Thursday, June 30, 2011
A quiet place, a comfortable chair and a computer, plus long stretches of time (and access to a refrigerator!): that's the ideal creative space for me. Up until a few years ago, however, I've written on rickety tables, in cramped corners, sitting in uncomfortable chairs, trying to fit the writing around a full-time job. Only now do I have the luxury of my own space and time.
When I'm in Argentina or Maine, where I go often, I take my light and compact netbook. (Here it is, on the left, in my apartment in Buenos Aires.) Sometimes when traveling I'll write by hand. With my liquid gel ink pen, I go into organizational mode: outlining, world-building, making timelines and/or sketching maps and characters for my next book.
Favorite time to write: early morning
Favorite snack: popcorn and iced tea
Favorite chair: Aeron ergonomic chair from Herman Miller
Favorite desk: my Shaker desk from Maple Corner Woodworks in Vermont
Tuesday, June 28, 2011
The Red-Room is a warm cozy space and the perfect place for those hard writing days where distractions like a majestic coyote or adorable bunnies must be ignored.
No photos allowed: other places I write that wouldn’t exactly shine in photos? My car (I wait for my kids a lot), my university office, volleyball games, grocery store parking lots, the side of the road (yes, I have been known to pull over when inspiration strikes), and the miraculous three A.M. wake up call. Must keep paper and pen near bed.
I do have a home office, where I spend a good deal of my time…and because I’m a bit of a flea market, antique store junkie, my office is filled, like Brian’s, with a good deal of muses, like Griselda here:
(I swear, the word "muse" now instantly brings this print to mind...)
And I’ve got quite a few funky tchotchkes in the mix, too:
My favorite office item's an old enamel sign from a bookstore...
If I had my druthers, though, I’m with Dia in that I’d write outdoors…Even under a tree in the backyard is preferable:
I also do a good deal of writing on my AlphaSmart NEO. The thing has zero Internet capabilities, runs for months on AA-batteries, and is really durable; I can take it anywhere, knowing that it won’t run out of juice, and I’ll never get distracted. I so love this thing—I’ve had it for years, and I’m not quite sure what I’d do without it.
Here’s a glimpse of me and my NEO—and Jake, my Pekingese / constant companion:
Sunday, June 26, 2011
Here’s my bedroom, where 90% of all my writing takes place. I am almost positive that Tracy Emin modelled her most famous art piece, 'Messy bed' on this!
And trust me, this is it on a tidy day! I know it's a little chaotic, but I've heard that it's usually the creative minds that are the messiest. Well, that's my excuse anyway...
I also keep a cork board on my wall. This is where I pin all my writing achievements; like the letter my agent sent me when I first signed with her. For a short period of time I even had my entire book contract pinned to the wall! I find it inspiring to look at when I’m feeling like my writing isn’t going so well, or I’m having one of those “I’m a terrible writer” days.
When I sit down to write, there are a couple of things that are 'a must have' in order to get the creative juices flowing.
1. My comfort Zone
I have to be comfortable. Usually, I pull on some baggy jogging bottoms, lay on my bed with my back supported by about a zillion cushions, and have my laptop balanced on my knees. Sometimes in the winter I even crawl under the duvet for extra warmth!
I usually have a box of ‘treats’ tucked under my bed which I keep in full supply. This consists of mini packets of Haribo, drumstick lollies and Cadbury’s buttons. I always feel these come in handy for taking the stress out of deadlines. I can reward myself with a little something, say, every 1000 words.
3. My dog
Boo, my Yorkshire terrier is my writing buddy. (You can see her in the picture above.) Sometimes I wish the workload was a little more balanced but she definitely stops me from getting lonely.
4. Peace and quiet
I can’t listen to music or have any sort of background noise while I’m writing. Most of the time I’ll even turn my phone on silent because the slightest distraction can completely throw me off track. Talking of distractions, the internet seems to be one of my biggest vices. I’m usually pretty good at not getting tempted to go on facebook or ebay, but occasionally this can prove impossible (usually when I’m working through a tough plot hole and I’ll find any excuse not to write!). During these times, I’ll go upstairs to the office. The computer up there isn’t connected to the internet, so I find it a lot easier to concentrate.
And here it is (slightly neater than the bedroom). I bought this big comfy chair off ebay recently and it's so nice to sit in that sometimes its hard not to drift off to sleep.
Well there you have it! I think If I ever win the lottery or become a super dooper wealthy author (yeah... sure!)I'd love a really big conservatory to write in, overlooking a beautiful lake and towering hills. Until then, I'll keep dreaming. So, do you need certain necessities in order to write, or are you one of the lucky ones who can pen a novel just about anywhere?
