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Unusual times, remarkable places

The "Standard of Ur" from ancient Mesopotamia

The "Standard of Ur" from ancient Mesopotamia

13 August 2008

Ready, set . . . . wait, where’s my pen?

Two thousand writers, talking about writing, going to writing classes, meeting other writers, reading writing books in spare moments. No wonder one’s mind pops with ideas at the yearly Romance Writers of America conference. I promised to talk more about the suggestions of psychologist Eric Maisel. These thoughts came to me as I read his book A Writer’s Space.

In my sewing area, my sewing machine, table, and equipment sit ready for use. Everything has a place and is usually in its place. The quality of the light is different from the rest of the house. The area contains nothing unrelated to sewing except CDs and a CD player.

When I go to my sewing area to sew, that’s what I do. The room is ready and there’s nothing else to do there. The ambience puts me in the mood immediately.

Not so my office. It’s a multipurpose room. I do medical writing there. I copyedit there. I critique there. I write fiction there. I shop there. I balance my checkbooks there. I bill clients there. I work on my account book there. I call the mortgage office and the sanitation department and the vet’s office and my family and everyone else there.

When I go into my office to work, that’s often not what I do. First I have to search for what I plan to work on. That can take some time because there are piles and piles of papers that need to be filed, receipts that need to be entered into my account book, stacks of notes about people I need to call and tasks I need to take care of, my harps in case I want to take a break and play (except the mess has cornered them and made them inaccessible) . . . I think you get the picture. If not, I've provided one at left.

Reading A Writer’s Space made me realize that my office does not trigger a writing mood or encourage me to write or even make writing easy. Instead, I feel exasperated and pulled in all directions by the many tasks begging for attention.

Going to the RWA conference prompted me to undertake several new projects. One is to make my office a place that does invite to write. I took the first step this week by making a strict new work schedule that sequesters non-writing projects to certain times, so that I can focus just on writing the rest of the work day.

The next project—a long-term one—is to organize my office. I’d like separate projects to be in separate places. I want to finish unpacking from our move here. I want to figure out where to store office papers so they don’t land in ever-growing stacks on the desk and floor and futon.

How about you? Does your writing space encourage or discourage you from writing?


Next week: Public speaking: an interview with Christee Gabour Atwood

Two weeks from now: An interview with historical romance author Lynna Banning

29 August: Remembering Katrina


Lisa said...

This has been a challenge for me. My office is where I work, answer the phone, pay my bills, etc. and sometimes I write here. I always come here to print things, of course. But I tend to take my laptop elsewhere when I'm writing on it. My bedroom, the back deck and even the island counter in the kitchen have all netted me decent results...but alas, no one spot that does it for me. What I have changed lately, is that I'm down to one "The Foundling Wheel" notebook and it's never more than a foot away from me. I've been writing more in it and then later rewriting on my laptop. I'm also considering that even though I thought I could never write in public places, I might have to give it a whirl...

Shauna Roberts said...

LISA, one thing Eric Maisel emphasized both in A Writer's Place and in his seminar was the importance of learning to write in many places, including in public (which makes me blush just thinking about it). He suggested, as you have already done, trying out different places in one's house to see which work the best.

The book devotes a whole chapter to writing in bed, which I haven't tried yet because I'm still sleep-deprived from the conference.

Sphinx Ink said...

I love the idea of having a separate writing space. My own home office--in fact, my entire house--has become so disorganized over the years that trying to declutter and organize is a major task--especially since my physical problems have manifested themselves over the last couple of years. I keep resolving to do a bit of decluttering each day, but it's so easy to ignore that resolution and to continue existing amidst the mess. I have been a packrat for many years.

Good luck in getting your writing space organized and set up. You're efficient and well-organized, plus you plan ahead, so I know you'll achieve it.

(I'm very impressed that you've planned your blog entries several weeks ahead of time...also that you have been disciplined in your one-entry-a-week/every-week approach to the blog.)

Farrah Rochon said...

