Scratching the Surface

I have a new desk!

Well, truthfully it’s not new. The person who gave it to me said it was built around 1926, June 7 of that year according to a part stamp, and used by one of the most prestigious attorneys in Paris, Texas. It weighs somewhere in the neighborhood of a buffalo, and cost me not a dime.

I already had a desk, because that’s an essential part of being a writer. Thinking back, my first “desk” was a dented gray typewriter table that held a portable Smith Corona typing machine, and half a ream of paper on the left fold out wing, and two or three typed and oft-corrected pages on the right one that were the result of an hours’ worth of work.

That was back when I worked in a public library after high school and junior college, and had to set it up when I got home after class each time I wanted to be creative. Wish I’d kept those horrible pages. Back then it was hard to tear myself away from the books I was reading in order to write, and when I was struggling to come up with just the right words, I wished I was reading.

My next desk was made from cinderblocks and a piece of three-quarter plywood that sat in a corner of my first apartment. Only marginally larger than the typing table, it also served as a impromptu bar during parties. I hate to say it, but that was the best use for it at the time.

From there I built an oak rolltop that worked better as a hand-writing surface. The nostalgic appearance of those classic old pieces of furniture is worth more than the desks themselves, which seems to collect a truck load of assorted detritus that never seemed to belong to me. It barely worked with the old manual typewriter, and my first 286 computer looked ridiculous perched on the narrow surface in front of tiny drawers and cubbyholes.

But in my mind, authors wrote at impressive desks and therefore, I needed the proper accoutrements. The search continued.

The Bride and I married in 1998, and set up housekeeping with mostly hand-me-down furniture. I still had my parents’ tiny wooden Sears and Roebuck kitchen table. I sanded it down, refinished the wood, and reupholstered the seat cushions. Finished, it looked like a dining room afterthought in my little office, but it served the purpose. I wrote my first novel there, alternately typing and staring out the window and onto our front yard.

The next three books were birthed on the same piece of antique furniture Mom and Dad bought in 1950. Our close friends Mike and Keri Miller must have gotten tired of looking at the table every time they came over, because Mike gave me his old desk when he bought a new one. Made somewhere around 2000, it was so heavy I was afraid I’d have to add a new pier to support the slab.

More books were created on that desk with a finish so easily scarred one of my grandkids marked it forever with her fingernails when she was pretending to be a dragon. I kept it though, because it was a serviceable work surface and by then I didn’t care what it looked like.

Fast forward to this year when my hunting buddy and inspiration for the Tucker Snow series (the first, Hard Country, releases August 3, 2023), Constable Rick Easterwood (Ret), almost begged me to take an antique desk his wife, Kim, had procured and refinished. To put it simply, the huge desk took up over half of his garage and he wanted it gone.

Stephen King talks about desks, both large and small, necessary and unnecessary, in his book, On Writing. I took his story to heart and never aspired to have a fancy piece of writing furniture. But when I went over to see the desk Rick called about, I decided I wanted it.

So I have a massive, antique piece of furniture the grandcritters call the Spider Desk, because the wood grain on one end looks exactly like a spider.

So does it help me writer better? Nope. I’ve written in my recliner, lying in bed, and on the console in my pickup. Once on a deer hunt, it was so cold I couldn’t stay in the woods. I started my truck’s engine and when the thermostat opened and glorious heat poured through the vents, I sat in the back seat with my legs protruding between the driver and passenger seats, resting them on that same console and wrote with a fury, holding the computer in my lap.

The new desk speaks to me. It’s a serviceable conversation piece that I write on, and I love the stinkin’ thing. I finished the second Tucker Snow, Achilles’ Heel, on The Spider.

Furniture isn’t important. The bookshelves, the desks, and whatever computer or writing device you use are simply additional instruments that help you unlock your imagination and get a novel on paper.

In my opinion, it isn’t the desk or its placement in the house or room that counts. It’s the fact that you have to put your rear in a seat somewhere, turn off the television and stuff that infernal device we call a phone deep down into a well somewhere and get to work.

Should I make that clearer? Turn the phone off, get away from social media, and show up for work on whatever surface works for you.

With that said, do you have a precious piece of furniture to write on, and do you feel it’s essential to your creative process?