Saturday, June 25, 2011
2=Homonculus #1. He does my bidding.
3= Homonculus #2. He keeps Homonculus #1 in line.
4=Pinky and the Brain mega mug. Narf!
5=Voodoo doll. Given to me by a former employer who apparently harbored false beliefs that I would never use it against him.
6=View of the liquor warehouse and parking lot
7=Sync cable for iPod touch. VERY important
My muses, who sit to the left of my desk. Can YOU name them all? (Hint: Not all, such as the penguins, have names.)
This is a print called "Flight of the Red Pajamas" by Lori Bitwer-Stewart. It hangs to the right of my desk. I'd been admiring it for years and finally bought it to celebrate selling my middle grade trilogy. It is very pretty. I keep telling myself that, someday, I'm going to write the story that goes with this picture.
Another print by Lori Bitwer-Stewart. In my mind, THIS is what my workspace really looks like.
Now for the kicker: I rarely use this space to write. I've crafted a lovely work area, complete with muses, homonculi, and art. And I'm almost never here. Largely because, owing to space restrictions, I share the office with my wonderful husband. And when he's working on his computer, I have to be somewhere else. (Not his fault; it's just how my brain works.) Often, I find myself at the dining room table. (Actually, I wrote 90% of THE VENGEKEEP PROPHECIES at the dining room table.)
Sometimes I find myself at this desk. Right now, for instance. But, honestly, I take what space I can get. Wherever I am, I need room to pace. I pace a lot while writing, talking through scenes, speaking bits of dialogue. Give me that and an acceptable degree of solitude and I can be extremely productive.
Or not. Sometimes, the optimal conditions are met and I sit like a lump for eight hours, wondering why there are cars in the parking lot of the liquor warehouse at 6m on a Sunday. For me, having a space is nice. But having something to write is GLORIOUS.
Friday, June 24, 2011
- I can't write at Panera because it's too loud. (The hustle and bustle is not relaxing.)
- I can't write at Starbucks because it's too cold. (Mine always has the air conditioning up full blast.)
- I can't write at the pool because it's too wet. (And too bright.)
- I can't write with music or TV on in the background.
- I can't write at the park because of the wind.
- I can't write if my time is limited. (Yes, I know a page a day is better than nothing.)
I usually work at my kitchen table or in a cozy spot at my local library.
I also do a lot of pre-writing, plotting, and revising while I'm sleeping. :)
Thursday, June 23, 2011
So I write and write, and after a few days, something marvelous happens. I become inhabited by my story. Even when I am not writing—taking a walk in the canyon, or resting in the hammock, or reading a book—my story is with me. Everything I see or think seems to speak to the story, or speak from the story. This is a magical experience whereby the imagination becomes luminous. My best work results.
After a week or so at the Farm, I drive back home for a week there—so my husband will remember my face! Then I return to the Farm. And that is how my summer goes—a lot of driving. Sometimes I get lonely. Sometimes I ask very special writing friends like Lorie Ann Grover and Justin Chen to come write with me for a week.
I am sad when September comes. I don’t know how to achieve this state of luminous imagination in my city life in the winter, where I juggle writing with my freelance work as a lettering artist. But I have learned a few things which help. When not at the Farm, I write in the morning. I check my e-mail in the morning before I begin writing. I respond ONLY to urgent business from clients, editor, agent. The rest can wait. Then I turn off the e-mail. I don’t look at it again until noon. I also do not answer most phone calls. I do this because I have learned that getting busy with the outside world disrupts the focus I need to write well. (It takes amazing discipline not to check e-mail and not to answer the phone.) I also have learned that I need what I call active drifting time. At the Farm, I achieve this in the hammock. I swing under the maple trees and let my story swing in my mind. I let my mind carry the story wherever it wants to go—even into the realms of the absurd. The idea is to let your story free, to be unstructured. I might end up using only one idea or image from my drifting time, often a nugget of pure gold. So when I am not at the Farm, I also give myself active drifting time under the skylight in my office.
I know I am lucky to have the Farm. In fact, the Farm has given me the inspiration for four books now—Firegold and White Midnight, my young adult fantasies, and my forthcoming Eva of the Farm (Atheneum Summer 2012) and its as yet untitled companion volume (Atheneum Summer 2013). All of these are set on orchards.
So try writing outside and see what happens. And may you, too, have a summer of luminous imagination.
