dining room table, in my bed, on the sofa, on the deck, wherever I needed to be (praise the wonder of the wireless internet connection!). I lust after Twitter pal Tawna Fenske’s desk and love planning where I might, someday (when finances and the planets align) install a dream desk but those are long-term plans. To suit my immediate needs, I spent a wonderful weekend cleaning up my college-bound son’s room to take it over as my private writing office. It has a fairly large Ikea desk that was suitable for the kind of spreading out I like to do when I have a few hours of time to devote to a writing project. Tools like my “master the craft” books, my enormous newsprint pad on which I outline, Post-it notes of scene ideas and dialogue I want to use, cut-outs of celebrities and models who resemble my main characters to “get me in the mood.” It was perfect!

I used it once.

My dad, after a tiff with his fiancé, found himself temporarily homeless. He moved into my son’s room not three days after my cleaning spree and there went my dedicated writing space. As the weeks went by, Dad steadily cleared out a self-storage unit of various furnishings and brought me a desk. It’s gorgeous. An antique French writing desk with a drop-leaf and half a dozen little cubbies to hold Post-its, pens, maybe an emergency pack of M&Ms. I love that, finally, after all these years, I have my very own desk, but you know what? It was never built for a computer, so I find using it for writing marathons to be uncomfortable. Alas, I am still writing on the dining room table, the sofa, my bed, the deck when Mother Nature cooperates, even the kitchen counter while dinner simmers.

Unlike Sean, I don’t have a subway commute. But I do understand the point he makes about making the most of the writing time you have. I wrote my first novel at my son’s hockey games. It began because I’m not a typical sports parent. I hate when the tempers flare and the passion blinds people to the fact that these are KIDS. So, I began sitting outside in the snack bar area instead of in the stands. The rink is around the block from my office, and I used to meet the boys there after work. Since the laptop belongs to my employer, I could not leave it in my car and risk having it stolen, so it came inside with me. Out of boredom, I wrote PENALTY KILLER, a novel about a man found murdered in the parking lot of the local ice rink, after a very loud and public argument with another player’s dad gets him bounced from the game.


Like most parents, I spend a lot of time driving one or both of my sons to various engagements. I drag the laptop with me because you never know when you’ll have fifteen minutes to wait. I’ve written entire chapters in these chunks of time. In fact, when I do sit down to write for an hour or two, I find myself unable to focus. I think the pressure of a deadline – whether it’s a subway stop or the end of a hockey game – provided that impetus.

Your turn! What’s on your desk?



2 responses to “What’s on your desk (continued)”

  1. I used a big pad to plot for awhile, too! I write in the basement, before the sun comes up. If I write upstairs, the girls will wake from the light on.

  2. Patty says:

    NOTHING wakes up teenagers, not even alarms blaring when I forget to disarm the security system.

    My basement had an office when we first moved in, but it currently holds all my CHristmas decorations and other boxes I have not opened in ten years or so. But it is an intriguing idea. There’s even a window!