The Lonely Writer’s Companion

by Lisa Lenard-Cook

How Do You Get Yourself to Your Desk?

E. B. White circled his office, straightening the pictures on the wall until the work waiting on his desk demanded his attention. Toni Morrison, a mother of three, set her alarm and brewed a strong pot of coffee so she could work before the kids got up—and continues to do so even though those kids are grown. Victor Hugo had his valet hide his clothes, forcing him to stay in his office until the day’s work was done.

Whether much-published or new to the trade, every writer has a ritual for getting to the desk. I do a lot of desk-rearranging (much of it now on the MacBook, of course) before I sneak a look at what I’m working on. I tell myself I’ll just read a few paragraphs. Then, before I know it, I’m once again immersed in the work itself.

Why such elaborate ruses? Because good writing (and by good, I mean writing that connects with readers) is a daily exercise in psychic terror. In From Where You Dream, Robert Olen Butler asserts that our daily practice requires us to delve deep into the darkest recesses of our memories, to go to the dark places where the best writing resides. No wonder we need rituals to help us.

What gets you to the desk? Do you have a pre-writing ritual?

(This article was originally published as The Lonely Writer’s Companion on