Please join us to discuss everything literary (especially kid literary): good books, the writing life, the people and businesses who create books, controversies in book world, what's good to snack on while reading and writing, and anything else bookish. We welcome your thoughts.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Chaos... Or not?

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.
When he just shook his head and smiled, I knew he wasn't buying it.
With that said, I figured I'd ask for a few unbiased opinions. Chaos or not?
Max and his shoephone.
First though, I need to explain that the word "chaos" doesn't necessarily conjure up a whole world of negativity for me. It reminds me of the 1960s zany television show "Get Smart" where the evildoers in the underworld organization "CHAOS", (supposedly Russia's Secret Service, the KGB) were bent on destroying all of our freedoms. I spent many evenings laughing at the show's crazy antics and far out plots. The characters were great, too. I'll never forget Max, the clumsy and bumbling special agent known as Agent 86 and the top-secret telephone he hid in his shoe. He had a real nose for disaster, finding trouble where there was none, creating havoc out of calm, sidestepping every major issue before the real one smacked him in the face. Yet, when all was said and done, Max tied up all the loose ends so that everyone was safe to live another day.
The second piece of information you might need to know to make a decision as to why I store all my papers in such a confined space is that I get around in a wheelchair since a 1983 diving accident, and although I'm 6'2" tall, my reach doesn't extend very far.
So, okay. Now I’ll get back to the point. My workstation. Is it pure chaos or not?
Look closely at the picture. Did someone just call me Agent 86? It isn't that bad... is it? Or have you been talking to my son? Let me explain what's in my workspace and what I do with it before you pass final judgment.
Pictures. Tons of them. All there to remind me of how lucky I am to have so many caring people in my life. I keep them close to me so that when I think times are tough, perhaps when I can't figure out where my story is going, I realize I'm not so unlucky after all. Without the special people in my life, none of the writing I do would be worth it.
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.
Mixed in with those images is the premise and a one line synopsis of my story, written neatly in large letters as a reminder of where I need to go with my story. It serves as my focus, my straightaway through the twisting turns of my novel.
The huge stack of papers to the right is a copy of the latest draft (number eight) of the current novel I'm revising. I want to be able to access all the correction notes scribbled within... well, most of the time anyway.
Having a printer nearby might seem an obvious necessity, but I don't use it as often as I used to (for printing out the papers anyhow). I bring my laptop computer, or my new handy-dandy IPad when I go to my critique groups. Believe it or not, this process allows for a lot less clutter around my workstation. Of course, the printer still has a useful purpose. (Take a closer look at the right-hand corner of the photo.) It's wide, flat top of allows me to store a few older, shorter stories I've written and notes from many of the conferences I've attended throughout the years. And when the stack gets too high, as it is now, I simply shove them beside the printer. (Or, as seen here in another picture, shoved into the cupboard with the rest of my rough drafts... I guess I still don't completely trust technology to save all of my work.)
My rough drafts... and a few extra supplies.
My telephones are nearby, too. I can't ignore or avoid answering all the calls when I'm working. I do hate getting interrupted in the middle of a thought though? Don't you?
The staples I need (see list below) are somewhere on the desk. Can you find them?
Where's Waldo?...  uh…. er…. Where Are Dave Supplies?
Books, pens, staples, paper clips, writing paper, ink, staple remover, index cards, address labels, backup CDs with copies of all my work, The Elements of Style, by William Strunk Junior and EB White, The Elements of Editing, a Modern Guide for Editors and Journalists by Arthur Plotnick
Dictating madly away.
Last but not least, especially for me, is the headset you see me wearing. No. It's not for listening to music. I can't concentrate too well that way. It's for the voice activation software, Dragon NaturallySpeaking, (see link to website below) that I use. Without that, I'd be lost. It's taken me from an extremely rotten two-fingered typist (using specially adapted splints given to me when I was first injured... still seen here on my workstation desk), to someone who can get the words onto paper almost as fast as they come into my head. I'll give a more detailed explanation of the benefits of the voice activation software some other entry.
Have you reached your verdict yet? Am I more like Agent 86, the bumbling, stumbling star of the show "Get Smart"? Is my area pure chaos as my son seems to think? Or do I pass the test of someone who is somewhat organized? Like Max, have I managed to tie the loose ends neatly together? You decide. And let me know.


  1. I think organized chaos can be a good thing. As long as you understand your system, that's all that matters. Love the tie in to Get Smart. And to think when that show before cell phones existed. Wow!

    Happy New Year!

  2. Love the photos of your workspace, Dave! And love the Get Smart references too. That's one of my all time favorite TV series. (I always wanted to be Agent 99 though.) It looks to me like you have a nearly perfect arrangement for your needs and working style - a little organized chaos is what most creative people need!

  3. You brought back good memories of "Get Smart". i always loved the ending when he's walking away and doors, gates, etc are shutting behind him; so deliciously final! As long as you can find what you need in your workspace, it's gotta work!