By Amy Lane
So, my husband, Mate, has attempted one home improvement project in the last six months: He has moved my desk from the kitchen table to the dump--I mean what used to be the dump but what is actually the computer desk in the corner of the living room.
He cleaned it out (mostly) and dusted it off (well, there are some nooks and crannies) and set my computer up on it with my chair and everything. He even remembered a coaster for my ever-present drink.
I approached this new setting cautiously and weighed the pros and cons.
Pro? I no longer have mail crushing down upon me as I work. Con? It keeps sliding off the kitchen table anyway because although I do the initial triage, Mate still doesn’t go through the mail often enough.
Pro? I am no longer “the voice from the kitchen” to my family when I am working and they are watching television. Con? If they are watching Bob’s Burgers, say, a show I usually forego watching and just listen for the funniest parts while I’m working, all I have to do to ditch out on work is to turn around.
Pro? If I get up to “think wander” I am no longer in the kitchen and food is no longer right there and hopefully snacking will get a little less commonplace when I’m home alone with the computer. Con? The dogs still need to snack at every hour of every day, so I need a bag of dog treats in my personal space whenever they decide to waddle over and bully me into overfeeding them.
So, yes. Change isn’t easy, even when it’s for the best—but this whole move does have me thinking.
What exactly makes up a writer’s space? Some people can just pick up their laptop and work in Starbucks or Panera, I am aware, but that’s so the stuff they need for writing—like papers, pens, post-it notes, small humans who both serve as inspiration and need attention to live—does not interfere with the writing itself. Some people work sparingly. Computer, coaster, beverage, writing is a GO!
But in between coffee shop writing and those who are Sparta, most of us need some sort of balance between nonstop beverage service and surviving off of bare white walls and universe juice, so the question remains.
What essentials do make up the place where we work and hopefully do our best thinking and cook up the words whereby we make our living?
Let us start with working computer—not always a given. One of the most heinous violations of my workplace was when Squish—my youngest—was fourteen months old and she watered my laptop then closed it and sat on it to make it grow. Mate eventually fixed it, and recovered the 240K manuscript I was in the closing stages of editing, and I eventually recovered from my swoon on the kitchen floor, but the incident left me with a deep and bitter appreciation of electronics and backups. I now have a multi-terabyte external hard drive that saves all the things whether I remember to hit save or not. So, yes—we all have our electronic security blankets to keep writing, and that’s a big start.
Next we have mouse or mouse pad, if we don’t run off a touch screen. My mouse is really expensive because my Mate bought it for me and he said, “This! This is the one! It shall be your mouse!” so it must work. My mouse pad is a picture my daughter drew at school, and as a fundraiser it was made into a mouse pad. Those fundraiser people know what they are doing, I am not shitting around.
This next thing is a must—it’s as important as the computer. It’s an ergonomic chair. Seriously. Think about how much time your ass is going to spend in this thing—it should feel like you’re parking your bum on an angel’s wings for a massage of tiny cherub fingers, tickling your muscles with love. Like the computer, this is a thing to go into debt for—you cannot be creative if your back is screaming at your central nervous system and hour neck is threatening to sue.
A printer is probably what some people consider a must have—and I would be one of them. The irony here is, that until the recent move, I sat at the kitchen table with a printer that I could not actually connect to. Mate has fixed that now that I am restationed, but suffice it to say, sending stuff to my son and saying, “Print this for mommy because electronic reasons,” got really frickin’ old.
An office supply station. Now I admit that with the recent move, my old system—one of those plastic sets of drawers—has broken down, but seriously, this is a plus. It doesn’t have to be in your space—just near your space. Because sometimes you rely on snail mail or you need a safe place to put your packing tape, or goddammit, you just want a frickin’ sharpie, is that too much to ask? Seriously—an office supply station near where you work can come in so handy, I’m actually thinking of moving a yarn box here to accommodate my old station in my new place. (If you knew how much I loved my yarn boxes, you’d understand what a big furry deal this is.)
Now, after teaching for eighteen years, I had my office supplies down to an art form, but here is a bare minimum for a packrat such as myself:
- Ball point pens—good ones
- Sharpies, all colors
- Scissors, at least six pairs, because your children live in your house too, and they steal such things.
- Colored pencils
- Paperclips (I like mine in multi-colors too!)
- A small stapler because once a year something must be stapled.
- Bubble mailers
- Tissue paper (for whatever you’re sending in the bubble mailers)
- Return address stickers (If you have these in your writer name and address, they can help you keep straight which packages are work related and which ones are socks to your bestie whose toes are freezing in the wilds of Kentucky.)
- Multi-seasonal blank note cards—for condolences, apologies, and thank-you-very-muches
- Printer paper and lined paper—you just never know!
- Packing tape
- Masking tape
- Regular tape
- Hole punch
- Three hole punch
- Ruler (These last few items are especially helpful if you have little people or a spouse who needs stuff.)
- Reference books you don’t keep online—I have a naming dictionary and a book about world building that I glance at periodically.
- Hand Sanitizer
- Band-Aids (I actually don’t have band aids, and I worry.)
- Fill in the blank with your favorite office product here—because if I could remember and organize everything I needed, I would not have so much random crap floating on top of my office supply organizer. I am very aware that I am not the authority!
So, again unless you’re from Sparta, these are what I consider the essentials—but what about non-essentials? What about books, hair products, a place for both pairs of glasses and colorful ceramic bowls of things-that-make-you-think?
That stuff’s up to you—both how much room you have and how much you can stand of it to be around you. I personally need some clutter. If I don’t have a few things to focus my attention on, I go deep in my own head for a brain-break. Frankly, it’s a lot harder to come back from my brain than it is on the purple alpaca in the blue ceramic yarn bowl. For me, the clutter helps me feel in control. I’m sure you Spartans have a totally different way of looking at nonessentials—I keep flashing to a single lotus blossom in a long black vase—but usually people need something to break up the strictly utilitarian space that can be a business office, and your choice of mild clutter really can help you relax.
The same goes for music. Some people swear by writing to music, some people prefer background television, and some people are just thrilled to have the silence of their own head—but some sort of music generator is often helpful. Most of us have iTunes or Spotify, but I do have happy memories of a big library of CD’s and one of those giant sound system cabinets. Alas, those days are gone, but a healthy idea of what you like to listen to does help.
Oh—and one more thing. This is entirely optional of course, but some of us follow the school of thought that needs a dog at your feet and a cat in your seat—or, you know, something similar. For important a-writer-is-not-an-island reasons, these can be your best writing accessories.
If nothing else? They usually demand doggie treats or to be let outside just when you start to nod off at your desk. Yup—your cat can save your life.
Or at least your deadline!
So, this has turned into one of those columns in which I give advice on organization, a subject upon which my nearest and dearest suspect I have no knowledge whatsoever. This doesn’t really bother me—last year I wrote a column on cooking that people swear by, and most of the people in my life think the idea of me giving cooking advice to be ludicrous in the extreme.
You never know what your own writing may teach you.
In this case, it’s taught me that a little mindfulness about my surroundings makes me want to continue to improve them. I can see more places in this little desk that I can take over, things I can make mine. I can see a place I can fit my office supply station, and another spot for a dog bed, because right now I’ve got two dogs in one bed, and the bigger one keeps poking the smaller one in the eye. I see making this place the comfort zone that I could never achieve in eight years of parking myself at the kitchen table while my family ate in the living room.
Oh my word—a little change can be a good thing!
And a good desk can spark our creativity.
And our creativity can prompt us to change.