By Celia Blue Johnson
Many 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 some 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.
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.
Maya Angelou writes in the isolation of a hotel room. To ensure there are no distractions, she requests that everything be removed from the walls. Her own essential tools, which she brings into the bare room, include yellow pads, a dictionary, a thesaurus and a Bible. She used to also bring sherry and an ashtray.
Dame Edith Sitwell had a ritual of lying down before she set pen to paper. Rather than reclining on a bed or a couch, though, she chose to climb into an open coffin. In those morbidly tight quarters, the eccentric poet found inspiration for her work.
Celia Blue Johnson is the creative director of Slice, a Brooklyn-based nonprofit literary magazine.
This article originally appeared in Writers’ Digest.