Wednesday, June 22, 2011
Fiction, however, is a different story. I know that many writers like to write in coffee shops or set the mood at home with music, candles, and food. I admire that, and aspire to it, but I can't do it. To me, these things are distractions. If I'm listening to music, I'm going to miss what my characters are saying. If I am smelling a lovely scented candle, I'm not going to be able to write dialogue set in the boys bathroom. If I have chocolate on the brain, well, forget thinking about anything else. There is only one thing I need to do my best fiction writing and that is silence. That's not to say I always get what I want, but it's what I strive for.
Having a cozy, peaceful place to write is also helpful. Let's take a tour of my office and I will show you a few things I keep close to inspire me. First, and most important, is Kira. She's my 18-pound ragdoll cat. Kira makes sure I take frequent breaks to tell her how wonderful she is and attend to her every need . . .
Here's my bookshelf where I keep most of my nonfiction titles. On top of the shelf I have laser-cut plastic cutouts of a few fiction characters. Here are Julep (from the Julep O'Toole series) and Scab (from The Secrets of a Lab Rat series) . . .
My husband, Bill, surprised me with this 20" X 30" wrap-around canvas print of my first Secrets book cover . . .
So that's a little glimpse into my writing world. If I leave you with anything it's that there is no right or wrong way to set up shop. Write in whatever way, in whatever atmosphere, that makes you feel most comfortable and productive. The main thing is to write.
Ah! It looks like Kira is down for her afternoon nap. Time for me to get back to work . . .
Tuesday, June 21, 2011
My office. I've had some variation of this for the past eight years, depending on which house we've lived in. We built this house, so I was able to design a space specifically for writing. (You can see, kind of, that the window trim still isn't done. Let's say we are building this house. Still.) I try to keep all that desk space cleared off, but it's a losing battle.
I added the second screen when a desktop computer died and we replaced it with a laptop. I thought it was an extravagance, but I've ended up using it a LOT. When writing, I often put my outline on the separate screen, and write the book on my laptop. Very handy.
Finally, a place for all my writing books--both research and how-tos! And a special place of honor for my own books, of course. :-)
My favorite thing about my office is the big bulletin board I made out of insulation board from a home improvement store. My wife covered it in IKEA fabric, and now I have a big, beautiful board on which to plot out stories. That one's the new Star Trek young adult novel I'm writing right now.
Monday, June 20, 2011
June Theme: How to Write a Novel (When You Don't Even Have Time to Read This Blog Post) -- by Lisa Graff
Sunday, June 19, 2011
In addition to taking the exciting plunge into full-time authorhood, Tracy Barrett also celebrated a book birthday this month!
The Missing Heir is out now...and the jacket copy is more than just a little enticing:
"Xena and Xander have just learned that their shy classmate, Alice, is the heir to a royal throne! Then they discover that their ancestor, Sherlock Holmes, had his suspicions about the kidnapping and return of Alice's grandmother, the princess of Borogovia.
Alice is to be crowned on her thirteenth birthday . . . but she goes missing days before the ceremony. Who would kidnap a princess? Where would they hide her in a city where Xena and Xander Holmes—and the police!—are looking for her? And then there’s the biggest mystery of all: is Alice really the princess?"
Grab yourself a copy of The Missing Heir here.
Friday, June 17, 2011
Okay, so this isn’t exactly the kind of book we’re used to talking about here at Smack Dab…These pages contain no wizards or magic—not a single pint-sized protagonist. But John B. Thompson’s Merchants of Culture is a fantastic read for anyone with a manuscript in a drawer or an idea for a novel floating around in their head.
Thompson spent four years interviewing editors, publishers, and agents in the world of trade publishing, and offers, in MOC, an analysis of how book selling has changed in recent years, explains the dynamics between editors and agents, demystifies the process of acquisition, and even, to some extent, explains the forces at work behind the promotional decisions made by publishing houses.
Let’s face it—getting your book to publication (and, once it’s out, learning the publicity ropes) can feel a bit like stumbling around in a dark room. Thompson’s book offers, I think, a much-welcome streak of light.
…Those of you who also love to read about writing: What books on or about the writing process changed the way you think about the craft or changed your approach as a writer?
Thursday, June 16, 2011
Imagine a room filled with books and gorgeous artwork. There's a big comfy armchair in one corner. There are shelves of research books (since I write historical novels) helpfully close to the beautiful antique desk. There are flowers blooming in the corner. There is an atmosphere of absolute peace.
Ahem. Excuse me.
Now here's my actual writing space, as an officially professional author:
Anywhere I can prop my laptop. Which usually means on my knees.
