This picture is from the year 2000. I’m 27, nearly 28, and sitting at a desk that I made myself, to my own design. When my father-in-law saw it for the first time, his only comment was “Why doesn’t it fall down?”
I had been a full-time writer (alright, full-time dad and part time writer) for almost two years, and I still wasn’t rich. I had tried writing columns, articles, features, short stories and novels. I had taken a correspondence course (that’s like an online course, kids, but without the internet…). I had written a couple of pieces for “Tathan” the magazine published by the RAF station on which we lived. I’d had a couple of features written about me by parenting magazines, but only one had used a feature I had written myself. The RAF families’ magazine “Corridors” had liked my article submission so much, they offered me the job of editor.*
But I was reading a writing magazine that regularly featured professional, full time, SUCCESSFUL authors and they all had their special writing routine and their special writing corners. Me making my desk was my way of saying “This is my special place where I can make magic!”
Amazingly, it didn’t make writing easier, but it did achieve a few important points.
- There was enough space for everything. I had a raised section for the printer and the scanner (two different things back then). I had my stereo off to one side (because the computer couldn’t store all my music back then either!). It was a corner desk, so the long back of the CRT monitor went into the corner.
- It was MY desk. It wasn’t a repurposed table, or something someone else had even designed. It was designed and built by me for me to write on. So, sitting at it, I felt writing was essential. Didn’t mean I didn’t ALSO play a lot of Tomb Raider, of course.
- It was away by itself in a spare room (a luxury, I know). That meant it was a place I could go to write. Yes, baby Laurel had her playmat in the corner, and would often take naps beside me as I worked, but when you need to feel that your work is important ans a real thing, having somewhere particular to go and do it was a useful thing.
Well, time passed and the family grew, so spare rooms became a thing of the past. My monster of a desk survived one move, but not two, and by the time were were living at RAF Halton, my desk was in a corner of the dining room, and it was composed of several bits of off-the-peg furniture.
You can see it’s still the days of the CRT monitor, and that’s a VHS machine that the printer is balanced on. My scanner is still a separate thing too, and it slides out on a handy shelf, much like the keyboard. I’ve ditched the stereo at last, because now my computer can easily play the cds that I have in that neat rack (only some of them are games discs…).
Most of the books on the shelves are about writing. A couple are short story collections that my work features in. There’s obviously a lot less space, and since I’m still trying to be a writer while editing the magazine and running the household, I’m attempting to keep organised – look at all the ink on the huge calendar there – but it’s an uphill struggle against my true chaotic nature. There were days here when I longed for the time I had a study of my own.
Two moves later, and I DID have a study of my own again. We were out of the RAF life and living like civilians in Bournemouth, in a crazy house we couldn’t really afford, but loved to bits. It had a study built over the top of the garage, but they’d forgotten to use any kind of insulation, so it was always colder than the rest of the house by several degrees. We did set up a desk and the desktop computer there, but I was surprised to discover that I didn’t often go there. I had an Acer Aspire laptop that was pretty much faster and better than our desktop of the day. The study was upstairs and cold, but the breakfast table was just off our tiny kitchen. It had the toaster and the kettle in it, so coffee was only ever a couple of steps away. I would cycle the kids to school, then stroll back in, click on the laptop and the kettle and settle down.
Obviously, this isn’t me, this is Mrs Dim showing the kids how to carve pumpkins. But that’s our breakfast table at The Wonkey House, and behind her you can see my old laptop. I sat at that table and wrote a LOT of short plays, sketches and a couple of pantomimes. It wasn’t a private space, it wasn’t festooned with writing literature or reference books, and I never had it to myself for more than a few hours at a time, but I got a lot done there, and I remember it with great fondness.
These days, the number of children in the house is generally trending downward, and we’ve had a study since we moved in. Of course, I have a regular day job now, and the urge to come home and sit at the computer is definitely muted. I have my days off when I can push the cat out of the typing chair and sit down, but sometimes I don’t.
We’re back to a desk I designed and made, though I did that by buying two Ikea drawer units and placing a big piece of plywood over the top. My keyboard and mouse are wireless now, my scanner and printer are one thing, and it’s also wireless. I have two screen that are flat as pancakes, and there’s room to prop my laptop on the desk too, if I want information overload. But Mrs Dim works from home a few days a week now, so I can’t always be sure I’ll be the only one in need of a desk. That’s why I’ve typed this whole post on my laptop in the living room.
In twenty three years of writing, I’ve learned that having your own writing space is great, but not essential. I wrote some of my first plays on that monster of a blue desk in Wales, but I wrote others on that breakfast table in Bournemouth, and some on a Chromebook on my lap in an Ice Rink while Middle Kid played Ringette. Some of the latest writing I’ve done has been in the break room at the library, on my lunchbreak.
I was always jealous of those professionals being profiled in the writing magazine, and I wanted fame and fortune so that my writing day could look like theirs – a little light writing after breakfast, a stroll with the dogs, jotting down some more words in my favourite coffee place, then dinner with the family and a couple more hours of writing in my oak-paneled study before bed. It still sounds nice, but like many people, I found the pandemic years realigned my sense of what I need versus what I want. I write less these days, and sometimes I wonder if I will ever complete a play or story again. If I do, then that’s great, I’d love that. But if I don’t, it’s not the end of the world.
*Yes, the magazine of the RAF Families organisation I belonged to was called “Corridors”, because the organisation’s HQ was a place called “Corridors House”. We rebranded soon after as “Airwaves” and renamed the magazine in kind. The magazine published thousands of copies every quarter and they went out to all the RAF bases worldwide. It was, despite my best efforts, a very dull read.