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In Search of the Perfect Writer’s Home Office:

2 cat deskAs I mentioned last week, I’m moving next Saturday. Our new place is about six hundred square feet (give or take) smaller than the place we’re in now, so downsizing is the name of the game. I’m fine with this (even excited about it), except for one thing: my desk.

My work desk is a huge drafting table. It sits up high, has a span of nearly five feet, and is a remnant of my (much) younger days when I thought I was going to be a visual artist. Though I haven’t sketched much in the last twenty years, I kept the desk. I like it partly because I can spread out, but mostly because there’s space for two cat beds. Having one or both of my feline companions curled up within arm’s reach is, without doubt, my favorite thing about my current home office.

But the new place doesn’t have space for this mammoth piece of furniture. So, I find myself in need of a new arrangement and – very likely – a new desk. I began my online research earlier this week when I should have been nose-to-grindstone on a deadline. All I did was an innocent search for “computer desk,” but – whoa! – talk about going down the rabbit hole. There are SO many different styles, materials, sizes, configurations, features, brand names … the list of variables goes on and on (… and on!).

I’ve been looking at corner desks, L-shaped desks that just might tuck into a corner, desks with hutches, hutches with hidden desks inside, and every other possible solution. It’s not that I need a great, new desk. My first nine months as a freelancer my “office” was my lap and  a ratty chair that I picked up off the curb.  Still, a new desk would be nice. I spend so much time at my desk, it might as well be something beautiful, right?

Though the options are mind boggling and many of the prices intimidating, I’m determined to find something I love. I may find it on Craig’s List. I may create my own, one-of-a-kind set up by combining flea market finds. Either way, I’m definitely going to invest in a really nice chair and a keyboard tray. Good ergonomics are key.

I’m curious to hear about other writers’ home offices. We wrote about our writing desks last spring in the Friday Fun, What does your writing desk look like? But, what about you guys? Do you have a home office? What’s your set-up like? What’s your dream situation?

What I’m Writing:

artscopeSo, with our move just around the corner and deadlines looming on all sides, I did what any red-blooded writer would do when a new editor called with a trial assignment. I said, “Yes.” Though I am ridiculously busy and stressed (just ask my friends and family), when the editor of a regional art magazine called with a small, event-related assignment, I decided that I would just make it work. And, I did.

Though the piece was short (600 words), I really enjoyed the opportunity to interview a couple of gallery owners and then put the story together so that it covered the event, represented the two galleries (with quotes), and also provided a bit of a travelogue flavor. These are all writing skills that I don’t use on a regular basis with either my marcom (marketing and communications) or column writing, so I was happy to have an excuse to flex these little-used creative muscles.

 

What I’m Reading:


As you can imagine, reading time is scarce this week and will be next week as well. Though I miss my reading time, I’m not beating myself up over being too busy to curl up with a book. There will be time for that after we’ve settled in our new place. For now, I’m looking forward to listening to my audio books this weekend while I’m purging, packing, and cleaning.  I’m almost halfway through Life After Life: A Novel (affiliate link) by Kate Atkinson.

I’m still not quite sure how to describe this book. I was telling a friend how even though I’m halfway through, there have been long stretches of the story where nothing much is happening. The funny thing is, I don’t mind. I enjoy the language (and narrator performance) so much that any lag in the story isn’t really affecting my appreciation of the work. And the concept is so interesting (not to mention the story structure).

 

And let’s not forget the blogs. Here are a few of my favorite writerly posts from this week:

Finally, a quote for the week:

So … not so much a quote as an image. I found this on Pinterest, and loved it. I wish there was any attribution tied to the piece, but I couldn’t find any, not even via a Google image search. Anyway, this is pretty much how I feel – like I want to hide away with all my books and just get myself lost in a good story.

pin book hideout

Since I’ll be moving next Saturday, I am going to (grudgingly) give myself the week off. SO – next Saturday there will be no weekend edition. I’ll miss you guys, but I’ll be back on May 3rd. Until then, keep writing & keep reading! 
Jamie Lee Wallace is a writer who also happens to be a marketer. She helps her Suddenly Marketing clients discover their voice, connect with their audience, and find their marketing groove. She is also a mom, a prolific blogger, and a student of the equestrian arts, voice, and trapeze (not at the same time). Introduce yourself on facebook or twitter. She doesn’t bite … usually.

Friday Fun is a group post from the writers of the NHWN blog. Each week, we’ll pose and answer a different, get-to-know-us question. We hope you’ll join in by providing your answer in the comments.

QUESTION: Even though the Academy of American Poets declares April National Poetry Month, we live in northern New England, where we were hit with snow and freezing temperatures this week. So, what better way to end the week than with lines from our favorite poems about Spring?

IMG_1102Deborah Lee Luskin writes:

