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13 Quirky Workplaces of Famous Writers

The following piece by Celia Blue Johnson is currently in the October 2013 issue of Writer’s Digest. Check out the full issue here.

1024px-Horses_Friend_025Many great writers have found creative comfort while sitting at a desk. (Charles Dickens was so attached to his that he had its contents shipped to his vacation home.) But a surprising number of literary luminaries have ventured beyond the traditional perch to create their ideal writing spots, whether that meant stepping into a bathtub or trekking into the wilderness. Here are 13 of the most memorable.

• Every weekday, Wallace Stevens walked 2.5 miles to the offices of the Hartford Accident and Indemnity Co., where he served as vice president. Between his doorstep and the office door, Stevens composed poetry. He observed, “I write best when I can concentrate, and do that best while walking.”

• A 90-minute commute is a painfully tedious necessity for many people, but for John le Carré it was an uninterrupted opportunity to write. As an MI5 officer, le Carré spent his long train rides from Buckinghamshire to London penning his debut novel, Call for the Dead. Le Carré quipped, “The line has since been electrified, which is a great loss to literature.”

Sir Walter Scott crafted “Marmion,” his bestselling epic poem, on horseback, in the undulating hills near Edinburgh, Scotland. Though one might assume a leisurely pace is necessary for creative concentration atop a horse, Scott preferred to contemplate the lines of the poem at a faster clip. “I had many a grand gallop among these braes when I was thinking of ‘Marmion’,” he recalled.

Gertrude Stein discovered that the driver’s seat of her Model T Ford was a perfect place to write. Shopping expeditions around Paris were particularly productive for the writer. While her partner, Alice B. Toklas, ran errands, Stein would stay in their parked car and write.

D.H. Lawrence preferred to write outdoors, beneath the shade of a tree. He found a trunk to lean against wherever he went, from pine trees in New Mexico to great firs in Germany’s Black Forest. Discussing his predilection, Lawrence noted, “The trees are like living company.”

• In 1917, Virginia Woolf and her husband, Leonard, started a small publishing company in their basement. Despite the new venture, Woolf did not give up writing. Every morning she walked down to the basement, and strode past the printing press and into a storage room with a cozy old armchair. Her pen would fly while the press whirred in the next room.

Agatha Christie had two important demands for the renovation of her mansion. She informed her architect, “I want a big bath, and I need a ledge because I like to eat apples.” Christie constructed her plots in a large Victorian tub, one bite at a time.

• Instead of hopping in an actual tub, every morning Benjamin Franklin took what he called “tonic baths” in the open air of his bedroom-he’d shed his clothes and work naked, for up to an hour …

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