Author Workspace: Twist Phelan
Describe my workspace? That’s not the easiest question to answer, at least not for me.
Four years ago, I had a idea for a mystery series featuring a private spy. That was about the same time I decided to live in hotels and Airbnbs around the world for six to seven months of the year. Perhaps not the best combination for a writer used to working in her “garret,” a small room at the top of the stairs in our house, chosen because its clerestory windows meant I would not be distracted by a view.
I lived on an ocean-going boat during my thirties, and knew the peripatetic life would be a good fit for me. But what about writing? How would I manage without my electronic adjustable sit/stand desk, my Mirra chair, my desktop Mac, my favorite contemporary art on the walls?
Just fine, as it turns out.
For the first three years I relied on an iPad mini and portable keyboard as stand-ins for my desktop computer. The keyboard wasn’t used as much as you might expect; I can’t type. Really. (If I had to rely on my finger speed and accuracy to put my ideas on paper, I’d be lucky to turn out a book every five years. And thy’d al reead liak thiss.) Instead (thank you, Dragon software), I dictated everything. This past year I changed out the mini for a MacBook Air, but the process remains the same. And when it comes to plotting (I am an outliner), I go retro: paper and pen.
In terms of a replacement for the garret, that’s been all over the board…and the world. During the past four years, I’ve traveled close to three-quarters of a million miles through forty-plus countries. I’ve stayed in everything from castles and five-star hotels to a cave (Greece), converted shipping container (Denmark), and igloo (Canada).
Planes and especially trains are favorite workplaces. Balconies are good, as is poolside, especially when it is out of season, or the hotel breakfast room (later in the day). Haven’t yet mastered the coffee shop or café as a workspace; I am too easily distracted by the other customers and their conversations.
Has this been good for my writing? On balance, yes. I’ve learned to write faster; having Milan or Oslo or Hong Kong or Sydney at your doorstep is a great incentive to hit the daily word count sooner rather than later. Each change of location jumpstarts my creativity. And research is much easier. My new Finn Teller series is set in different cities around the world. It’s rather nice to be able to go out and walk Dubrovnik rather than rely on notes from a past visit or internet images.
What about that fancy desk and chair in the garret back home? That’s where I do rewriting between trips.
So back to the original request: Describe your workspace. The long answer? The world. The short? Here: