Where we write


Research means writing. We all do a lot of writing, professors and students alike. Writing is a fundamental aspect of our jobs. Of course we might also do more than write as part of our research (i.e. make websites, make art works, design digital things, and so on). I have been working for a  while on an article, and I have become increasingly aware of how my own work habits have been changing over the years. Not only how I write is changing but also where I write.

I remember being an undergraduate student, writing in my bedroom in my parent’s house on a tiny white particle board desk–that matched the rest of my bedroom furniture. Self disclosure coming….I am so old I wrote by hand and then typed my essays on a small (but electric!) typewriter–not even an IBM! No, I longed for an IBM Selectric.

In my Master’s program I wrote everything by hand and then typed it into computers in the university library. Yes, on those computers that had big floppy disks (I can just hear some of you…what’s a floppy disk?). When I was a Master’s student I had an office in the library. Man-oh-man I felt important.

PhD: shared office space with other grad students in the department and now my very own PC–a Tandy that came from Radio Shack and which I bought second hand. I wrote in my tiny apartment. I wrote my dissertation in my apartment all day, printed off what I had written, went to the cafe to read and revise, then returned to the apartment and my computer to do the revisions. I lived in fear of computer crashes and bad floppy disks. Yes, still had floppy disks, just smaller ones.

Finally, big tower PCs when I got my job here at uW. Eventually, Macs of all kinds. [RIP Steve Jobs; you changed my life]. Now I write mainly on a laptop (PowerBook or MacBook Air) and I write in all sorts of places in my house and in cafes. I have a perfectly good office in my house. But I don’t write there. I have a perfectly good office at the University. But I don’t write there. No, I write on my kitchen or dining room tables.

And then I wondered: where do others in the English department write? So I asked my colleagues and grad students to send me photographs of where they do their work: reading, thinking, writing–pulling their hair out trying to find the words.

Here are a few images to be getting on with. Please send more if you want a part 2 of this post.

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12 responses to “Where we write

  1. Love it. There’s a kind of cramped, cluttery, cave-like aspect to our writing spaces, huh? Jumbled with books and computers and notes. And I love the baby in the frame.

  2. Good to see the “rooms of your own”–but does anyone write outside, in the park and under a tree?

  3. I especially like the masses of books in most rooms. I wish I could make out the titles. I’m always looking for more books to acquire!

  4. I also wrote my undergraduate essays in longhand, and then I would get out the scissors and tape and literally cut and paste sentences and paragraphs before turning to the typewriter. And I used “corrasable” paper–surely no longer available–where I could use an ordinary eraser to correct my many typos. And I too dreamed of the “Selectric.”

  5. In my first year of undergrad I hand-wrote my essays (usually one draft with minor editing) and typed them on an old typewriter perched on top of a bar fridge in my tiny dorm room. Second year, I had an Amstrad laptop with no hard drive.

  6. How about photos of readers’ libraries or book-nooks as well?

  7. Perhaps readers could also share photos of their favourite libraries and institutions (like the Bodelian Library at Oxford, the archives of Canadian authors at University of Calgary, the Folger Shakespeare Library, etc.)? Thank you

  8. Sorry, I meant the Canadian Literature Archive at Univ. of Manitoba, not Calgary. But U. Of Calgary does have the Munro, Richler and W.O. Mitchell archives.

  9. In Hook and Eye, Prof. Morrison provides a compliment to “Where we write” by looking at what we wear when we write. Besides where and wear we write, do the readers listen to a particular kind of music (if at all) when they write and what are their favourites? I listen to instrumentals or Kiran Ahluwalia when I try to write poetry.

  10. One reason I like “Words in Place” is because it provides ideas for my hobby. Here, for example, is my latest effort, warts and all, based on “Where we write”:

    The Places we Write

    We have the desks, of course, the chairs, the light,
    Canny laptops like knowing-looks, and mugs,
    Some cats to sentinel our comfort, bright-
    Lit moments warming seats with purring rugs,
    And paper cracking words from falling stones
    Of thought caressed loose by cushy nooks,
    Some books to rub the gloss around the zones
    Of time to write, to be our best at books.
    With all the parts that make a space an age,
    A possibility, a dawn, a bloom,
    A nursery-newborn grips fast her page,
    And vast scriptoriums squeeze into our rooms,
    Where we, like ancient scribes with cave-like ways,
    Situate time with incipient days.

  11. Wow! A sonnet. Thanks. I too find having a cat around essential to my writing space.

  12. Thank you. It was fun to do.

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