I’ve often wondered how great writers are inspired and where they actually settle down to write and draw from within as they craft a best seller or classic novel. Books and their writers have fascinated and inspired me throughout my life. An avid reader and bookshop hound, I can bore you silly with accounts of my “finds” in used book stores over the years. I especially enjoy hearing a writer read from their own books; it adds dimension to the experience for me.
Reading, and therefore I imagine writing, is a very personal journey that shapes us. I find it interesting to see rooms where writers worked or lived, that have shaped their life’s work. Some are shockingly bare, devoid of personality or aesthetic. I wonder if these sparsely furnished surroundings provide a clean slate, so to speak. Here are some examples I came across:
Henry David Thoreau, Walden, MA
Stirring and inspirational are two words I’d use about Thoreau’s writings. You’d perhaps guess from his writing that Thoreau was Intent on simple living. He furnished his 10’x15′ home with only the necessary basics – a bed, a table, a desk, and three chairs. “I had but three chairs in my house: one for solitude, two for friendship, three for society.”
Emily Dickenson, Amhearst, MA
Most of the poet’s writing was done at a small writing table in her bedroom at The Homestead, with a window to look out from. While simple, her room actually looks comfortable compared to Thoreau’s.
Jane Austen, Hampshire, England
Austen often wrote on small pieces of paper, apparently anywhere. Another writer who used a small desk, this tiny 12-sided piece of walnut on a single tripod is where she drafted out many of her ideas in her reverend father’s Hampshire rectory. Her early novels had been written upstairs in the house, but from this table the revised manuscripts of Sense and Sensibility, Mansfield Park, Emma, Persuasion, and Pride and Prejudice were completed.
Virginia Woolf, Sussex, England
Woolf created a writer’s lodge literally at the bottom of her garden, penning some of her most memorable works including Mrs. Dalloway. And if you enjoyed Marley & Me, you’d probably like Flush, A Biography that she wrote in 1933 inspired by Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s cocker spaniel.
Roald Dahl, Buckinghamshire, England
I remember reading Matilda, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and James and the Giant Peach to my children when they were younger. His writing is quirky, eccentric and funny, so it didn’t surprise me that Dahl wrote in pencil on yellow legal pads in a small shed. In this private sanctuary, he balanced something akin to a 2 x12 across the arms of an old wing back chair he sat in and had everything he needed within reach, including an ashtray.
William Faulkner, Rowan Oak, MS
Faulkner kept a bed in his office, and this famous image of it showcases the 2-time Pulitzer Prize winner’s plot for A Fable written on the walls. They were shellacked over by Faulkner in a burst of indignant rage after his wife insisted he paint over them. She obviously didn’t win that argument.
The great writers of the past were obviously not inspired by their surroundings! So what did inspire them? We can only guess or read between the lines of the wonderful works they produced and are with us still today.
— Debbie Hindman