What do writers’ desks really look like?

Are messy desks really the sign of a creative mind? Is an empty desk the sign of an empty mind?

Writers often share carefully curated images of their writing desks on social media. If they want to make a good impression, or fear Desk Shame, they tidy and pretty their writing space, then snap the perfect shot. And share. I’ve done it, I’ll admit.

Here’s a picture of my desk right now. I have two – one for Serenity Press, and one for my personal writing. I swap and change between them in reality. Which one I use often depends on who is at home. This is the Serenity Press one and it’s a little messy, in my eyes. An empty snack container … business cards …

But most of the time, my desk is pretty tidy. I rarely leave it a complete mess because I have trouble working that way. For me, an organised workspace, free of clutter (that is, things that don’t benefit you to keep on display or at all), means a tidy mind. Free of distraction. Free to create. Free to be productive.

The same applies in my house. I hate mess. It’s how I am. It unsettles me and I like things to be in their place. And whenever I’m feeling unsettled, a good clean out soon sorts me out. It refreshes me. Weird? Maybe.

Trust me, I hate mess less than I used to! Four kids put paid to that. And I was never as bad as my German grandfather who kept a dustpan at the dinner table on the few occasions we ate dinner at his house as children. 

But despite my distaste for mess in my own space (people can do what they like in their own), I don’t quite ascribe to the ‘cluttered desk, cluttered mind’ analogy. My late grandfather would say that my desk is cluttered. I disagree.  

When I share a photo of my desk, tidy and pretty, it’s pretty close to the truth. Because my idea of clutter doesn’t mean empty – it just means it’s free of things that hinder my creative process. 

The picture of the typewriter on my desk? A treasured gift from one writer to another. It stays. Likewise the quotes that give me a mindset shift if and when needed. The vintage porcelain milk jug holding pens is something I picked up at a market. I like it. It stays. The book I finished two weeks ago? Shelve it, Monique. The bill I’ve already paid? File it.

While I like simplicity, I haven’t latched onto the minimalism trend whereby desks are near empty, save a laptop and a pen. Maybe a notepad, but after it’s used, it’s stored. Artfully, of course. 

I think I’m an in-betweener. Tidy with a liking for beautiful or meaninful things.

The obvious retort to the ‘cluttered desk, cluttered mind’ analogy is that if a desk is empty, so too is the mind. A quote along these lines is often attributed to Einstein – for an interesting article on whether that’s the case, click here.

What do you think?

A 2013 University of Minnesota study published in the journal Psychological Science found that, while tidy desks may promote healthy eating and generosity, messy desks may have their own benefits. Study participants in rooms where the desks were paper-strewn and the office was generally cluttered were found to be more creative. Via Fast Company.

There are plenty more studies and articles out there – just Google ‘messy desk creative’.

[bctt tweet=”Writers, it doesn’t really matter whether you are pro messy desk or clean desk. ” username=”MoniqueMulligan”]

What matters is that you find your way of being organised. Of being creative. Of getting in the zone.

Of filling those blank pages.

Telling your story.

That’s what’s important.

I asked my writer friends – and some famous writers I’d love to have as friends such as Marian Keyes, Joanne Harris, Sheila O’Flanagan and Monica McInerney – to be brave and share photos of their real desks. No editing, I said. I think some of them feared Desk Shame and ignored me.

Check out the pictures in the gallery below (click on them for bigger images). I’m still crossing my fingers that Dawn French and J.K. Rowling get back to me.

And tell me, in the comments, are you pro clean desk or messy desk? How does one way or the other help you to be the writer you are?

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Picture of Monique Mulligan

Monique Mulligan

2 Responses

  1. Having just moved into a new office / writing space with a shiny new desk, I’m trying to have an uncluttered space, but it soon creeps up on you, doesn’t it?

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