How My Relationship with Writing Changed When I Finally Bought a Desk
On habit-forming and the importance of intention.
My first room in New York didn’t have any windows, much less room for a desk. I positioned my bed under the singular source of light -- a rectangular skylight with bars across the glass -- and let the moonbeams wash over my face as I fell asleep. In retrospect I romanticize an otherwise cramped space; one in which I struggled through my first few months in New York, sometimes barely making rent, not really writing anything of note but finally growing up for what felt like the first time (though probably not the last).
That was 2015, and four apartments later I am sifting through old notebooks and journals in the new apartment that I share with my partner in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn. I write this from our desk, of course -- as the first item we bought together for our new home, it feels special and emblematic of this season of my life, one which has been characterized by abundance in both love and work. It’s beautiful, too, and I can’t help but sometimes pause on my way out of the door and admire the craftsmanship; its wide, expansive caramel-colored wooden surface, how it feels so solid and durable, like it will be with us for a very long time. I wonder about its past owners -- who was writing on this desk in the 70s, or 80s? What did they deem worthy of note? How many people have run their hands over this smooth surface and also felt the electricity that comes with feeling at the onset of something new?
For all of my idealizing, there have also been practical implications of actually owning a surface on which I can work. I am making a daily habit of writing consistently, always seated at the same desk, with the same sunlight hitting the right side of my face -- and all this ritual regularity has improved my focus beyond belief. Science tells us it takes 30 days to form a new habit, that routines help give structure to otherwise unstructured desires, and that it’s the literal completion of the task that counts (so, it’s about adhering to the structure of the habit more so than optimizing your output). The most obvious example of this is a fitness goal -- in order to achieve weight loss or increased endurance, we are advised to start by simply getting out of bed and going to the gym with consistency. In other words, don’t go looking for a marathon -- just set your sights on starting with a single mile.
Similarly, in my case, it’s not a question of whether or not I’m writing the next Great American Novel at 7:30 am on a Friday morning (I’m quite sure I’m not), but rather, about forming the habit of simply writing, every day. I love habits for the same reason I love rituals: both are tools that we use to shape our daily lives and establish a rhythm, a cadence, a way of working that feels both organic and productive.
There’s a new addition to our very old desk: we recently made a trip up north to my partner’s alma mater in New Hampshire, stopped by her old jewelry studio, and came back to Brooklyn with two tiny gold plates engraved with our initials. They’re now nailed onto the inside of each top drawer; when I pull out the right hand drawer this morning, three shiny letters greet me, and I’m struck by the tiny, simple pleasure of laying claim to that which is ours.
For all my talk about consistency and routine, sometimes the best way to spark a new idea or rejigger my perspective is to get a change of scenery. I don’t belong to a coworking space, so there are quite a few cafes that I frequent instead. Here’s a short list of good spots in NYC to get work done.