Write Here: Nell Zink

WriteHere‘Write Here’ takes us into our authors’ writing spaces across the globe, where they tell us about how they go about their craft. We mark each location on the map at the bottom of each post. In this edition, Nell Zink from Bad Belzig gives us a glimpse into the life of a writing junkie…


‘I write habitually. I write compulsively. I’m sure I’m not alone in that. The world is full of people with urgent things to say and no one to listen. I have friends! It’s just that so far none of them has expressed a wish to hear me tell the same story for fifteen hours straight. When soliloquizing at length, you’re safer with strangers, and they’re safer with you. Where a friend might say, “We need to talk, because I feel I can no longer endure your gratuitous complexity, trite pseudo-radicalism, and ultimate vacuity,” a stranger can chuck you in the recycling and forget you were ever born.

It recently came to my attention that I had arranged my entire life to (a) enable and (b) hide my addiction. The two urges – enabling and hiding -are in conflict. As a guilt-laden, furtive junkie, I lack a proper ergonomic workstation. Right now it would be good for my health to own a ventilated desk chair with headrest and footrest, a large and bright monitor, and a wireless keyboard. But such a rig would take up a third of my room, and I rent only one room. Strangers – were strangers ever to enter my home, an hour south of Berlin in the middle of nowhere or, as we say in America, in West BF – would see immediately that I style myself a writer.

So for fifteen solid years I’ve been writing on a laptop. What a mistake. I sit on my mattress on the floor, prop up a pillow behind me, pull the laptop onto my lap, and write. A few weeks later, I get up, say something like MY BRAIN IS FRIED WHY CAN’T I FEEL MY HANDS and send the new document to a friend, editor, or agent, depending on what it is. Then I go jogging. After one mile, I remember that I forgot to eat or drink anything that day after eight a.m. I fantasize about future social successes by imagining people I know reading certain lines and scenes (this is literally true). Like I said, this is West BF, deep in the woods. No one can see me. My secret thoughts are known only to those reading them right now.

Other people who write on laptops take advantage of their portability by writing in cafes. It might be good for my health if someone came around every twenty minutes and said, “Are you sure you don’t want to order anything? We’re clearing this section for dinner. Go home. You look terrible.” There are cafés in Berlin famous for their literary clienteles. But I can see the ergonomic home workstation on the horizon. I’m no longer at risk of being exposed as a poseur if someone sees it, because I’m a novelist now. A real, live professional novelist! I novelize for a living! And you’d be surprised at how many people and publications – even very prominent ones you’d think would be more sensible – want photos of the space where I work. It might be nice if it weren’t all lumpy pillows and rumpled sheets. They might even print one of the photos someday.’

Nell Zink’s ‘The Wallcreeper’ and ‘Mislaid’ are published together as a box set today.

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