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Vertical or Horizontal?

Andrew Boryga / Thursday, February 25, 2010 Comments Off


Nabokov at work

Nabokov at work


Some of the greatest writers of our time have neglected the conventional image of a writer at his desk and opted instead for more unorthodox approaches.

Vladimir Nabokov wrote standing up at a lectern. He also wrote longhand, and only on index cards, so as to write scenes non-sequentially.

Philp Roth took Nabokov’s lead and added movement to his repertoire –– Roth claims to walk a half a mile for every page he writes.

Then there’s Tom Wolfe,. Wolfe was 6 feet 6 inches tall, so his reasoning for standing up might have been less about innovation than it was about finding a desk that wouldn’t destroy his knees.


Then there were the horizontal writers.

Maybe the most horizontal of them all was Truman Capote, who has been referred to as a “completely horizontal author”, lying down in bed while balancing a typewriter on his knees.

Marcel Proust took to the horizontal approach after his mental health deteriorated due to frequent bouts with asthma, and Mark Twain made it a point of writing while lying down dressed in a self-designed nightgown that buttoned down his back. (link)


Learning the methods of great writers like these inspired me to ditch the desk and chair myself and give these two techniques a shot.

I attempted lying down first.

For an essay for my English course on Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried, I thought I’d try writing my third paragraph in bed. Snuggled up in a warm blanket and resting my laptop on a pillow between my knees, I began typing away. Within 10 minutes I was out like a light.

I don’t know how Capote and crew did it.

Standing up proved to be less comfortable than lying down, but it did keep me awake. I only stood for 30 minutes and didn’t get the full effects of a prolonged stand, one such effect I imagine to be some serious leg pain.

In the end, neither position was right for me. My dorm room desk and light jazz suit me better.

What position is best for you while writing?

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  • http://nebulousmooch.com Lovelyn

    What an interesting post! I like to write lying on the sofa with my laptop balanced on my knees. I fine that I’m most productive that way but sometimes my hands start to hurt and I have to move back to the desk and my ergonomic keyboard.

  • http://www.twilightspy.blogspot.com Tracer

    Keeping the heat down to save money has made writing in bed very appealing, despite the occasional drowsiness. In the summer I move to a lawn chair in the back yard. Writing standing up? Can’t imagine it.

  • http://ktvo.wordpress.com SX Brase

    I’m with Lovelyn–I wrote a good deal of my novel while stretched out on a couch, laptop on my legs. Window open, because that puppy can get warm.

  • http://theresedoucet.wordpress.com Therese

    Sitting in a cafe in a one of those cushy chairs with my legs propped up, writing longhand in a notebook, a chai latte close to hand, and hip music playing. That’s the ideal, but it’s usually more like propping my toddler on one knee sitting scrunched up on a chair in front of a cabinet that doubles as a desk in our bedroom, typing.

  • http://entomologyofabookworm.blogspot.com Kerry

    What a neat concept! I’d never really thought of how I am physically positioned when writing. I guess mostly I’m in my bed with my laptop on my lap, but that’s due in large part to my tiny Astoria apartment with no room for a desk. I also write a lot at work when I get in early or leave late, and that’s at a “normal” desk. But I hate my keyboard there, which makes it trickier…

  • http://waverlyandwaverly.wordpress.com Nicole

    I mostly write sitting in bed usually in longhand first, in a notebooks, then eventually with my laptop on my lap. Like Kerry, I don’t have a desk in my apartment so I have to make do with what I have :)

  • http://www.tpaperny.wordpress.com Tanya Paperny

    I need to be seated upright, brightly-lit room (ideally with natural sunlight, not crappy fluorescents), good lumbar-supporting chair, etc. Writing is work, not play, and I need to be in a comfortable yet engaged position. I also need almost total silence (coffee shops are a nay) so I can hear myself think and not feel shy to read out loud.

  • http://thechagallposition.blogspot.com/ EC

    Horizontal, def. In bed, well-propped by pillows into semi-recumbency, w/ laptop. I started this after a back episode and kept on even after the injury improved.

  • http://www.bringyourself.com Amy

    In bed, always. Although I do often fall asleep. It is interesting to read how other people write.

  • http://thecompulsivereader.com The Compulsive Reader

    I’m always in bed or on a couch, but I have one of those stupid lap desks for my laptop, which totally defeats the purpose of a LAPtop. So, I usually try not to be seen with it.

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