Inside the writer's studio

Kevin Nance is a Chicago-based freelance writer whose work appears in the Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, Poets & Writers Magazine and elsewhere.

Christine Sneed

Fiction writer Christine Sneed ("Portraits of a Few of the People I've Made Cry," "Little Known Facts") writes in a home office right off her kitchen in Evanston, which is highly conducive to snacking. "In my former apartment, the kitchen was on the other end, so I wasn't snacking nearly as much as I do now," she says guiltily. Still, her working space is her sanctum and refuge. "I don't know how people write in cafes," she says. "I'm much more focused when I'm not being distracted by movement or music or other people's conversations." Best of all is that when she's writing at home, she has a number of special objects in sight: family photos, a book made of marble and a small gargoyle named Bertrand the Bookmonster, a gift from her father years ago. "He fell off the shelf once and broke his ear," Sneed says. "I just taped it right back on."

Scott Turow

Novelist Scott Turow ("Presumed Innocent," "Personal Injuries") writes at a large, cluttered desk with a credenza in a converted bedroom in his Evanston home. He isn't extremely particular about where he works — "Obviously I'm happier at home," he says. "But I'll write on trains, planes and automobiles" — nor does he need a lot of space. "I've written in everything from a closet to a much larger room," he says. "But it doesn't matter much either way." That said, he does have precious keepsakes on his main desk that he likes to keep within view. One is a ceramic shaving mug that once belonged to his grandfather and which Turow uses as a pencil holder; the other is an inkwell made from a gargoyle mounted on a piece of marble, which his uncle gave him. Both, he explains, "are from men who meant a lot to me."

Audrey Niffenegger

Novelist Audrey Niffenegger ("The Time Traveler's Wife," "Her Fearful Symmetry") works in a book-filled room in her stately Victorian home on Chicago's West Side. She keeps a lot of things on her desk, including certain members of an ever-growing menagerie of stuffed animals. But Niffenegger is unsentimental about her things. "I also write in hotel rooms and wherever I happen to be," she says. "And it would be cumbersome to haul talismans around." She does, however, have a favorite object on her desk: a small plaster head. "It was meant for the head of a saint, one of those figures in a church that are dressed so ornately," she says. "She would have been painted, but perhaps she is defective somehow because she has been left plain. She has a faraway gaze and a small smile that I find pleasing."

Rebecca Skloot

Nonfiction writer Rebecca Skloot ("The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks") works in a beautiful converted attic in Edgewater with built-in bookshelves that fit under the eaves. She has two computer screens, one for sitting and another for use while walking on her treadmill. "I do so much sitting that I was starting to feel it in my muscles and my bones," she says. "Being a health and science writer, I follow all the latest research, and one of the latest things is that even if you exercise for an hour or so but sit most of the rest of the day, it negates that. So I find I spend most of my time on the treadmill." The average speed for people working this way is 1 to 1.5 miles per hour, but Skloot scoots along at 2.5 miles per hour. "I even wear a pedometer," she says a little apologetically. "So I know how many steps I take in a day."

Edward Kelsey Moore

Novelist Edward Kelsey Moore ("The Supremes at Earl's All-You-Can-Eat") has a desk in his home office, but he doesn't use it to write fiction. Instead, he sits in a comfortable chair in the corner with a laptop on his knees. "Usually the desk is just piled with stuff," he says sheepishly. "So I don't have room to write there." But this unorthodox arrangement works out fine, because the room also doubles as a music room for Moore, a professional cellist. Typically he writes for 90 minutes or so, then moves to a different chair and practices the cello for a while. "It's very calming," he says. "If my mind wanders too much and the writing is not going well, I find that if I take a break and practice for a while, I get my focus back. So it works out."

Jonathan Eig

Nonfiction writer Jonathan Eig ("Opening Day: The Story of Jackie Robinson's First Season," "Get Capone") works in a home office that once doubled as a laundry room. Now it's a bright, airy room filled with books, folders, file cabinets and artwork by Eig's children, who commandeer the room when their dad isn't using it. He's not superstitious, he says, but he does enjoy his collection of bobblehead dolls of the subjects of Eig's three biographies (Robinson, Capone and Lou Gehrig). "I used to say that if a guy doesn't have a bobblehead, he's not worth writing about," he says. "I can't really say that anymore, because there's no Margaret Sanger bobblehead." (Eig is working on a book about the invention of the birth-control pill.)

Kathleen Rooney

Poet Kathleen Rooney ("Robinson Alone," "Oneiromance") writes, standing on a thick book, in a solarium overlooking the street in her third-floor Edgewater apartment. "There's something about being on the third floor which feels like a writerly perspective," she says. "I feel I write better when I'm higher up than when I'm on the first floor." Although Rooney tries not to indulge in "magical thinking" with regard to writing — "which I think could lead to a belief in things like writer's block," she says — she does keep a statue of the Hindu god Ganesh, "the remover of obstacles," on her desk, as well as a couple of lucky wristbands, "which I wear when I'm writing something really, really hard."

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