Who Wrote at Standing Desks? Kierkegaard, Dickens and Ernest Hemingway Too

Kierkegaard appar­ent­ly did his best writ­ing stand­ing up, as did Charles Dick­ensWin­ston Churchill, Vladimir Nabokov and Vir­ginia Woolf. Also put Ernest Hem­ing­way in the stand­ing desk club too.

In 1954, George Plimp­ton inter­viewed Hem­ing­way for the lit­er­ary jour­nal he co-found­ed the year before, The Paris Review. The inter­view came pref­aced with a descrip­tion of the nov­el­ist’s writ­ing stu­dio in Cuba:

Ernest Hem­ing­way writes in the bed­room of his house in the Havana sub­urb of San Fran­cis­co de Paula. He has a spe­cial work­room pre­pared for him in a square tow­er at the south­west cor­ner of the house, but prefers to work in his bed­room, climb­ing to the tow­er room only when “char­ac­ters” dri­ve him up there…

The room is divid­ed into two alcoves by a pair of chest-high book­cas­es that stand out into the room at right angles from oppo­site walls.…

It is on the top of one of these clut­tered bookcases—the one against the wall by the east win­dow and three feet or so from his bed—that Hem­ing­way has his “work desk”—a square foot of cramped area hemmed in by books on one side and on the oth­er by a news­pa­per-cov­ered heap of papers, man­u­scripts, and pam­phlets. There is just enough space left on top of the book­case for a type­writer, sur­mount­ed by a wood­en read­ing board, five or six pen­cils, and a chunk of cop­per ore to weight down papers when the wind blows in from the east win­dow.

A work­ing habit he has had from the begin­ning, Hem­ing­way stands when he writes. He stands in a pair of his over­sized loafers on the worn skin of a less­er kudu—the type­writer and the read­ing board chest-high oppo­site him.

Pop­u­lar Sci­ence, a mag­a­zine with roots much old­er than the Paris Review, first began writ­ing about the virtues of stand­ing desks for writ­ers back in 1883. By 1967, they were explain­ing how to fash­ion a desk with sim­ple sup­plies instead of fork­ing over $800 for a com­mer­cial mod­el — a hefty sum in the 60s, let alone now. Ply­wood, saw, ham­mer, nails, glue, var­nish — that’s all you need to build a DIY stand-up desk. Or, as Papa Hem­ing­way did, you could sim­ply  throw your writ­ing machine on the near­est book­case and get going. As for how to write the great Amer­i­can nov­el, I’m not sure that Pop­u­lar Sci­ence offers much help. But maybe some advice from Hem­ing­way him­self will steer you in the right direc­tion. See Sev­en Tips From Ernest Hem­ing­way on How to Write Fic­tion.

For more on the ben­e­fits of the stand­ing desk, see this post from the Har­vard Busi­ness Review.

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