Monday, January 31, 2011
Wednesday, January 26, 2011
I've especially enjoyed this month's theme and the opportunity to peek into the places where so many talented people create. I've long recognized that I'm a voyeur of sorts - like many writers, I like to listen in on conversations in restaurants, observe the behavior of others in stores and airports, and stare at old photos of people I've never met and wonder about their lives. And, as it turns out, I especially like to look behind the scenes at the private worlds of writers. I'm grateful that I've been able to glean ideas useful for my own work processes (like Jenny's magic board and Susan's project subfolders) and studio (I'm drooling over Carol H.'s colorful bins and lovely antiques). Most of all, though, I'm grateful for the reassurance that I'm not alone! Lots of other fabulous writers work amongst clutter, and even a bit of disorder. Thank you all!
Perhaps my biggest take-away, though, has been a reminder that writing can happen anywhere. You don't need an expensive or perfectly arranged office, top of the line electronics and fancy gadgets, or even utter peace and quiet. All you need are the simplest of tools - a pen or pencil, some scraps of paper, a place to park your body - and focus. Which is why I've spent some time the last few days putting pen to paper in my comfy chair. And when the dog barks or the phone rings, I just remind myself that Scott Turow wrote the bestseller Presumed Innocent on the train while riding back and forth to his job as an attorney - and my distractions are minor compared to those on a commuter train.
Still, if you're like me - you might feel like lusting over more writers' studios anyhow. So here are some extra resources.
The UK's Guardian has an unbelievably fabulous series on the workspaces of creative people (mostly writers but also some illustrators and musicians), both historic and contemporary. You can check out the little table and chair where Jane Austen penned her classics or the interesting shed where Roald Dahl worked or dozens of other intriguing work rooms.
The blog Apartment Therapy features workspaces pretty regularly. Here's a recent roundup of of at-home writing areas.
Where Women Create. She has a whole series of related books - tasty eye candy and also good ideas to borrow.
And finally, if you're still craving somewhere away from home to get some work done (and you live in or near the right cities), check out the writing spots available to rent inexpensively through the organization The Writer's Room.
Monday, January 24, 2011
Friday, January 21, 2011
In each of my chapter folders I dump all kinds of stuff: pdfs of maps and pictures, articles I find, notes I've taken from books, early drafts.
For nonfiction, I use the internet a lot. I use it to give me ideas, help me find books that will be useful, sources of maps or other images, and also as references. For this particular series, the USGS website is very useful. But it's such a big site with so many pages, that I want to bookmark the ones I find particularly helpful and may want to include for further interest or as a reference. I keep the bookmarks in folders, usually just by general book and not by chapter. Here's what my screen looks like with bookmarks in my Safari browser.
And here's one of the bookmarked sites open (with gorgeous graphics of the San Andreas fault and tectonic movements through time...I love you USGS...)
Since I'm traveling, I can't take pictures of my home office setup, but I'll try to add that tomorrow.
Wednesday, January 19, 2011
Then, several years ago, I discovered the flash drive! I’m not saying I’m paper-free, but flash drives have made my life easier. I have a number of them secreted in various places around my study. And, as I begin my next novel, I plan on getting another one. Even so, I can’t function without my notes, research papers, time-lines, and research books. But maybe it’s time to get some of those notes off my desk?
The piano might be a good place to put my notes. Hmmm. I did want the piano out of my study, but then where would I lay out my timeline?
Oh, that’s right. I have this nifty desk with its reference shelf below, just for that purpose. But if I move the timeline here, where will I put my research papers?
OK, I could put those papers on the coffee table. But, wait; I’ve already got reference books there!
Temporarily, I could stack my reference books on the couch. Yikes, Brutus wouldn’t like that! He might even take back his consent to use his name in my novel!
OK, soooo books go on bookshelves. I COULD put the reference books in the bookcase. But WHERE in the bookcase can I put them?
No, I will not say I have too many books. I just won’t! I know; time to get another bookcase! IKEA, here I come! H . . . E . . . double hockey sticks! I’ll have to get rid of the piano to make room for the new bookcase! You know, I’m just going to forget the whole thing. Too much organization is detrimental to my creative mind. Better to just ignore everything and write!
Monday, January 17, 2011
This Eee PC notebook is my writing desk, my book shelf, and my file cabinet. Such a tiny workspace—massive capacity for storage, plus an almost infinite potential for disorder. Here are some of my methods for keeping things tidy:
First comes the PROJECT FOLDER. I create a project folder for every idea I get, no matter how embryonic or sketchy or idle or impractical. (A number of these folders are nearly empty.)
As soon as an idea becomes an active project, the folder begins to fill up. I open files for individual scenes, chapters, sections, and (much later) full drafts. I also create auxiliary files, as I need them. Here are auxiliary files that appear in every project folder:
Dumps. I can be a ruthless self-editor, because when it comes to anything of size (or anything I particularly love), I never really delete. I dump, into the project's Dumps file. If I need to restore that passage later, or to adapt that apt image or bit of dialogue for some other use, it's there. Occasionally I skim through this file, the way one might go through one's discarded costume jewelry, in case some forgotten treasure suddenly looks fresh and useful.