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About Reavis Wortham

Two time Spur Award winning author Reavis Z. Wortham pens the Texas Red River historical mystery series, and the high-octane Sonny Hawke contemporary western thrillers. His new Tucker Snow series begins in 2022. The Red River books are set in rural Northeast Texas in the 1960s. Kirkus Reviews listed his first novel in a Starred Review, The Rock Hole, as one of the “Top 12 Mysteries of 2011.” His Sonny Hawke series from Kensington Publishing features Texas Ranger Sonny Hawke and debuted in 2018 with Hawke’s Prey. Hawke’s War, the second in this series won the Spur Award from the Western Writers Association of America as the Best Mass Market Paperback of 2019. He also garnered a second Spur for Hawke’s Target in 2020. A frequent speaker at literary events across the country. Reavis also teaches seminars on mystery and thriller writing techniques at a wide variety of venues, from local libraries to writing conventions, to the Pat Conroy Literary Center in Beaufort, SC. He frequently speaks to smaller groups, encouraging future authors, and offers dozens of tips for them to avoid the writing pitfalls and hazards he has survived. His most popular talk is entitled, My Road to Publication, and Other Great Disasters. He has been a newspaper columnist and magazine writer since 1988, penning over 2,000 columns and articles, and has been the Humor Editor for Texas Fish and Game Magazine for the past 25 years. He and his wife, Shana, live in Northeast Texas. All his works are available at your favorite online bookstore or outlet, in all formats. Check out his website at “Burrows, Wortham’s outstanding sequel to The Rock Hole combines the gonzo sensibility of Joe R. Lansdale and the elegiac mood of To Kill a Mockingbird to strike just the right balance between childhood innocence and adult horror.” —Publishers Weekly (starred review) “The cinematic characters have substance and a pulse. They walk off the page and talk Texas.” —The Dallas Morning News On his most recent Red River novel, Laying Bones: “Captivating. Wortham adroitly balances richly nuanced human drama with two-fisted action, and displays a knack for the striking phrase (‘R.B. was the best drunk driver in the county, and I don’t believe he run off in here on his own’). This entry is sure to win the author new fans.” —Publishers Weekly “Well-drawn characters and clever blending of light and dark kept this reader thinking of Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes, and Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird.” —Mystery Scene Magazine

26 thoughts on “Scratching the Surface

  1. Your Spider desk sounds wonderful.

    The only big desk I have is at the office and I use every square inch of that thing.

    I’ve always wanted an antique rolltop desk. I love them. I love antique desks in general. They feel different.

    When it’s dark outside, I use a lap desk, light a candle, and sit in my corner of the couch to write. The cat usually sits on the sofa arm beside me. Today she’s on my lap because I took the dog to Gemini Springs yesterday and she’s still mad about that.

    When it’s pretty I’m out at my garden desk. I think better outside with the breeze and birdsong. I always have.

    • I’ve always enjoyed writing outside, but here in Texas, those days are numbered. It’s usually too windy, cold, humid, hot and then it starts all over, and that’s in one week…

  2. I’m not fussy about the desk itself, as long as it’s in my “office.” When we moved to the mountains, Hubster and I claimed a “bedroom” as our offices. We’d brought very little furniture with us, so I shopped for a new desk. It’s cherry, and has a ‘return’ so it takes up a good chunk of space but gives me plenty of room to spread out. I bought an ergonomic adjustable six ways from Sunday chair, and quickly learned that all the knobs and handles whacked the heck out of the desk, but I’m not ready to have the whole thing refinished. Those are love scars.
    What’s more important for me in my writing process is my PC with 2 monitors and a full-sized keyboard, which I have to replace regularly because I apparently hold my hands “wrong” and I wear out the letters. Blame it on learning to type in 8th grade on an old Underwood. (Or was it a Remington). But I can’t seem to be productive on a laptop. I need the real estate of my 27 inch main monitor.

    • I didn’t think about my chair! It’s just as old as the desk, and I got it decades ago from my granddad who is the foundation for my Red River books. It came from the Paris Courthouse and I recently sanded it down and refinished it. This old treasure’s one of those wooden jobs with arms. I can lean back in it but the seat is hard as concrete. After I got tired of it being a pain in the you know what, I bought a jell cushion and it’s great!

      • I find it difficult to type in a chair with arms. Mine have all come with them, and I’ve always left them off when assembling.

  3. I have a nice desk in my home office, but it will not stay clean. It seems every time I make it neat and tidy, almost overnight, detritus grows upon it like kudzu. Papers, notes, stray envelopes, books, and other miscellany appear like sprouts on a Chia pet. But yes, there’s a very nice desk underneath.

    • That’s because it’s a flat surface, and they attract everything that people carry. Mine’s the same way and I often have to launch archaeological digs. The Bride loves little saucer-like dishes and platters and trays of all kinds. She sets them out for people to see, and a week later they’re full of costume jewelry, screws, hair ties, tiny kid’s toys, seeds(?), pens, earrings, and unidentifiable parts for things I’ve never seen.

  4. I don’t need a certain kind of desk but I prefer it to be spacious–which is not what I currently have set up.

    My favorite desk is one of those U-shaped desks–I loved having the central section to seat the desktop computer, monitor and printer, and then the 2 sides to either house books I was referring to or space to work with printed pages.

    My most inspiring office space was about 3 apartments ago–the small dining area did not have carpet but wooden flooring, and is the only apartment I’ve ever lived in that had built in bookshelves–HEAVEN! Man, with my big U-desk, those built in book shelves, wood flooring, and being able to look to the left out of my windows at the landscaping, it was totally awesome. Thankful this post brought that lovely workspace to mind!

