The Comfort Factor

HadSheButKnown (208x300)Kaitlyn Dunnett here. This was going to be a post about Mary Roberts Rinehart (1876-1958), one of the earliest and most successful American women mystery writers. When I realized she qualified as a Maine writer, I hunted up a copy of her biography, Had I But Known, written by another outstanding Maine mystery writer, Charlotte MacLeod, and started reading. Although Mary was from Pennsylvania, she rented a house on an island off the coast of Maine in 1924 and later, after her husband’s death, made Bar Harbor her summer home. From 1936 until the wildfires of 1947 destroyed her house (and some 250 others), she lived and wrote in Maine for part of every year. Her novels The Yellow Room and The Wall are both set in coastal communities with a lot in common with Bar Harbor. 

charlottemacleodBut along the way, as so often happens, I got sidetracked. Since Had She But Known is written by one writer about the life of another writer, there are a number of places where Charlotte MacLeod the novelist (shown here) peeps out from behind Charlotte MacLeod the biographer to comment on writers in general. The writer in me found a lot to identify with in these asides. One in particular got me thinking.

MissPinkerton (186x300)Charlotte is writing about a period in Mary’s life in 1931 when she, in desperation, checked herself into a health spa for three weeks in order to have privacy enough to write the novel Miss Pinkerton. Mary never left her two rooms during those weeks and only opened the door to trays of food and to let in the masseuse who came once a day to “rub away the writer’s cramp,” since she wrote in longhand with a fountain pen using a nine-foot banqueting board propped up on trestles as a desk. Charlotte speculates that Mary did most of her work in a nightgown and robe, as Charlotte herself was wont to do.

“Not getting dressed,” Charlotte writes, “is a double benefit for a writer; it allows the ideas to flow without such irritating constraints as a tight waistband and also keeps the author from traipsing off on some pretext of other instead of sitting there doggedly dredging up the elusive mot juste and getting it down on paper before the slippery syllables slither away.”

Boy can I relate to that!

I work in sweatpants and t-shirts in summer, sweatpants and sweatshirts in winter. And yes, sometimes, in nightgown and robe. And sock feet, of course. My toes want to be comfortable, too. 

a much younger me working in "comfort clothes"

a much younger me working in “comfort clothes”

It’s all about comfort and not being distracted from the writing. I’m most comfortable seated in front of my pc. Others have standing desks, or sit on one of those big exercise balls (I’d fall right off!) Some writers prefer to curl up on the sofa with their laptops. These days, a few are even writing exclusively on tablets. Curiously, though, I also know a good many successful novelists who are comfortable writing in clothing (and shoes) that would be sheer torture for me. Some even get up in the morning and put on what they used to wear to “real” jobs, dressy business suits with high heels and make-up, just to walk a few feet to an in-home office and sit down at the computer.

I find all this variety fascinating, so chime in, fellow writers: what do you wear to write in? And which is more important when you’re working, comfort or what other people think of the way you are dressed?

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5 Responses to The Comfort Factor

  1. Jule Dupre says:

    Thanks Kaitlyn – just what I needed: more good books to buy! As for the rather interesting question of which clothes I wear when I write, it is not an issue with me. I often write when I have a compulsion to write which requires attention. Thus I tend to get into a trance, time ceases to exist and I am not really aware of what clothes I am wearing. However, the concept of having someone deliver food to me on a regular basis is intriguing. If I had that available to me, I wonder if I would ever surface again….or would my fossilized, petrified body merely be found years later, along with the speculation that someone might have actually dun me in…???

  2. Lea Wait says:

    Definitely. comfy for writing! And warm in the winter, cool in the summer.I wear sweat pants and T-shirts in the summer; sweats and flannel shirts (often lined) in the winter, and socks and comfy ankle-high bedroom slipper “boots”. And, what fun to know Rinehart had a Maine connection! When my mother was in high school she lived down the street from Rinehart in Sewickley, PA, a suburb of Pittsburgh. Fun post!

  3. Fascinating. I’ve read a few of Mary Roberts Rinehart’s books, but a long time ago. My mother was a big fan of her mysteries. Thanks for the memory.

  4. Kate Flora says:

    My very first panel at Malice Domestic was with Charlotte and I was petrified. I asked Barbara Peters for advice and she said, don’t be pushy, be deferential, and she will bring you out…

    It was wonderful. Such an honor to have been on panels with so many of the authors I admire! And I’m going to get to interview you…the Guest of Honor, at Malice this year.

    Had I but known…those many years ago.

  5. Sennebec says:

    Two things I’m looking forward to in retirement: clothing optional (rule waived when shopping and walking out to the mailbox) and not shaving at all for days on end. Actually, the clothing optional rule will morph into loose, not particularly clean and comfy as all get out. I completely agree with foot comfort, but I have a cat who works awfully well in the evening.

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