Where I Write: Dachgeschoss
I write at a desk in a penthouse in Berlin. We call it the Dachgeschoss, but it means the same thing: all of the stairs, then all of the light streaming in to make the climb worthwhile. I live alone. To anyone who thinks this combination means I should have finished writing a dozen novels by now, I say hush. You don’t know what you’re talking about. This city is full of distraction.
My desk looks out onto a balcony where, in the summer, I grow tomatoes and sling a hammock and invite friends to come drink cheap pink supermarket Sekt. I can see blue tits and clouds and a lime tree, but mainly I try to peer inside my neighbours’ windows (nobody in Berlin uses curtains) or watch the smokers who’ve been banished to the balconies.
The wall next to my desk is covered in paper: postcards from far-flung friends, flyers from exhibitions, quotes from writers, and photographs of topless women reading books. Also, Marilyn on the last page of Ulysses. They’re there to remind me, when I’m wont to be waylaid by the internet: finish writing your book, Jane. How are pretty ladies ever going to read your book if you don’t finish writing it?
Finish writing your book, Jane. How are pretty ladies ever going to read your book if you don’t finish writing it?
I have typewritten notes-to-self to remind me how to cure the ennui: “Be a character in a country music song. Break someone’s heart, just a little bit.” “Don’t be afraid to be overheard.” “Stop going online. There’s nothing to see there.”
There is a letter Tom Robbins wrote to me. It begins, “Thanks be to the gods and goddesses and lost lords of ink and laughter that you pushed ‘proper’ literature with its dreary little dramas of domestic discord down the cellar stairs and gave yourself to the whirlwind.” Any time I think that maybe I should be writing more Serious Literature—that I should give the metaphors a rest for a while and try out minimalism for size—I check myself with that letter. Embrace the whirlwind, Jane.
My writing devices are a laptop and a green Princess Standard typewriter and a variety of notebooks, each filled less than a third and then jettisoned in favour of new notebooks that will be The Perfect Notebook—the one that will inspire all the words to come. The Princess Standard is mainly for romantic appeal and long letters, and the laptop is equipped with a range of programmes capable of disabling the internet, for when it is necessary to disable the internet, which is always.
This is the environment I have created for writing: a series of tricks and reminders to prod me back into place whenever I get distracted by the bright shiny world. It’s not foolproof, but I know I’m pretty lucky. It’s the best place for writing I’ve ever had.