    But as rents have continued to skyrocket, my spaces have continued by necessity to shrink & both that ideal office area and U-shaped desk are gone. I now have a 2′ X 4′ wood plank laid over the top of 2 short metal shelf sets to maximize space. While the wood plank is neither deep enough nor wide enough (2 monitors are necessity for me nowadays), it is serviceable. My bigger issue is the lighting in the living room isn’t the greatest and have had to do some workarounds for that. But the arrangement gets the job done and that’s what matters.

    • Sometimes I think the search and evolution of writing spaces is just as much fun as writing. And you’re right, we make them fit, because it’s where we are at that particular point in life.

  5. I still have the desk I wrote my first short story on, using a greenish Hermes portable typewriter. Thank God for computers! I am the world’s worst typist.

    But now I use one of those desks that raise and I like it very much.

    • One of my son-in-laws has a stand up desk. I’m too lazy. I like to sit and type, and you’re right. I was a fair-to-middlin’ typist and made money in college typing up people’s papers, but it all took off when I got my first computer. There was no looking back after that!

    • Outstanding!

      Those kinds of things are treasures. I only recently had to turn loose of the first present the Bride ever bought me. It was a nice leather briefcase that finally fell apart, but never mind, I retired and didn’t need it any longer.

  6. My writing desks have always been portable banquet tables. Metal tables with faux wood surfaces where the legs fold out and lock. My current one is six-feet long which is perfect for my desktop and printer with space on the right side to collect detritus. I spent real money on my office chairs.

    • That’s one of the things I like about this desk. It’s the largest I’ve ever had and I can pile stacks of papers everywhere, along with thousands of notes, photos, retired coffee cups full of pens, a lamp, an antique kerosene lamp, and a few writing awards. Yet there’s still room for note pads, a vase full of feathers, the Mac computer along with the laptop, and of course, a Far Side calendar the grandcritters gave me for Christmas.

      THen there’s more pages, the mouse, two coffee cups that need washing…

  7. I have a very nice desk that my husband had built for me. (He was my biggest promotor, heaven help you if you were in the book rack aisle of the grocery store when I had a book out) A U shape like BK, with a tall bookcase on the back side and a cubby for my desktop computer just to my left. I still use it in the office he also built for me. It’s a big reason why I’m still in this house years after he passed. So yeah, emotional attachment.

    But I confess, I’m with Jim. Sometimes the only way I’m sure the desk is still there is that something has to be holding all that stuff up….

    • You’re right, desks are wonderful and useful to hold…stuff, but there are days you need to escape to another room and frolic with the laptop on the couch or in a chair.

  8. My desk – the first actual desk I’ve had in forever (previous were slabs of wood or old countertop supported by dressers or bookcases that you assemble yourself) – was bought from the wife of Dr. Richard Clark – and is a very decent L-shaped desk with space for a matching bookcase which holds the printer, scanner, and other stuff. We moved to a retirement community, and Dollie Clark was moving to Assisted Living and had no room for her husband’s desk. $100.

    LOTS of space, extended by a matching file cabinet, and right by a window. Now bolstered by six short bookcases, EVERYTHING I really need to write is within reach.

    And that’s the important part. Need a craft book or printer paper – it’s right there. Need to plug something in – the bookcases are open at the back and I can place the power adapter where I need it. Need to add the new laptop to the big monitor and the old laptop – ready-made space on top of those little bookcases.

    I never met Dr. Clark – but am grateful to both of them, and remember them fondly when I think of it. And no one else wanted this very nice and only slightly battered desk. As I’m the only novelist here, I like to think it was waiting for me.

    • I don’t want anything brand new, because it’ll get dinged up. As Ben and Erin Napier, the stars of Home Town on HGTV say, “I like a little dinge.”

  9. My first office was a one bedroom apartment. I had it organized perfectly. Wood desk with a thick laminate top, 5 drawers. Bookcase, fire cabinet. But at that age, 24, I had no need for an office. I’ve never been so organized, since. Time passed. My son has the old desk, now a “mid-Century” antique.
    My office is now a corner of the living room, looking out at the back yard, grass, ivy, squirrels. I have a solid pine trestle table, 29″ by 48″, under a massive computer, a timer, pencil cup, mouse, eyedrops, and assorted papers, cryptic notes, maps, diagrams, and eight-by-ten colour glossy photographs with circles and arrows and a paragraph on the back of each one. Legend has it there is a printer that ran out of cyan ink 5 years ago, under all that.

  10. Good evening, Rev.

    I agree with you. The desk is just another tool in the writer’s toolbox. I’ve written on our dining room table, a small desk, in my recliner, etc.

    Having said that, my husband bought me a six-foot desk a few years ago. I love it. I keep my Windows laptop on the main desk, and my Mac on the left pull-out. Although the desktop is loaded to a few inches deep with papers, pens, trays, and all sorts of writing stuff, at least things don’t fall off the ends any more.

    • It’s funny how many of us talk about how desks collect…stuff. The only time I clean it off is when I submit my last eat manuscript in preparation of starting the next one.

  11. My desk is unbearably modern, techno, and practical for someone who writes on a desktop. I can’t say I love it, but my home office is pretty well set up, comfortable and organised, so I won’t complain too much.

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