Strata: Sue O’Doherty

Susan O’Doherty is a writer who truly understands the struggles of other writers—she’s also a clinical psychologist who deals with issues involving creativity. In her guise as Dr. Sue, she writes a popular advice column, “The Doctor is In,” each Friday for the publishing blog, Buzz, Balls & Hype. Her book, Getting Unstuck Without Coming Unglued: A Woman’s Guide to Unblocking Creativity, offers advice which is both optimistic and useful to any woman who’s struggled with creative obstacles. An accomplished fiction writer as well, Sue’s stories, essays and poetry have appeared in a long list of publications including Eureka Literary Magazine, Eclectica, Literary Mama, VerbSap, and anthologies including Sex for America, It’s a Boy!, and The Best of Carve, Volume VI. Dr. Sue knows whereof she speaks, and her office, as you will see, is the perfect spot for creative contemplation.

What does your desk—the bare desk itself—look like, and how did you acquire it?

I use the same ancient battered mahogany desk that I had as a child. It was my mother’s before she was married. She took good care of her things, and it was in pristine condition when I got it, but I immediately cracked the glass cover, spilled soda on the finish, and pulled one of the brass handles out of its socket. But I love it—every mark is a memory, and it smells of my childhood.

What’s on your desk?

It was really built for letter-writing, so it is very small. I keep my laptop on it, and a framed postcard of a page of the autograph manuscript of Jane Austen’s History of England that I got at the British Museum years ago. A cup containing some of my favorite pens (I have kind of a pen fetish), a sculpture my son made in grammar school, and there’s not room for anything else.

What do you wish wasn’t on your desk?

Nothing. I wish there was room for more.

Are there artifacts in your office that relate to your current project?

I don’t understand this “office” of which you speak. I’m a New Yorker. I live with two other people in a two-bedroom apartment. The concepts of privacy and solitude are foreign to my tribe.

Seriously—my desk is in the bedroom, but I only use the desktop for material that has to be formatted or posted. For writing drafts, I usually sit on the couch with my laptop or iPad. This is because I am fairly undisciplined and pleasure-seeking. I associate sitting at a desk typing on a computer with jobs, work, and other aversive activities. Writing on the couch, or in the park in nice weather, is recreational, or at least I can trick myself into thinking so for a few hours.

(I do have an office for my psychotherapy practice, but I share it with other therapists, and we only use it when we’re actually seeing clients.)

Are there living things in your office (besides yourself)?

My husband, our 17-year-old son, and our cat, Molly, who is also 17. A huge fern and an orchid.

What else surrounds you?

Books, pictures, musical instruments, my cabinet of dolls (my grandparents spent their post-retirement years traveling the world, and brought me back a doll from every country they visited). Frequently there are high schoolers jamming, sports on TV—not what Virginia Woolf would recommend.

What’s on the walls?

A few pictures, some of my grandmother’s mirrors. Not much else, because we have huge windows with a fabulous view from the 20th floor. Nothing we could possibly put up ourselves could compete with that.

What have you lost in your office that you really wish you could find?

Those brilliant ideas for new projects that come to me at 4 a.m.

What tools do you write with?

I prefer to write first drafts on lined paper with one of my fetish pens—preferably my grandfather’s gold-plated Waterman fountain pen, which I use for all important documents. If I’m racing for a deadline, though, I go straight to the keyboard.

Is anyone allowed to come in and clean?

Yes. Please!

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1 Comment to Strata: Sue O’Doherty

  1. September 1, 2011 at 9:37 am | Permalink

    Thanks for this. I’m always interested in learning more about Dr. Sue.

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