Standing Writers: A Healthy Literary Tradition

Standing writers

From keeping apples in drawers to only writing in the early morning or late-night hours, many writers credit unusual habits for their literary success. But one writing tradition appears to span multiple centuries, literary styles, nationalities and even gender: the use of standing desks. Of course, earlier writers had to make do with much cruder versions than the well-designed and easy-to-use models available today.

Saul Bellow, Lewis Carroll, Winston Churchill, Charles Dickens, Benjamin Franklin, Ernest Hemingway, Thomas Jefferson, Soren Kierkegaard, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Vladimir Nabokov, Friedrich Nietzsche, Philip Roth, August Wilson, Thomas Wolfe, and Virginia Woolf are all among the distinguished writers and statesmen known for writing while standing, often at desks they personally designed.

Consider Nobel Prize in Literature winner and noted sportsman Ernest Hemingway. He often was observed typing while standing, balancing his typewriter on a set of books atop a book shelf in Cuba. “I like to write standing up,” he reportedly said.

British Prime Minister, journalist and novelist Winston Churchill wrote prolifically under the pen name “Winston S. Churchill.” He received the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1953 “for his mastery of historical and biographical description, as well as for brilliant oratory in defending exalted human values.” We wonder if he had been sitting if his writing would have been nearly as energetic and inspiring?

American writer Philip Roth (1933-2018) was profiled in The New Yorker by David Remnick, who observed, “Roth wakes early and, seven days a week, walks fifty yards or so to a two-room studio. The front room is outfitted with a fireplace, a desk, and a computer set up on a kind of lectern where he can write standing up, the better to preserve a bad back.” Too bad Roth didn’t have an easy-to-use electric sit-stand desk to make the transition from standing to sitting as simple as touching a button.

Virginia Woolf was another English writer well-known for standing while writing. Woolf’s nephew and biographer, Quentin Bell, wrote that she worked “at a desk standing about three feet (and) six inches high with a sloping top; it was so high that she had to stand to her work.” Sounds like a standing desk was the other requirement Woolf knew a woman needed to write quality fiction!

Jumping back more than a century, we find beloved children’s writer Lewis Carroll (1832-1898) “standing at the upright desk he always used while writing,” according to biographer Morton N. Cohen. And Charles Dickens, author of such classic novels as A Christmas Carol, Oliver Twist, and A Tale of Two Cities, also stood while writing. “Books all round, up to the ceiling and down to the ground; a standing desk at which he writes; and all manner of comfortable easy chairs,” is how one visitor described his workspace.

American writers may be interested in this advice from Thomas Jefferson, himself a famous standing writer: “Health is worth more than learning.” But, thanks to our line of LearnFit® mobile desks for the classroom, it’s no longer necessary to prioritize one over the other!