distraction no.99

Nova Ren Suma | On Writing & Writing Distractions

Not an Author Newsletter… something else.

Where I Write

Writing space foyer
The foyer of my writing space, quiet on a weekend morning.

I write in a place I can’t really call mine. I can’t leave my things out all over the desk. I can’t decorate the walls. I have to put my writing slippers and writing sweater away in my locker every single night. There’s a good chance that I’ll arrive in the morning to find someone else in my favorite chair. But I write here all the same—I can’t imagine being a writer in Manhattan without having this place where I can go 24 hours a day, any day, any moment. I carry the key with me everywhere.

The place is called the Writers Room—and it fits its name: It’s a giant loft often filled with writers writing. Sure, we also check our Facebook and nap under our desks (guilty of this just last week), and we can be found chatting in the kitchen, or gathering up a handful of sugary sustenance from the constantly replenished M&M dispenser, or stretching in the typing room, but most often we’re at our desks. On a weekday, the place is packed. You hear pages turning, sometimes sneezing, doors swishing open and closed, chair backs adjusting, coffee slurping, and typing, from all directions and every corner, the sounds of tapping keyboards. The rhythm of other writers typing out their novels and stories and articles and plays and screenplays and poems makes me all the more motivated to type out mine. I love that sound.

Writing space sign in
The sign-in sheet, and just above the little lamp… that's my book cover! I was giddily surprised one morning while signing in to look up and see it there.

I’ve been a member here since I was a graduate student uptown. I had part-time morning and weekend membership then—I spent years on the waiting list to get full-time 24-hour-a-day access, and I’m so grateful to have it now. Back then, in the beginning, the Room was located somewhere else, in another building around the corner from where it is now. I’d get up at five in the morning and take the subway to Times Square, then transfer to another line, and get here, sometimes as the first person of the day. I’d leave in time for class or by eleven thirty; the latest I could stay as a part-time member.

A favorite desk
One of my favorite desks. Look how I made a mess already, and I haven't even started writing yet!

Then the space moved, to a more wide open loft with giant windows overlooking Broadway, and there were a few weeks of adjustment, but I easily found my new favorite desks and settled into my routines. I got full-time membership years ago, but I couldn’t make use of it with my day job. Still, I held on. There were days when I’d come in when it was still dark on a Saturday morning, flattened from a stressful workweek at my job, feeling like a robot, someone barely worthy of calling herself a writer… but then I’d sit at my desk, and I’d switch on my light, and I’d open my word processor, and I’d start tapping away into the silent space like the other writers who came here, and I felt worthy somehow. I felt right.

I still feel that now.

I need this separation from home. I need a creative-only space. This place is not for everyone, and that’s fine by me. We’d be too crowded otherwise.

I’ve written thousands of pages here, in its previous location and now the new one, no exaggeration. Stories and my graduate thesis and work-for-hire manuscripts and novels published and soon-to-be-published and never-to-be-seen. I like the quiet of the Room—no talking at the desks. I like the cell phones banished to the phone room. I really don’t mind that no one can reach me by phone while I’m here (fyi: try e-mail). I like the sounds of all the other writers working around me. I like looking out the windows at the city lights at night.

I can’t bring friends up since it’s members-only, but I show them from down in the street. I’ll point up to the row of top-floor windows—always lit up, whatever the day, late into the night. “That’s where I write,” I say. Looking up at it from the sidewalks down below, there’s a privacy and also a magic. Each desk is a blank slate, a blank page. Anything could happen here. Anything has.

My desk 2
My favorite desk; it was here waiting for me this morning.

I come here in pajamas sometimes. I don’t wear makeup; my hair’s a mess. I’m really not here to network. I write often with a scarf over my head, in semblance of a tent. I walk the halls in a daze, deep into whatever I’m writing, so I’m not so talkative and I hope no one takes it personally. There are times when I walk past a great writer whose books I’ve read and admire to no end and I think, How can we both write at the same desks? How is that POSSIBLE?

But it is, somehow. There are all kinds of writers here. Ones like me, and geniuses like them. This place is open to all of us.

I didn’t photograph the rest of the space—you’ll have to imagine. It’s a private place, and writers are right now writing all around me, and I didn’t want to bother anyone.

My desk
About to sit down and write… if that issue of Tin House magazine doesn't distract me first. E renewed my subscription for my birthday!

I come here almost every day, even if I only really have time to write for a half hour. Maybe one day, when I can afford a bigger place to live, and we leave this city for somewhere else, I’ll have a writing office at home. What a luxury that would be. For now, I have the Writers Room, my most favorite place to write in this entire city.

I was here yesterday. I’ll be here tomorrow. I am here right now.

* * *

This is the main place where I write. The other is a café. Where do you write?

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31 responses to “Where I Write”

  1. Thanks so much for sharing this. I’ve been reading your blog for years and was always interested in your mention of this place. It’s wonderful to see it now.

