So you’ve managed to carve out some precious writing time from your busy schedule. Fantastic. You’re now ready to tackle the next major hurdle: work space. The first logical question that presents itself is: Do I need a dedicated space for my writing? The short answer is simple.
YES. YOU DO.
There are two reasons why. The first connects logically to our earlier discussions. You are busy. For that reason, you don’t have time to set up all your junk every time you get a free moment. If you have to pack up your notes, your laptop, your favorite mouse pad and so on, and then unpack it all and arrange it before you can get anything done, odds are you’ll never get to the good stuff. The goal is to reduce or eliminate all the wheel-spinning so you can focus on writing.
The second reason has more to do with head space than geography. We’ve all read studies that show students do better on tests if they sit in the same seat they learned in. Research has proved that the territorial instinct supersedes most others, even the urge to reproduce or eat. Many animals will literally wither away while defending their lair or nest. Heavy psychology aside, if you’re going to build an imaginary world of any complexity, you’ve got to be able to come back to the same physical place, your place, day after day. Doing so reduces distractions from fresh sensory input and makes it easier for you to return to that imaginary world and concentrate on what happens next.
If you don’t have the luxury of converting an extra bedroom, den or finished basement into an office with a door, all is not lost. But that doesn’t mean you can settle for balancing your workspace on top of a filing cabinet. At a minimum, you’re going to need a desk sized surface. It can be a kitchen counter, but you’ve got to insist on at least four linear feet—six is better—that you claim as your own, that you can set up and keep set up, and that NO ONE ELSE MESSES WITH. If you are truly serious about having a writing life, then this is an absolute must.
Properly organizing your work space is essential. A quick Google search of how to do so only produced about twelve hundred hits. I read every single one, condensed all that knowledge, and it is my pleasure to present Leslie’s 5 Steps To A Power Desk:
- Keep it to the bare essentials. For a modern writer, the list is actually pretty short. Here is what I have on my desk right this moment:
- Mouse pad and mouse
- Lined legal pad
- Pad of sticky notes and stack of lined note cards
- Three “on deck” stickies: one with a brief plot fix, two with dialog ideas
- Cup with pens/pencils
- Desk lamp
- Cell phone (muted and upside down so I don’t see those flashing push notifications)
- ONE framed family photo
- Stapler (I also teach school off this desk)
- Dish of paper clips and rubber bands
- Anything you don’t actually use in the writing process belongs someplace else. If you start allowing soccer schedules and grocery lists to creep in, you’ll be distracting yourself with tasks that belong outside your writing time. TIME AND SPACE. Defend them vigorously. All my school related things go into hanging files while I’m writing. I can pull out 2 files, do the school thing, then refile and rehang in about 5 minutes. School time is school time, and I don’t let it eat into to my writing time. That took practice, but as I’ve said, disciplined focus on your writing is a habit worth cultivating.
- Include vertical space. Can you claim a wall near your desktop? You’re going to need it for outlining, and for those start up task reminders. I have a white board that I use for laying out plot points or sticking my endless stickies. (The three on my desk? I’ll be tackling them first thing, so I moved them right next to my laptop.)At the moment I’m also sketching a map that will appear in my next book. The plot hinges on local geography, and the only way to keep myself oriented was to draw a picture. You gain so much more work space when you go vertical.
- Annex a shelf. Reference books, extra paper, office supplies you don’t have room for, all of it needs to be out of sight so it stays out of mind during writing time. This could actually be in a different room, so long as it doesn’t infringe on your desk space.
- Purchase a trash can. This often overlooked item can be invaluable, provided you actually use it. Once you’ve completed a task, such as modifying a character name and then spell checking it from start to finish, THROW THAT NOTE AWAY. I am an inveterate list maker. Nothing makes me happier than crossing things off my list. The secret is to circular file those old lists the moment you draw a line through the last item. Scary, but liberating, I promise you. If you honestly think you might need that five page story outline from three revisions ago, create a folder and shelve it (See #4).
And that’s it. Once you’ve ordered your environment, you will free your mind for bigger things. Now off you go. I’ve got three sticky notes screaming for my attention. Can’t wait to throw them away.
Leslie Nagel is the author of The Book Club Murders, the first novel in the Oakwood Mystery series. She lives in the real city of Oakwood, Ohio, where she teaches writing at a local community college. After the written word, her passions include her husband, her son and daughter, hiking, tennis, and strong black coffee, not necessarily in that order.
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In a charming cozy mystery series debut, Leslie Nagel’s irrepressible small-town heroine finds that her fellow mystery book club members may be taking their Agatha Christie a bit too literally—and murder a bit too lightly.
Charley Carpenter has poured heart and soul into her clothing store, Old Hat Vintage Fashions. She’ll do anything to make it a success—even join the stuffy Agathas Book Club in order to cultivate customers among the wealthy elite of Oakwood, Ohio.
Although mixing with the most influential women in town has its advantages, Charley finds the endless gossip a high price to pay. But after two women with close ties to the Agathas are brutally murdered, everyone falls under threat—and suspicion. When key evidence indicates that both murders are the work of the same hand, Charley realizes that the killer has arranged each corpse in perfect imitation of crime scenes from the Club’s murder mystery reading list. She uses her membership in the Club to convince Detective Marcus Trenault to use her as an inside informant. Not that he could stop her anyway.
Intelligent, fearless, and every bit as stubborn as Marc is, Charley soon learns the Agathas aren’t the only ones with secrets to protect. Passions explode as she and Marc must race against time to prevent another murder. And if Charley’s not careful, she may find herself becoming the killer’s next plot twist.
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For Bella’s review of the The Book Club Murders go here.