I don't have a desk, much less a "writing room". I write while either lying on the couch, or lying on my bed propped up on the pillows. My toddler son's toys are stacked around me in either place. Every time I look away from my laptop screen, I'm reminded of all the household (or business) chores that I've left undone, all the burning issues that I desperately need to handle...just as soon as I can finish my scene.
Here's how I focus anyway:
1. Desperation: I only have a limited amount of time and energy for writing, so I need to buckle down and use it, no matter what!
2. Music: I keep a playlist on iTunes for each writing project. I never listen to those playlists except when I'm writing. That means that from the moment I put on my headphones and hear the first song, I'm already in the mood and headspace for that project (especially since each song on the playlist has been picked for its resonance with at least one of my characters.) No matter how much clutter might be stacked around me, how many chores might be begging to be done, once my soundspace is full of inspiration, I can focus on my laptop screen and be swept away to 1803 England (or anywhere else in time and space).
3. Bribery: My favorite kind of tea is Earl Grey. My favorite kind of chocolate is dark and gourmet. Guess how I start every writing session? With a cup of hot tea and four squares of delicious dark chocolate. It's a perfect bribe to start writing, and it's also become a ritual - and every ritual helps!
Yup. Desperation, Music, and Bribery: my top three tips for creating a writing space. They may not sound romantic...but they really, really work!
What about you guys? What do you do to help yourself feel creative no matter what your physical environment might be?
Tuesday, June 14, 2011
The space swings from neat to horribly messy. The photos here document the h-messy stage, which to be honest, is the usual condition. Sometimes I feel the urge to eliminate all clutter and I'll spend a day cleaning, straightening, and throwing things out. Usually at the beginning of a project. I'm not sure if that is a convenient excuse not to attend to the writing that day, or whether somehow cleaning everything up really helps me focus and begin. Other times I can create and maintain "the cocoon of concentration" in the middle of the mess, and it wouldn't matter at all how the surroundings looked. Neat or not though, it's nice to have a space.
Monday, June 13, 2011
|Office mailbox thing (what are these called, anyway?)|
|The Jack Russell Terrorists|
Sunday, June 12, 2011
I’m also thrilled to announce a few changes here at Smack Dab!
New & Improved:
First, those of you who have been here before will see that we’ve got a few new pages at the top of the blog…That’s because we’re going to implement some new features: Writing Tips, Publishing / Industry News, and Guest Posts / Interviews. Initially, all these posts will be seen in the main stream of the blog; they’ll later be cut and pasted into their appropriate pages so that visitors will always be able to find that content easily.
You’ll also notice a new “Contact Us” page at the top of the blog. Those of you with questions or suggestions on writing, drafting, etc. are welcome to shoot us an email…We’d be happy to put up one (or a few) writing tip posts based on your questions or prompts. Any other MG authors who would like to do a guest post can also absolutely get in touch! We’d be happy to feature you here at Smack Dab.
Also, we’ll be hosting giveaways…of our own recent releases or of books we’ve loved and would like to pass on. We’ll also be giving away some swag courtesy of our guest posters and interviewees. Any current giveaways will be listed on the sidebar.
Saturday, June 11, 2011
If you happen to go to my website, you’ll seen the highly cleaned up version of my main workspace. (Look fast, though, because the website is soon changing.)
Until my house got turned upside-down by construction, the desk sat in what’s basically a pass-through room between the TV room and the rest of the house. Most important, it sat on the other side of the kitchen wall so I had ready access to brain fuel.
Right now, behind the plastic curtain which doesn’t keep out as much saw- and general dust as one might hope, I can still work.
And while this is my go-to space for first drafts and on-computer revisions, I employ two other highly important writing environments:
Most of you can understand why a writer might get up and take a walk. When I do, I first clear my head of anything book related. At some point in the middle of my walk, my brain magically drifts back to it and, on its own, works on plot or setting or characters while my heart gets the aerobic benefits.
But why theTV? It’s my main brainstorming tool when I create the puzzles I frequently incorporate in my books. I wish I could tell you how that works, but again we’ll have to go with magic.
And I’d stop there, but I should tell you one more thing about how I write. I can do it with the TV on. I can do it with a parade marching through my house. I’ve been doing it (because of the construction) with temperatures ranging from 52 to 90 degrees in here, with workers sawing and hammering and doing other stuff that makes weird sounds, with their radios blasting everything from classic rock to hard-core country. But put a friend or family member in the house, and forget it. Doesn’t matter if that person is totally silent and barricaded in another room. I can’t write. Unless of course, I’m in the zone. Anything’s possible in the zone.