Friday Speak Out!: The Desk: How Walter Matthau and Jane Austen Helped Me Bring My Writing Home

Friday, April 14, 2017
by Robin Jankiewicz

I knew it would be harder to write when I married Steve. There would be less time alone. My writing desk had to double as the dining room table in our one-bedroom apartment. I was lucky to scribble a few words into my journal while lying in bed at night.

That first summer, I stumbled upon No Plot? No Problem!, Chris Baty’s manifesto for writing a novel in a month. He insisted that a writer needs a special place or routine to keep the word count growing even when motivation falters. What I needed, he said, was a writing hat. Every time I wore it, I would feel like a writer.

Lacking in funds and fashion sense, my husband brought home a fisherman’s cap from the 99 Cent Only Store. It was blue with a pink lining. I stuffed it in my laptop bag. Gradually, it became more rumpled, until Steve told me, “It makes you look like Water Matthau.” Still, it did put me in the writing mind-set, and helped me through my first two novels.

Soon we moved and I was expecting a child. Steve gave me a lap desk made of fine cherry wood. I adjusted it on my knees, and ran my fingers along the pencil groove. I could lift the lid and store my journal inside. I used my lovely lap desk on the couch, or sitting on the bed. It reminded me of Jane Austen because she employed a portable writing desk.

But babies do not lend themselves to long afternoons of reflection. By the time I had two boys running through the house with plastic swords, I could barely get one word on the page. Then some young chimpanzee opened my lap desk and bent back the lid, breaking the hinge. When I discovered the wreckage, I wasn’t even angry. It was the natural end to an era.

Besides, I had recently fallen into a group of writers at the coffee shop. We gathered on Saturday morning to write until the coffee went cold. The bustle and hiss of the cafĂ© helped me focus, and it was refreshing to be called “Ma’am” rather than “Mom.”

One morning, I looked up from my screen to see a father buying cookies for his kids. I suddenly felt melancholy for leaving behind my own family so often.

Then I noticed the barista taking down a picture from the wall: a giant close-up of a croissant. On a whim, I asked if I could keep that picture. On the way home, I stopped to purchase a simple little desk and chair. Steve hung up the picture in the playroom, and we pushed my new desk under a window. “Think of the money I’ll save on coffee,” I crowed.

Every morning now, before the playroom is in use, I have my own quiet corner to write, or just gaze at the sunrise, listen to the birds, and enjoy the dawning of a new writing life
where I can truly feel at home.

* * *
Robin Jankiewicz attended Whitman College, and now lives and works in L.A. She enjoys the challenge of a writing life while helping her husband raise their two boys. 
Would you like to participate in Friday "Speak Out!"? Email your short posts (under 500 words) about women and writing to: marcia[at]wow-womenonwriting[dot]com for consideration. We look forward to hearing from you!


Sioux said...

Robin--I love how you've shared your history of a writer (so far) in a condensed version. We make time for what we care about. Family. Writing.

Keep slogging along, and if you don't belong to a writing group, consider it.

Margo Dill said...

I love the story you told here--so many of us have some similar struggles we've been through. Thanks for sharing yours.

Mary Horner said...

Thanks for sharing your story, balancing work and home life is a struggle for many writers and I'm glad you were able to find what works for you. Now my problem is I want to go to my local cafe and ask if I can have their old posters!

Lisabella Russo said...

I'm glad to hear that Steve is being supportive of your process. I can vouch first hand for his efficacy as a muse!

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