    • Thanks, Andi! I can’t believe I haven’t talked more about my writing space until now… it took me so long to put up pictures!

  2. I, too, dream about having access to a place like this every time you mention it. I’ve even fantasized about having the funds to create a place like this where I live – even if there wasn’t much need for such a space. I know my wife doesn’t understand the need to go to a different place to write. For me, it’s separation. At the very least, the library allows me to get away from the draw of Mad Men or crying children. And maybe it’s a chance to dream about being a “real” writer. One of the coolest experiences of late was walking past a desk I sat at back during the summer. I remember looking out the window thinking, “Maybe one day I’ll be published, have an agent – living the HIGH life.” 😉

    So, I get it. And I’m envious. They have one in Portland, I’ve heard. So, there’s another reason to move an hour north.

    • Bryan, I like your new name up there. New byline? 😉

      I used to write at the Columbia University library, in the periodicals room… it was great there, except during finals or midterms, ugh. That’s why I joined the WR in the first place, actually. The coffeehouses were packed, the library was packed, I couldn’t take it! And it closed, and I like to have access whenever I want it.

      But libraries are a great place to go… all the books are so inspiring and motivating. And maybe one day you’ll be able to open your space and then I have reason to move to Oregon. If I moved, I’d be into helping to start a new space like this. Isn’t that how the Grotto or whatever it’s called started in San Francisco? I think that’s how the Writers Room actually began a long time ago, too… way back years before I was a member.

      Is there really a place like the WR in Portland? I sure hope so… It’s one of the reasons I’m reluctant to leave New York. I can’t imagine being a writer without the Writers Room. I’m very attached.

  3. I looked into a space similar here, and they weren’t interested in taking my money because I wasn’t already published (!!!). The layout was similar. They had a big ‘common room’ area too, full of bean bag chairs and low shelf-like benches– like Spalt at Antioch. In a cosmic twist of rightness, I rode by the other day to find that they had been closed. Serves ’em right!

    Until an affordable snob-lite place can be found, I use a few other spaces.

    I often use the Center on Halsted (the fiiii-inest GLBT community building I have ever seen!) which you can check out at http://www.centeronhalsted.org if you like. There are a whole lot of hidden spaces to write, a lending library and a super quiet art gallery. Outlets and wireless throughout. Extra bonuses: connected to a grocery so you can go buy a snack, and there’s an open rooftop garden. I mostly go to COH weekday evenings when there are not Cubs games (it’s right next to Wrigley).

    Chicago is FULL of quietish bars that serve coffee and offer wireless and don’t mind a few writers sitting around typing for hours on end without buying alcohol. There are 2 fine ones within a short walk from the house. I’m not going to list them here because I don’t want someone taking my favorite tables! I earned those! I use these mostly weekend afternoons.

    If I write before work, I use the cafe below my office which is loud and sucks. Early weekends, I tend to a cafe on DePaul’s campus (I keep getting kicked out of their library next door) which is OK until the kids wake up.

    Lately, I’ve been hanging out on the weekends in Bridgeport/The Stockyards in the amazing building where M has his new shop (http://www.bubblydynamics.com/) Again, wireless and rooftop garden. Bonuses include: dogs running around, lots of weirdo artists/hippies, nobody cares if I smash things or use a saw, I can bring my cats and blare music, there’s bikebuilders, welders, and aquaponics folks and STILL little quiet spaces to go to.

    So that’s my arc. I would rather just the one or two spaces, but my schedule is wacky and I swear that all of these places have different moods…I seem to use them differently.

    • OK, I am offended on your behalf. OFFENDED.

      Just so everyone knows: You do not need to be previously published to join the Writers Room. I wasn’t when I joined, I was just an MFA student. You need character references and need to show that you’re serious about writing… that’s it.

      I love your spaces! If I lived in Chicago, I think I’d go to the Center on Halsted. It looks fantastic.

      And I’m glad you kept your fave places a secret. They’re yours! They should stay that way!

      You’re so funny. There are two things we don’t have at the WR: a rooftop garden… and they totally _would_ care if I smashed things and used a saw. Damn!

  4. It looks awesome! I write at home, mostly. I’ve tried other places, but there is nothing like your place where I am. At least, not that I am aware of!

    Thanks for sharing!

  5. Nova, this looks AMAZING. Thanks for sharing! I would love to write there.

    I mostly write on my livingroom sofa, ideally with a cat next to me. Am hoping to move somewhere bigger soon so that I can have a Writing Room (I think that deserves caps, don’t you?).

    • I agree. A Writing Room looks far more exciting when capped. That’s another thing I don’t have at the WR here. A cat.


  6. thanks for the peek! i’ve wondered about the writer’s room ever since i first heard of it and contemplated applying for membership. you’re the first person i’ve known who was an actual member and could offer an inside look.

