Earlier today I browsed through this photo collection of famous authors and their typewriters. If you haven’t seen it, take a moment to do so. Go ahead, I’ll wait until you get back.
straightens up desk for a few moments
Oh, you’re back? Cool photos, aren’t they? But you know what struck me most about them, apart from their coolness? The almost total lack of clutter around these authors as they wrote.
Yes, there were a few exceptions, but if you go back you’ll notice that these were, of the bunch, more recent photos. In most of them, it was just the author, the typewriter, and one or two other items like paper, a book or two, or maybe an ashtray.
Now, yes, it’s entirely possible that in the brief time before the photo was taken, there was a mad rush of tidying, of sweeping half-empty gin bottles and wineglasses out of sight, of doctoring up the scene to look more professional and “author-ish.” But still, as I look around my desk, I notice all the things that would not have to be tidied away: computer mouse, gadget dock, portable phone, USB drives, CDs, lists of website references, etc. I have approximately 30 pens on my desk, a stack of sticky notes (used and blank), notepads, file folders, timesheets, a mug warmer, and a handful of writing “totems.” In the computer background I’m running Twitter, a browser with a research or dictionary site, and an IM/chat client. Maybe I’m just messier and more cluttered than most people–but somehow I don’t think so.
Not that I want to trade my computer and go back to using a typewriter. Been there, done that, no thanks. Not that I want my writing space to be necessarily as sterile and empty as that in many of the photos. But still–is there something to be said for fewer distractions, fewer projects, fewer deadlines? Would less visual clutter lead to less mental clutter, and a clearer vision of the work in progress?
It’s ironic that many writers probably have made something of a return to the days pictured in this photo collection, as their workspace becomes whatever spot they plunk down their laptop, tablet, or gadget-of-the-week. However, in this connected world, I think it’s probably a rare moment when it’s really stripped down to the writer, the device, and the words. I wonder which group, the ones in the photos, or those of us working today, are really working smarter?
Photo by clarita