Writers' Block

A bright workspace for free agents.

After nine years of working from a tiny desk in the corner of his tiny apartment in midtown Manhattan, freelance writer Phil Scott knew that he needed to get a life. He spent whole days without seeing another living soul, weeks without doing in-person interviews, and months without exchanging ideas with his professional colleagues. "I was a hermit in one of the most populous cities in the world," he says. "Writing is supposed to be creative, but because of my solitude, my situation was a total drag."

Then Scott, 39, discovered 72 Mad, an airy, bright, and sometimes raucous workspace for free agents that is located on the 12th floor of a former sweatshop on Madison Avenue. The commune, as some call it, was founded in 1997 by Basia Hellwig, 48, and Anne Mollegen Smith, 54, magazine editors who now run Qwerty Communications Inc., a publishing consultancy. Hellwig and Smith lease the entire floor of the building and parcel out individual spaces to freelancers like Scott and 24 other tenants, most of whom are writers, editors, designers, and consultants.

"We wanted to create a loose-knit community for creative people that was professional but not stuffy," says Hellwig. Good-natured chaos is more like it. At 2 PM, some colleagues take a break and play a game of Nerf Ball. And Fridays at 4 PM, everyone gathers for swing-dancing lessons.

Rents range from $315 to $740 per month, depending on square footage, and all tenants have access to a copier, fax machine, conference room, kitchen, and, for an additional $50 fee, use of a DSL connection. But more than that, free agents jonesing for some camaraderie get all the fun of a workplace that is free of office politics, brownnosing, and, of course, the dreaded boss. No wonder there's a waiting list to get in.

Matt Villano (mjv@whalehead.com) is a freelance writer based in New York. Contact Basia Hellwig (bhellwig@herwork.com) and Anne Mollegan Smith (qwerty@aol.com) by email.

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