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You Can’t Just Sit In A Woodshed

desk 1

“I had a close look at my desk just now and realized it wasn’t designed for quality writing.”
~Franz Kafka’s diary, Christmas Eve, 1910

I have become obsessed with how writers write.

Jonathan Franzen wrote The Corrections while wearing earplugs in a dark room with soundproof windows in Harlem.

Truman Capote wrote lying down in bed, with a cigarette and drink at his side.  (“I’ve got to be puffing and sipping.  As the afternoon wears on, I shift from coffee to mint tea to sherry to martinis.”)

Ray Bradbury wrote Fahrenheit 451 on a typewriter in the basement of the library at UCLA.  It cost 10 cents to rent the typewriter for half an hour, so he brought a bag of dimes.  Nine days and $9.80 later, he was done.

John Cheever wrote in the basement of his apartment building at a card table.  He wore a suit and tie in the elevator, but the basement was stifling so once he got down there he’d strip down to his underwear.

Maya Angelou checks into a hotel for the day with a bottle of sherry, a dictionary, a thesaurus, yellow pads, an ashtray and a Bible, and she writes on the bed until she has 12 pages.

Dave Eggers writes in a woodshed in his back yard.  He covers the window with a sheet so the sun doesn’t blind him.  (“So I’m looking at a gray sheet, which is nailed to the wall in two places and sags in the middle like a big, gray smile.  And the sheet is filthy.  And the shed is filthy.  If I left this place unoccupied for a week, it would become home to woodland animals.  They probably would clean it up first.”)

cranberriesI have nothing to add to this list, obviously, except to tell you that making three batches of cranberry salsa is a good way to not write anything.cranberry salsaBut you have to eat, right?  You can’t just sit in a woodshed in your underwear all day long, banging on a rickety typewriter and knocking back martinis.  I mean, check yourself before you wreck yourself.

So guys–if you know a writer, or anyone who may be in a woodshed drinking in their underwear for some other reason, you should probably check on them.  Bring them some chips and salsa.  This salsa can be tart or sweet depending on how much maple syrup and pineapple you want to use.  It tastes amazing with chips, chicken quesadillas, and writer’s block.  Enjoy!

Cranberry Salsa {Download & Print Recipe}
by some on-line source that I can’t find but was found at one point by a girl named Julianna who is friends with my friend Melissa.  Adapted by me and told in my own words.

This salsa can be tart or sweet or spicy depending on how much maple syrup and pineapple and lime you want to use.  A half cup maple syrup and a little pineapple will give you a salsa on the tarter side, where the cranberry really comes through, whereas 2/3 c. maple syrup and a whole can of pineapple will give you a pretty sweet salsa (think mango salsa).  If you make your salsa too sweet, just add lime until you get the balance you want.  I found that 2 jalapenos wasn’t hot at all. 


1 12-oz. bag of fresh cranberries, rinsed and mushy berries discarded

1/2 to 2/3 c.  (depending on whether you like your salsa sweet) pure maple syrup

2-3 jalapenos, seeded and finely chopped (I didn’t think 2 was hot at all)

1/2 c. minced onion

1/2 c. chopped cilantro (I used even more because I love cilantro)

2 ripe but firm pears or two small apples, finely chopped

1/2 c.  or more (depending on whether you like your salsa sweet) crushed pineapple (drained) or finely diced pineapple chunks

Juice of 2 or 3 limes (to taste)


Whiz the cranberries in a food processor (or chop very finely by hand).  Transfer them into a medium-sized mixing bowl and toss them with the maple syrup while you prepare the other ingredients.  Add the other ingredients.  Toss together.  Taste the salsa and adjust the ingredients as you like.   Serve!

Note: You may find that the salsa gets sweeter overnight.  If so, you can add more lime juice or jalapeno before you serve it again.


thunder 11.15There’s been, um, a slight dip in productivity in all quarters over here.

42 Comments Post a comment
  1. If find how writers write fascinating, too! It’s a little peek into how the magic happens. If you haven’t already, you should read Stephen King’s “On Writing”. It’s part memoir and part how-to-guide for writing. And of course, it has King’s classic hilarity. Such a good read!

    November 16, 2013
    • I have heard good things about that book but I haven’t read it and I’m actually going to Barnes and Noble today. (Unrelated, but I haven’t read the Virgin Suicides either, and that’s what I’m headed to pick up.) There’s a book coming out in 2014 called The Humor Code that I can’t wait to read. Apparently it’s two scholars who set out to determine what makes things funny. Anyway, thanks for the reminder, my friend!

      November 16, 2013
      • No problem! And that second books sounds really interesting.

        November 16, 2013
  2. Eggton I’ve been thinking about this stuff too! I feel like we are on the same wavelength about things except that you are more vegetable-friendly than I. I actually have to eat while I write– small candy is preferred, such as Reese’s Pieces. Also, I typically write on my laptop, on my couch, in PJs, with children crying and shouting in the background. And by background, I mean dancing around me and in my face.

