Thursday, August 20, 2015

The Desk

Normally when writing nonfiction, I write top down. That is, I start with the broad and then narrow my focus. With my blog post on pens and pencils, I started this blog bottom up: I started with the tiny details and moved upward.

Why? Because so many people who try to declutter say they get overwhelmed by the big picture. Starting with pens and pencils was a way to show that you can start with the details and even a little bit at a time can make a big difference.

But now let's widen our focus. What about the whole desk?

Desk? What Desk?

If you're serious about writing, you need some space, whether it's a corner in a room, a TV tray next to your bed, or a back hall that you use for writing. If not, you'll be wasting a lot of precious writing time looking for your materials or hiding them under the bed when company comes. Still, if that's your only choice, hiding them under the bed, do it. Read this article, replacing the word "desk" with "underbed storage container" and see if that helps. Keeping all your stuff in a container that you pull out when you're ready to work is much more efficient than searching around the house or apartment for things you were working on last week. It also makes it less likely that the cat, dog, or house gnome will run off with it.

What's on Your Desk

For inspiration, writers and artists often keep things that don't traditionally belong on a desk. For example, when writing vampire fiction, I keep resin vampire figures, wax vampire teeth, and a miniature coffin or two next to my monitor. Many romance writers have adopted the idea of creating a collage for their novel (see Jenny Crusie's blog post on the collage as prewriting), something that would adapt well to other genres of writing.

There's no reason you shouldn't keep inspirational items on your desk. That's one of the things you need to do your creative work. Do you really need them on your desk? What about shelves at eye height? Or putting the paper items (photos, collages, notes) on a bulletin board? Don't like the look of cork? What about a magnetic board?

Too expensive, you say? Well, yes, a large white (or silver) magnetic board can be expensive, but there are other options. Fabulessly Frugal tells you how to turn an oil drip pan into a message center. This one, advertised on Advance Auto Parts, would work great turned on its side, but it has an embossed area that you might not like. Either search online for one that doesn't, or hang an year-long calendar printout over it.

To make space for items that you want to keep on your desk, start looking at getting rid of the things you don't need for your work, creative or otherwise. If you can move them away from your workspace, you'll not only have more room for creative totems, but you'll feel less hemmed-in, less inhibited, which might help your creativity.

At the End of Each Day

At the end of your day, whether that's 7:00 am when you have to quit to go to the day job or midnight when you have to stop so you can get some sleep before you get up for your day job, clear away things you can.

There are some creative things you can't put away (physical artwork in progress) or some things you don't want to put away (that manuscript you're editing that is open to the page where you left off), but take a good look at everything else. That book you were using for research? Are you still using it? If not, shelve it.

Your attempts won't have much effect at first, but the point is to get in the habit of going through what's on your desk. Who knows, you may find that check for your last story that you've been searching for!


Here are some useful articles to give you more ideas on what you can do to organize your desk or desk space.

From Lifehacker. Be sure to read the section called Reboot Your Office Every Evening.

Lifehacker: Streamline Your Workspace

These articles probably apply more to the day job, but you might find some of the techniques useful for home.

What Does Not Belong on Your Desk

More on Desk Organization

Monday, August 17, 2015

Decluttering, Or Getting Rid Of The Dead Weight

Today's guest blogger, author Jennifer Allis Provost, tackles the random junk in the kitchen.

Decluttering, Or Getting Rid Of The Dead Weight
Jennifer Allis Provost

As writers we tend to hold on to odd bits of minutia, whether it's a notebook of story prompts, a feather we found in the yard, or a souvenir from a trip we took twenty or so years ago.  Memorabilia's nice and all, but if we're not careful we'll end up with a house full of random junk— which is exactly what happened to me.

I've been working on my kitchen for the past few months, and anyone who's ever been in my kitchen will understand why. It's been half done for about six years, being that having twins is the single best way to lose time, funds, and motivation for home improvement projects. A few weeks ago I said to myself, "Self, this is it. By the end of 2015, I will have a kitchen I'm proud of." However, before I could tackle things like my atrocious ceiling and the half-tiled back splash, I had to deal with the clutter.

What sort of clutter, you ask? Daily progress reports from the Wonder Twins' pre-K teachers, assorted birthday cards and invitations, and enough receipts to evidence a truly debilitating shopping addiction (shoes...I needs all the shoes). But the mecca of clutter, in my kitchen at least, was the wine cabinet.

This wine cabinet was given to me by a less-than-favored in-law about ten years ago, with the explanation, "I know how much you like wine, and it was on clearance at Target." At that time I think I'd had all of three glasses of wine in my life, and hadn't liked any of them. Anyway, I accepted the gift, stuck it in my kitchen and filled it with all sorts of junk. Ironically, no bottles of wine ever made it into the cabinet, but it has housed Limoncello.

Mmm, Limoncello.

So instead of housing the intended wine, said wine cabinet ended up as the resting place of many oddities I accumulated over the course of my writing career. Within the bowels of the cabinet I found a Russian phrasebook (I took Russian in high school, along with French and Italian) that was used to assist a fellow author, a Gaelic dictionary (I taught myself Gaelic for a different project), random name tags and program booklets for 10+ years of writing conventions, and enough bookmarks to choke a horse.

Non-writerly stuff included mismatched tablecloths and placemats, keychains, half-burned candles, a crap ton of office supplies, and an assortment of odd-shaped glasses.

Yeah. Basically, it was a heap of junk.

Here's how it all shook out: I washed the glasses, and put them with...wait for it...the other glasses. I put the books on the bookshelf, the candles in the candle drawer, and recycled the program books and name tags; seriously, if I need to know who the Arisia GOH was in 2006 I'll Google it. That's what the Internet's there for. I also threw the tablecloths and placemats in the wash and then the linen closet, and added the bookmarks to my swag box. Then came the most awesome part of this project:

My husband and I destroyed the cabinet and dumped it in the trash.

The moral of this story is that not only was I holding on to things I didn't need to (for example the program books), I was also being lazy and dumping things in the cabinet rather than putting them away properly. If you want to be a successful writer, or artist of any type, a modicum of organization is necessary. And keeping a heap of junk in your kitchen is not conducive to anything but accumulating dust.

Besides, if you're going to add furniture shouldn't it be a bookcase? Now that's my kind of clutter.

About Jennifer:

Jennifer Allis Provost writes books about faeries, orcs and elves. Zombies too. She grew up in the wilds of Western Massachusetts and had read every book in the local library by age twelve. (It was a small library). An early love of mythology and folklore led to her epic fantasy series, The Chronicles of Parthalan, and her day job as a cubicle monkey helped shape her urban fantasy, Copper Girl. Her latest release, Heir to the Sun, was released June 1, 2015 by Bellatrix Press. Her next release, Changing Teams, will release November 10, 2015 from Limitless Publishing. Find her on the web at