Wow, Shauna! How eye-opening. You should definitely devote some time to making your writing place as much about writing as your sewing place is for sewing.

I agree about changing up where I write. I try out different coffee shops as much as possible. Sometimes, I go to the local library. Other times, I do write in bed. I was prompted to do this after Katrina, when my favorite writing spot was closed for a year. It took me months to get comfortable enough to write in another place.

Steve Malley said...

Like the pre-literacy technique of the Memory Cathedral, my writing space is entirely in my head. My body sits in my study, or out in the living room, or out back on the deck, in the tattoo shop or a crowded restaurant. It doesn't matter. I just walk out to the space in my head, open *that* door, and the story waits...

Shauna Roberts said...

SPHINX INK, I don't always plan my posts ahead of time. But because people seem to enjoy the interviews so much, I thought I would go ahead and schedule them so people could make a note if they wanted.

I do keep a notebook of post ideas, and when I can't think of something to write, I'll look in there. I should not run out of ideas for a while; the RWA conference has given me plenty of fodder for posts.

FARRAH, I've never been able to write in public. It was a big handicap when I covered scientific conferences and needed to turn in stories the next day. All the other journalists would be busy writing their stories between presentations, and I had to stay up late after being at the conference all day. So I definitely need to learn the skill of coffeehouse writing.

STEVE, that was another of Eric Maisel's big points, that a writer's space is as much mental as physical. Later I'll do a whole post on some of his ideas for quickly entering the proper frame of mind.

Shauna Roberts said...

P.S. STEVE: Where and what is the Memory Cathedral?

Lana Gramlich said...

For my painting, I find that the right head space is most important.

Michele said...

I've heard so many other attendees praise Maisel's workshop...I'm sorry I'm missed it!

I have an office, but I have a hard time writing in it. I end up writing every day on my couch in the family room. I like the openness of the room and the comfortable chair...and yeah, it's a bit more organized there than my office. ;-)

Carleen Brice said...

Yeah, I've been saying for WEEKS that I need to organize my office, but somehow....

I'm like Lisa. When it gets too bad in here, I head to the kitchen table with my laptop.

Hope you post a picture of your "new" office when it's done.

Rae Ann Parker said...

I tend to accumulate stacks of papers on my desk, also. When I start a new manuscript, I clear the desk and file everything away. I did that this week and it makes me smile every time I sit down to the desk. However, I know by the time I finish the ms, the desk will look the same. Thanks for the tips. I should keep it like it is now. It makes it so much easier to find notes.

Shauna Roberts said...

LANA, do you have a method for triggering the right head space?

MICHELE, that sounds appealing, but I'm afraid the area around the couch would soon look like my office!

CARLEEN, OK, I promise I'll post a picture. That should be a kick in the butt to do a good job of it.

RAE ANN, That's good you have a routine so that you know things will get cleaned up eventually. I have so many overlapping projects that there's no clear break in which straightening up would be logical.

Stewart Sternberg (half of L.P. Styles) said...

I wish I had the discipline to say I write in my office. I have different places for different types of writing. First drafts are done anywhere. Often on the laptop in the easy chair. Sometimes ideas are batted about in a journal, whether I steal five minutes in class or at a Barnes and Noble. Usually submission time is office time.

Charles Gramlich said...

This is a great post and I think this is exactly a problem I've been running into with writing in my office. I do too many things there and can't always get focused on the writing. I've been having my best luck this summer with writing on the laptop in another room.

Shauna Roberts said...

STEWART, I wouldn't say you lack discipline. Rather, you seem to have the self-knowledge to have found where you function best.

CHARLES, I'm leaning toward cues (incense or scented candles or teas, maybe) to signal my brain when it's time to write nonfiction and when it's time to write fiction and when it's time to do something else. Haven't actually tried it yet.

Geraldine said...

I am a very organized person. I work better in a clutter-free tidy area, including where I write.

Interesting to read this today...I just 'tidied up' some long overdue paper piles and yes, I do feel better already LOL!!!

Geraldine said...
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