    November 16, 2013
    • Mrs. Fly, we love Reese’s pieces over here, too. I got several huge bags of the little packages for Halloween, and I was bummed when the children took those instead of the Kit Kats. My writing candy of choice is the Twizzler. Preferably, Twizzlers that have been left on the counter in the air overnight. It makes them harder and more fun to yank with my teeth (for maximum writing distraction.)

      November 18, 2013
  3. That is a hilarious visual. I think a shed is akin to a fort or at least a close relation. If I had a fort that would make for a great place to write. I’ll have to try that recipe, it looks good.

    November 16, 2013
    • A writing fort would be so awesome–whether made out of sheets and pillows (indoors) or wood up in a tree (outdoors). I’d probably hop back and forth between the two depending on what I was writing (and, of course, winter.)

      November 18, 2013
  4. I second the recommendation of On Writing! I love hearing how writers write too! Great post and the salsa sounds delicious!

    November 16, 2013
    • I bought On Writing yesterday thanks to you guys!

      November 18, 2013
  5. Excellent and well timed post i think, i am in for the cranberry salsa, i have to write 5000 words today, make two meals for the 6 kids of a mother who has been carted off to hospital, pull apart one very large very wet bale of hay and hang it about like washing to dry, take some shots for tomorrow, the woodshed is looking pretty good! So I had better pour me a martini and get kepboard thummping.. anytime you wanna check on me come on over!! c

    November 16, 2013
    • Wow–5,000 words is daunting. How did it go?

      What meals did you make for the family whose mom is in the hospital?

      I don’t envy you the bale of hay, but when I got home from running errands yesterday, the basement was completely flooded. We were going to read and light a fire and relax but that plan drastically changed when we saw 5 inches of water lapping up against the washing machine. What a night!

      November 18, 2013
  6. I was going to recommend “On Writing,” but Liz beat me to the punch. Instead I’ll recommend the new Hyperbole and a Half book, not because it’s about writing, but because it will make you gigglesnort and because her brain-space is an interesting place to be. Sort of like the brain-space of someone who decided raw cranberries would be good with jalapenos and maple syrup.

    November 16, 2013
    • Oh man, I didn’t know the Hyperbole and a Half book was out! I’m glad you mentioned it because I’m totally going to get it for people for Christmas. I LOVE her style.

      I got On Writing yesterday. Can’t wait to start it.

      November 18, 2013
  7. Mrs Finkling #

    Yum!!!! great post…. i was a burgeoning writer once but my typewriter met a sticky end!!

    November 16, 2013
    • Man, I used to love writing on (more like playing around on) my mom’s typewriter (also in the 80s! Whoot!). I loved everything about it. Maybe we should get typewriters off of ebay and try again?

      November 18, 2013
      • Mrs Finkling #

        YES!! Totally, sounds like a plan! Typewriters were awesome!!

        November 18, 2013
  8. Love this post. Do you read I’m not sure if it’s distraction from writing or inspiration. I’m going to make this salsa!

    November 16, 2013
    • Betsy, I just checked them out and followed them on FB. Looks awesome. Thanks!

      November 18, 2013
  9. that first photo looks like my whole house and maybe that’s why i can’t write anything lately!

    November 16, 2013
    • Maybe we should rent a cabin in the woods and bring typewriters?

      Nevermind. We’d both sneak wine in our luggage and talk to each other the whole time.

      November 18, 2013
      • Either way- I’m in!

        November 20, 2013
  10. Great writer’s line-up… do whatch ya gotta do! I like the looks of this cranberry salsa- how about with a pork roast or on a slice of roast beef. I’m liking it a lot:)

    November 16, 2013
    • Wendy, it would be awesome with meat. It’s amazing witch chicken. I’m the kind of eater who sometimes mixes stuff on the plate together. (That’s probably not the trait of a discerning eater, but whatever). So I actually had some salsa with my spinach casserole the other day and thought it was awesome. Who knows.

      November 18, 2013
  11. jenny_o #

    As usual, all I can think of is how cute that darn dog is 🙂 I’m not a writer, just a commenter, but I can’t even come up with an intelligent comment because of Thunder’s cuteness. Good luck breaking out of writer’s block.

    November 16, 2013
    • Jenny, sometimes Thunder sits on my lap when I’m trying to write at the computer and I’m like “I don’t affirmatively know how to write, but this HAS to be bad writing hygiene.”

      November 18, 2013
  12. I’ve gotta start a “writing thing.” I have absolutely no routine. I bet that’s why I’m not a famous writer yet. We HAVE a shed. And there’s a milk crate in there that I could sit on. And 2.0 put styrofoam over the windows so our creepy (I mean SERIOUSLY CREEPY) neighbours can’t look in. And I like the idea of using up some of the booze that we have jammed in our kitchen cupboard.

    That’s it. I’m gunna drink, eat salsa and write in the shed today.

    You should probably notify some awards committees…

    November 17, 2013
  13. i have one to add: Neil Gaiman writes in a little closed in shed-type thing, almost a mini-cabin, in his snowy backyard up in Minnesota. Also he writes “on location” sometimes, so in eerie swamplands in Florida, etc. He’s also been known to stay at one of Tori Amos’s homes while he writes, because they are forever besties.
    did you know Jonathan Franzen is from here? He is. we all get very proud of him.
    cranberry salsa! i like it: there’s so much bite to cranberries, so what better way to showcase that.

