Virginia Woolf famously said in “A Room of One’s Own” that “a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.” My room is a bedroom which has in place of the requisite bed and dresser: a webdesktop2lightsdarkdesk, a couch, two small round tables suitable for setting manuscripts on, and lots of books.

I occasionally think I should replace my bookshelves—a walnut bookcase and a china cabinet, both originally my mother-in-law’s—with more practical floor-to-ceiling built-ins that would hold the books now overflowing my shelves. But it’s hard to imagine parting with the history and beauty they bring to my space, so my books spill over to my closet and, I admit it, my floor, my desk, even my couch. I turn to them sometimes when I’m writing. (Whenever I write a party scene, I pull out The Great Gatsby to remind me how it’s done.) But for the most part, I keep books near to inspire me. One glance at the Austens and Eliots, McDermotts and McEwans, among others—many signed by the author—reminds me what I’m shooting for.

The center of my room of my own is my desk. It’s a holdover from my days as a lawyer, when I could afford to buy swanky hand-crafted reproduction Queen Anne. I fell in love with it at first sight, and even when I was still marking up corporate contracts in my lawyering days, I imagined I might someday work up the courage to pursue my childhood dream of writing a novel here on its lovely cherry-wood surface.

I’m a superstitious old soul, and so I keep on my desktop a number of talismans to bring good juju to my writing:
  • webarmadillo
  • a psychedelic armadillo my sons gave me in celebration of my first publication credit (an essay in Runner’s World, and your guess is as good as mine what a psychedelic armadillo has to do with that!);
  • a Japanese doll my Uncle brought me from one of his many adventures, which wears a string of pearls given me by the Vice-Mayor of Wuxi, China during one of mine;
  • a card, the cover of which is a lovely photo by my friend Adreinne Defendi;
  • a “Follow Your Dream” candle made for me by my friend Mark Holmes;
  • a cheesy “You will always be my Best Friend. You know too much” plaque my best friend, Jennifer DuChene, sent me;
  • a pen holder given to me many, many years ago by the best storyteller in my family, my Uncle Jim—which now holds a pencil (for practical and symbolic reasons) and has taped to it a fortune cookie message: “The great pleasure in life is doing what people say you cannot do”;
  • my favorite honeymoon photo of Mac and me, now 21 years old; one of my children at 5 and 3, taken 14 years ago; and a digital frame that rotates a myriad of family and friends; and
  • the medal from the one marathon I’ve run (also years old).
webbrendaangelLike my books, my talismans spill over. Elsewhere in my office are the dried rose petals from the bouquet my parents sent me when I sold my first novel; a collection of champagne corks each marked with a date and event that was cause for celebration; a bullet shell from my turn at a machine gun near some war tunnels in Vietnam, where I was traveling when The Wednesday Sisters sold to Ballantine Books; a writing angel send by my dear friend and fellow novelist, Brenda Rickman Vantrease, to watch over me.

Why these particular things? The marathon medal reminds me that if I can run 26.2 miles,marathonmedalforweb I can do anything. But I think the other talismans simply make me feel loved, and that love frees me to be myself, to trust myself as I write.

The desktop photo above is repeated on my website, on my Writers’ page. There, you can scroll over my talismans—as well as marked up manuscript pages, outlines, my journal and the “research bible” I put together for The Wednesday Sisters—for a glimpse at how I write. Some of the items listed above are pictured, but others have been added since I took the photo: my talismans multiply almost as fast as my books do. The roses? I have a wonderful husband, who gently nudged me toward my dream years ago by telling me he believed I could do what I feared I could not.

To be honest, my desktop rarely looks as neat as it does in this photo. It’s usually covered with post-it notes to remind me of things I want to do or revisions I mean to make. Dirty coffee cups, yes, and chocolate wrappers, newspaper clippings, and books. But that’s one of the nicest things about having a room of my own: I can close my door. It allows me what Woolf writes so eloquently of in her essay: room—psychological room—to live in whatever place I choose, free to imagine my own, unlimited world.

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Tags: novels, publishing, spaces, talismans, virginia, woolf, writing


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Comment by Alice Louise Karow on October 19, 2009 at 2:00pm

My good luck charm = Lucy the cat!
Comment by Joan Colby on October 19, 2009 at 12:12pm
The thing is to have two: the neat office cum library and the actual messy book-ridden haven where you really work.
Comment by Sandra Gulland on September 26, 2009 at 2:07pm
A slew of champagne corks: what a great thing, Meg! (Were I to have a tombstone, it should read: "She never said no to champagne.")

Whether a thread or something else, I'll be there.


Comment by Meg Waite Clayton on September 26, 2009 at 12:21pm
Kamy, I think I responded directly that I love your idea. Sandra, I definitely have champagne corks too - a slew of them, as we use every little good thing that happens in our writing lives as a reason to celebrate. And love the idea of a writing spaces thread, but I wonder if a thread can accommodate as much as she is contemplating.
Comment by Sandra Gulland on September 19, 2009 at 5:28pm
I love this, too! I have my totems, as well: my tattered fortune-cookie fortune, a cork from a champagne bottle, my "Writer" badge from my first festival, the "I'm happy" smurf my daughter gave me ... .

I like Kamy's suggestion of all of us writing about our writing spaces. Might we form a group called "Writing spaces"?


Comment by Deb Rox on September 8, 2009 at 12:03pm
I love this! I love the chance to be nosy--and truly inspired--by the workspaces of creatives. I love Kamy's idea! (I might end up on the Hoarders show if I reveal mine, however....) I also like the Flickr groups of computer desktops.
Comment by Meg Waite Clayton on September 8, 2009 at 11:14am
Thanks, Kamy! Glad you liked it. And I think it would be very fun to see where others work.

Very lovely to have met you, too!

Comment by Kamy Wicoff on September 7, 2009 at 3:57pm
Dear Meg,
I love this! I think we should have all the members of She Writes respond by sending in photos of the places they work and writing about them. So beautifully done, thank you. I am going to check with my team and see how/if we can do that, with you as the lead!
So glad to meet you in SF at Marilyn's...
Warm best,
Comment by Deborah Grabien on August 29, 2009 at 10:14am
That's one of the things about having a household full of cats: the only things I get to keep on my desk are things which can't be easily knocked off. Because, of course, cats have a mantra: "If it's on the floor, it's legally mine. If it's not on the floor, I'll just - hey, look, human! it's Haley's Comet!" and there it is on the floor, and they're batting it around or knocking it under something I can't move.

But of course, for me, cats are the best talismans anyway...

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