Save the Cat. Here I build my story arc, using the template devised by Blake Snyder for his book of that name. For many reasons, which I'll blog about sometime, I find this story template the most useful ever.
Genre Elements. Here I list elements common to books I admire in the same genre and age range as my project. The list provides guidance when I'm structuring, and reminders and refreshers later on.
Threads. A sloppy, scribbly file where I track relationship or theme arcs.
Notes. Brainstorms and random thoughts, as well as all the critiques from readers along the way. As a project gets longer, this file turns into a bunch of files, with names like "Notes on 03 03 10," "Notes on Part I," and "Notes on the whole."
Synopsis. A running file of notes, sketches, and drafts of what will finally be the Synopsis. Similarly, I keep files named Query and Elevator Pitch.
Working Files. Frequently I isolate a short scene to work on it. I move it to an individual file with a name like "Working File spelling bee scene." Into it I paste all the notes and sketches that relate to the scene (from my Save the Cat outline, Threads file, and various Notes files). Somehow this way to see everything at once works better for me than opening a bunch of windows. Once the scene is polished to my liking, I copy it back to the main text file. Then I move the Working File into a NOTES ALREADY ENTERED sub-folder.
Which means it's time to describe the sub-folders that longer projects require:
NOTES ALREADY ENTERED. Here I store old Notes files, after I've entered or rejected all the notes in them. (To make sure I don't overlook any notes, I score through each after I deal with it.) I also keep old Working Files here . . . just in case. (Have I mentioned my addiction to revising? And my fear of losing data, even though I back everything up thrice?) When the project is finished, the last file to move to this folder would be Dumps.
RESEARCH. In research-light projects, this might be a single file, not a sub-folder. I scan, cut-and-paste, or just type stuff in. (Of course, I use actual books, too, but most of them belong to libraries.)
SUBMITS. Immutable files of any samples I've submitted for critiques or contests.
OLD DRAFTS. Now and then a project changes so radically that I need this sub-folder so I don't confuse the old stuff from the new.
Friday, January 14, 2011
Wednesday, January 12, 2011
The other day my son was helping me with some paperwork that I store in my workstation. "It's pure chaos here," he said. "Bulldoze it. You don't need this stuff anyway. You'll never use it."
"Organized chaos," I tried to explain.
|Max and his shoephone.|
|My one line synopsis... While exploring a pitch black coal mine, |
fifteen year old Matthew Kowalski discovers a deeper darkness,
the secrets and lies that have ripped apart his family.
|My rough drafts... and a few extra supplies.|
|Dictating madly away.|
Monday, January 10, 2011
What does the MC want, and why can’t he have it?
Is it an internal or external problem; is he aware of it or not?
What is his flaw?
"Answers" and thoughts about these questions are jotted down on white cards below the blue cards.
Friday, January 7, 2011
Okay. New Year’s resolution.
Keep office clean.
Trash into trash bin.
Sort all of these papers.
You have a story to tell me?
Wait, you’re talking too fast. What’s the name of the planet?
You know what?
You’re a stink bug. You’re not from outer space.
I’m putting you outside.
Oh, Pile C. Ohhhh, look at this picture of the doggie.
This could win an award.
I should get on the computer and see if there are any contests.
Where was I?
Rejections. Where is my flame thrower?
Why did I print these out? To punish myself?
This writing is a mean business.
No wonder I can’t keep my office clean.
So many things to think about.
Oh, cat. You have a story to tell me?
The dog did what? Why didn’t you scratch him?
Oh, that’s right. Someone declawed you. It wasn’t me.
Do you want my flame thrower?
Ha, just kidding. Now, get out of here.
Get to work.
Uh-oh. Where did I put that outline?
It was on top of my coffee mug just a minute ago.
What pile did I put it in?
Where did I put the pile?
I want my mess back!
Wednesday, January 5, 2011
The photo above shows what has always been my favorite workspace: the kitchen table. (Shown with my book Mimi in progress.) I do have a dedicated studio upstairs, which I use too (okay, especially for storage), but I think I've always just felt more comfortable working near my family and all the stuff I need to manage our busy lives. And near the refrigerator, as my hips will attest.
And finally, I'm grudgingly admitting a little more distance (and a flight of stairs) between me and the fridge might not be a bad idea.
I've spent a lot of the fall trying to get things arranged in my studio to make it both more inviting and better suited to my work. (Though I've resisted the urge to really renovate by stripping wallpaper, refinishing floors, adding skylights, painting - ah, a girl can dream.) What follows are a lot of photos with annotation. I hope there are ideas that might also work for other illustrators and/or writers.
My main work area for illustration is a large drawing table that I now have set up the way I usually arranged the kitchen table: with stations for different tasks.
The rest of my studio is largely devoted to storage of one sort or another. Mixed media art demands an ungodly number of supplies.
I tend to write either at the kitchen desktop computer or increasingly on my newish iPad, shown here on the desk my husband made for our bedroom. I got a wireless keyboard to make word processing easier, and I use the Documents-to-Go app in conjuction with Mobile Me to work on manuscripts.
Finally, this is the "studio" where I get much of my inspiration and work through issues that are giving me headaches.