    November 17, 2013
  14. Another vote for “On Writing.” My favorite, though, is Anne Lamott’s “Bird by Bird.” Funny, clear and very, very true.
    I think perfect writing spots require snoring animals, so you’re ahead of the game.

    November 17, 2013
    • Sandy Sue, I read Bird By Bird last year after I read on Orangette that it’s a really meaningful book for Molly Weisenberg. I loaned it to someone and I forget who, and I wish I could remember because I would love to re-read it.

      I got On Writing yesterday! Thanks for the recommendation!

      November 18, 2013
  15. Great post. I love your combination of musings, food and dog. As for me, I write all my stuff lying on the couch in the basement, with my laptop on my lap, supported by a pillow. No food, but there is a cat. I wish I could still write longhand, but that’s pretty much impossible for me after all these years of keyboard. I haven’t written anything substantial by hand (other than the occasional letter) since my college days, when I wrote things out and then typed them to turn in. On a real typewriter…

    November 17, 2013
  16. Stacy (Every Little Thing) #

    Glad to have found your blog via Shannon and her One Question project. I’m especially glad to have read this post. I have daydreams of my much coveted “Real Professional Writer” career and, if that should happen, I’ve decided to write in a snowy cabin in the woods with a variety of booze and potentially my husband (undecided at this point).

    Salsa looks fabulous! Might even make it for Thanksgiving. Thanks for posting!

    November 17, 2013
  17. Lemon Bars #

    This month’s NPR’s Backseat Book Club for kids featured Mathilda by Roald Dahl, and his daughter had some great memories of his writing habits and discipline.

    November 17, 2013
  18. krisanngentry #

    Fascinating and inspiring!

    Also, do you blend up the seeds, too?

    November 18, 2013
  19. Unlike you, I’ve no idea how real writers write, but I’ve got a 1001 ways about how NOT to write. The 1002nd way would be to try out your recipe.

    PS: I also live by the adage “check yourself before you wreck yourself”. Thanks for the post.

    November 18, 2013
  20. I love your recipe acknowledgement – online, but really, through a girl who told a friend, or whatever. That seems to be the way with recipes.
    And this salsa looks delicious! I get very interested in how writers write as well (in college, we gobbled up that information, hoping it might unlock our own secret combination of how to get words on a page – still no luck). But perhaps truer words have never been spoken than what you’ve written here: “You can’t just sit in a woodshed in your underwear all day long, banging on a rickety typewriter and knocking back martinis.” Word.

    November 18, 2013
  21. haha, I love all these different writing locations! So fun to read. It looks like Thunder’s got her writing style down pat. Lemme know when she completes her novel.
    I always wondered what you’re supposed to do with fresh cranberries, so that you for this wonderful recipe. I can’t wait to give it a try 🙂

    November 18, 2013
    • I know! I always think to myself “if I could just DRY this fresh cranberries, it could save me a lot of money.”

      November 18, 2013
  22. I am off to search for nearly nude, sherry-drinking writers in the basement of the UCLA library. Will report back.

    November 18, 2013
    • I wish it were possible to set this automatically as my facebook status for the next 6 months.

      November 18, 2013
  23. Vern Waters #

    Look for the book “The Writer’s Desk” by Jill Krementz. She is the widow of KurtVonnegut. The book is amazing photographs. Or you guys should come visit and you can look at my copy. Then we could talk about it. V

    November 20, 2013
  24. Loved this post. I also follow the fantastic brainpicker on twitter and there have been lots of recent tweets about writers on writing. I write at the kitchen table surrounded by a very similar environment to Mrs. Fly, and that is such a comfort. I have trained myself to get up early in the morning and write before my brain has caught up enough to criticize what I’m adding to the blank page. I’m not a morning person but this practice has served me very well. With writers block…sometimes I try to write through why I might be having it….stream of consciousness writing that often gets at the root of the issue (and turns out it has little to do with writing and more to do with self esteem – whoa, getting a little deep, so I’ll sign off). Good luck and look forward to more recipes.

    November 23, 2013
  25. I am so fascinated by this! Clearly, I need a better (more interesting) routine for my writing. For the most part I sit at an overly-messy desk and sip copious amounts of coffee (or sometimes tea), but that really isn’t anything new or inspiring. I also do some of my writing on my phone, lying in bed… this is because all the good thoughts seem to strike in the middle of the night when I’m trying to sleep, and is more by necessity than by choice.

    Also, this cranberry salsa is genius. Cranberries have so much zing to them, and I love the addition of the pineapple and pears. Yum!

    Also also, I don’t know how this is, but this is my first time stumbling upon your blog. I found you reading the comments of a few of my favorite food bloggers, and realized we were reading some of the same people. Since we seem to have something in common, I clicked over — and I am so glad I did! I love your style, and am looking forward to reading more. 🙂

    November 24, 2013

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