    • Jenn, I obviously love it here, so I highly recommend it, if you ever do end up applying. Once you get in, I think they give you a tour so you can have a sense if it would work for you. Now I hope you’ll join! Do find me if you do. 🙂

  7. Oh, I ADORE this post. Thank you for sharing this slice of magic, Nova. 🙂

    I write in different spaces – often in cafes – and I’ll be doing a similar sort of post for the Elevensies blog on LJ next month. (I think I’m up next month… must check!)

    I’d love to write in a place like this.

    • Karen, Ooh, I’m looking forward to reading your Elevensies post to hear more about the cafes where you write. I have a personal favorite cafe, but that’s a whole other post!

  8. i love seeing places where writers write. i’m a sucker for photos of writers at work and love close-ups of their desks. after years of being able to write at home, i suddenly couldn’t. i think it started with my mfa thesis. i love to write in libraries, but sometimes the books can be too overwhelming for me. same for bookstores. when i moved to new orleans i spent several weeks (months?) trying to write at home. it just didn’t work. i only watched endless episodes of whatever daytime drama was on tnt. next i tried coffee shop after coffee shop. i hoped that one of the 10 or so in close walking distance would “click” but none of them worked. it was a bit like goldilocks. there was a shop that i thought would be perfect: short walking distance, stayed open late, section with tables, section with couches AND a courtyard! i couldn’t get comfortable. finally, i tried a place on magazine street. a hippie place that my friend calls the land of uncomfortable chairs and bad lighting. i got wonderful writing done so i’ve written here ever since. writing is so volatile and changing i like to settle in. i have a favorite seat (i’m writing from my window seat with a plug right now!), i like the street traffic and crazy crush of local eccentrics + ladies who lunch. i threaten to change sometimes (like today when the loud chess guys are sitting at the table right across from me), but i’m superstitious. maybe for the next book, but now they have soup! anyway, this was inspiring. on to writing.

  9. Great post, Nova. The library has always suited me just fine, but it’s neat to see how the Writers’ Room works.

  10. Nova, thanks so much for sharing this! What a great place! I write at our kitchen table, the middle of our home, but it helps me keep an eye on the kids and their shenanigans. 🙂 Somehow at the end of the day, when the house grows quiet, I don’t ever think to move. Close proximity to snacks are a plus.

  11. Thanks for sharing this, Nova. I admire your commitment so much. It really does help to separate the writing from the house. The Milwaukee (WI) area has Redbird Studio on on the far south side where writers can sublet space, but it’s 14 miles away.

    The library….great place, but I used to be on the Friends board, and then a trustee, and then both my kids worked there, so it’s not exactly free of distractions for me!

    My solution is a coffeehouse I can walk to. I’m lucky that it’s designed so that it’s fairly quiet even though it has a lot of traffic. The chairs aren’t nearly as comfy as yours looks, though!

  12. Wow, that’s a wonderful space. And so cool to see your book cover up there! That sounds like the most amazing place.

    I was thinking about this the other day, while working at Panera. I was struck by how much I was able to write and do in a short time, while at home, I sit staring at the screen and end up doing other things. I guess because when you’re in a different space, you’re there just to work. It’s not the same place you are every day.

    When at home, I too have a cat that assists in the writing. Sometimes when not requested.. as she lies across the keys.

  13. I wish I had a space to write in- a dedicated space, I love that idea. I write on my wife’s laptop sitting on the couch while my son plays video games. I write standing up on a ten year old i-mac desktop perched atop the bar in our kitchen. I write on a PC work-station on a loading dock, next to a forklift and the days weather.

  14. Great post, Nova! I’d love to have a place like this to go to. For now, I write at home and try to deal with the distractions. But I can imagine what a great creative atmosphere/escape there must be at Writer’s Room. I’m usually able to go a little deeper into the writing mindset when I’m surrounded by other writers, and not angsting everything that needs to get done at home. It was a wonderful read – thank you!

  15. I write at home, in my bedroom, at a teeny weeny desk with bookshelves in front of me, and a window view of a parking lot to the left. Actually a copy of Dani Noir is on the bookshelf right above my desk. And a copy of my first book.
    I think that writing in a big space with a bunch of other writers would be really inspiring. It sounds great and makes me wish I still lived in NYC.
    I have friends who write in cafes. I like the sound of it, though I can’t leave my kids alone, and worry that the noise and activity might distract me. On the other hand I write with kids, and I used to do my homework at the kitchen table while my dad cooked and the radio blasted so perhaps it would work out really well for me.
    Nice blog, Nova. Thanks.

  16. Thanks for blogging about your writing space! I’ve wondered about the Writers Room for a while, but never applied for membership. It’s great that you have some place to go and write every day. Enjoy 🙂

  17. !!!! Nova, I had no idea a place like this existed…I am going to search for one in Denver! It’s like…what writing fantasies are made of. 😉 As much as I love writing in my living room with my cat, there are SO many distractions to pull me away. Dishes, laundry, bills to pay… I imagine WRITING gets done in this wonderful place, because why else is anyone there, published or not? Thanks for a great peek into your personal writing world. 🙂

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