At an AWP panel last year, I heard a prominent writer, hidden in an audience of non-prominents, ask an editor on the panel how many literary fiction writers were able to make a living off their craft. The editor thought for a second before giving a figure so depressingly low, with such chilling authority, that it elicited a collective groan-sigh from the audience.
If your last name isn't Lahiri or Chabon or Franzen, chances are you have to work to support your writing. And in between loud apartments and hostile offices, figuring out where to scribble in peace can be as challenging as deciding what to scribble.
Stop me if you've heard this one: you live in a perfectly fine apartment, but for some reason, the mojo/muse/breath of Apollo/magic well water just isn't flowing. What is flowing is the hot water in the radiator, which keeps clanging, and the trundling delivery trucks on the street outside your window. You need a clean, well-lit place to work, and your apartment just isn't it. Where, in the Disney theme park that is 2012 New York, is a writer to write?
The first, and most expensive answer, is a writers' room. New York has more of these facilities than any other American city, according to About.com. Membership to the writers' room nearest my apartment costs $90/month for use after-working hours and on weekends, but runs up to $150 for full-time use. This is about average for most writers' rooms, and as one room advertises, that's equal to about one Starbucks drink a day.
That's no facile comparison either, since the favored writing space for many is the coffeeshop. But costs at the cafe can add up. Not to mention, coffee shops are becoming one of the more inhospitable places for the urban writer to ply her trade. With distractingly eclectic iPod shuffles playing overhead, general disregard for climate control, and obnoxious mobile telephone operators nearby, the New York coffee shop is poorly designed for one seeking a peaceful place to work. Some cafe managers in "high-traffic Starbucks locations in New York City" are reported to "have resorted to blocking access to electrical outlets," marrying writing time to battery life.
But it's not all hopeless. There's still the most affordable, most inviting option of all: libraries. There are private libraries, like the hidden gem at Pratt (pictured above), which only costs $100 for a year of regular access. And of course, there are our ever-resilient public libraries, which even Jonathan Safran Foer still chooses to call home. Plus, a new $1 billion plan to renovate the NYPL seems to focus largely on giving the main branch at Bryant Park a huge facelift and making the entire second floor a haven for writers and researchers. “We want this to be Writing Central for New York,” said Anthony Marx, the library's president.
That should make a lot of laptop squatters happy; our batteries can only hold so much juice.