T. S. Elliot sums up April with the opening lines of his poem, The Wasteland:

       April is the cruellest month, breeding
    Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
    Memory and desire, stirring
    Dull roots with spring rain.
But Robert Frost nails April in this stanza from his poem, Two Tramps in Mud Time:
      The sun was warm but the wind was chill.
You know how it is with an April day
When the sun is out and the wind is still,
You’re one month on in the middle of May.
But if you so much as dare to speak,
A cloud comes over the sunlit arch,
A wind comes off a frozen peak,
And you’re two months back in the middle of March.
And another one from Frost, one that captures the tease of a New England spring, where the trees don’t leaf out until May, and a week later it’s full summer.  Nothing Gold Can Stay.
    Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf,
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day
Nothing gold can stay.
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headshot_jw_thumbnailJamie Wallace: I’ll be honest, I’m no poetry aficionado. As I began sorting through my (overly) large collection of books in prepare for my upcoming move, I came across several poetry anthologies that I had forgotten I owned. When I saw this weeks Friday Fun question, I thought about pawing through their pages in search of something to share, but then I thought better of it. You see, despite my lack of knowledge about poetry, there are a few I like. For the theme of spring, the first poem that came to mind was Spring Morning by A.A. Milne.
If I had to pick a favorite line, it would be the closing stanza:
    sm snowdropsWhere am I going?  I don’t quite know,
What does it matter where people go?
Down to the wood where the blue-bells grow–
Anywhere, anywhere, I don’t know.
          ~A. A. Milne, When We Were Very Young
To hear the whole poem read aloud (and I think poetry should always be read aloud), check out this link Audioboo.
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Lisa J. JacksonLisa J. Jackson: I’d really have to do some digging and searching to find a poem. I spent a couple of semesters on poetry while working on my MA in writing and fell in love with a lot of different types of verse, but nothing that I can pull to mind immediately. I have to default to childhood lyrics and make up my own:

Roses are red
Violets are blue
If Spring ever arrives
I’ll be born anew.
.
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I was recently talking to a friend of mine about self-marketing.

self-marketing does not require gloves

self-marketing does not require gloves

She readily admitted that she was not strong at self-marketing her book, in fact, when she said the word “self-marketing” a visible shiver went down her body. Too many people see “self-marketing” as being boastful, as something that is icky and not to be touched unless wearing rubber gloves.

Oh not true. So not true.

Self-marketing is a chance for you to share the enthusiasm you have for your work. You don’t have to say that you are the greatest thing that has set foot on the planet earth, but you do have to say that your *idea* is a worthy one, deserving of being looked at.

I love to self-market.

It’s how I got my first egg noticed (I put it up on ebay at a starting price of $729.93 because that’s how much it cost us to get to that first, golden egg.)

It’s how a story about our chicken painting a picture with her feet which was then auctioned off to help a local playground fund got picked up and shared around the world.

It’s how I’ve been interviewed on TV for things I write about.

Basically, I see self-marketing as a way to spread my word to others, in short – it’s a way to teach.

So what can you do to promote your work?

Make it timely
If there is a current event that ties in your subject then use it. Have blackberries just been discovered to contain the elixir to longevity? Then write a press release about that finding and provide a link to your blackberry cookbook published last year and then send it out to every news agency you can.

Figure out how to connect what you’ve done with what’s going on.

Create anniversaries
It’s been six months since your book was published. Have a ½ birthday party and create some buzz by having a give-away or contest. Has your book just come out in paperback – why, have another party! Give people a reason to notice your accomplishments.

Invite others to participate
I recently met Ridley Pearson who was on tour promoting his Kingdom Keepers series. For his last book, he invited fans to submit paragraphs they thought should be in the book. Out of the 55K entries, he and his team chose 60 paragraphs to use in the final book.

Did you see that first number? 55 – thousand, that’s a lot of attention for something that hasn’t even been published yet. Smart guy, that Ridley.

Promote fan fiction on your site or hold a photo contest – just be sure to reward people for their involvement.

Contact any and all publication editors you know and offer to write an article
Editors need content, if you can write about a topic, your work will be considered. Sure, you might not get paid, but you can keep it short and in your bio make sure that you point to your blog, website, and recently published book.

Be sure to include good quality photos with the articles and those editors will become your new best friends.

Get involved in the community
Donate copies of your book for local auctions. Consider teaching a writing workshop. Create a basket of items in your genre (chickens, anyone) for a raffle. Get your work involved in a fund-raiser.

Don’t just stop at donating *things* – join local groups or civic organizations. Word of mouth is an important way to get people interested in what you do. You wouldn’t want to talk only about yourself but, if in my case, the topic of chickens came up, you can bet that I would have something to say on the matter.

Talk, talk, share, and talk some more about your topic and your work, people’s natural interest will do the rest.

 

***

Wendy Thomas is an award winning journalist, columnist, and blogger who believes that taking challenges in life will always lead to goodness. She is the mother of 6 funny and creative kids and it is her goal to teach them through stories and lessons.

Wendy’s current project involves writing about her family’s experiences with chickens (yes, chickens). (www.simplethrift.wordpress.com)

'25351092815_0_ALB' photo (c) 2008, Rappaport Center - license: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/ I’ve landed a few marketing and content development clients.  I’m enjoying the work and the income is nice. I’m fortunate to have found enough work to fill many of the hours I have available to work. For now, it’s a case of having my eggs in only two baskets. That works short term, but is not a good strategy long term. It would make sense to expand my business marketing efforts to attract more of the same kind of work but, I don’t want to lose site of my love of creative writing.

It’s easy to get fixated on the income and stay in a certain track one where you know what to do and how to do it. I’ve done that in the past, but it hasn’t really worked out. I get bored and start to feel stuck. I’m a curious person and I love to stretch my creative muscles and learn new things. I do better when I’m working on project in difference spaces (not necessarily at the same time). One of my long term goals is to write and sell romantic fiction I’m also interested in exploring personal essays, creative non-fiction and articles, three very diverse markets. I’ve done some research and taken some courses so I feel like I have a basic understanding of what needs to be done, but I’m considering working with a coach to achieve my goals. I recognize the value in investing in my professional development and I think working with a coach could streamline my learning process and possibly expedite the time to publication.

Prior to starting my search for a coach, I’ve spent some time mulling some questions. My hope is that clarifying what I want upfront will simply the search, help me find a good match and insure a good return on my investment.

  • Here are some of the questions I’m thinking on:
  • Why do I want to work with a writing coach?
  • What do I expect to gain from employing a writing coach?
  • What specific expertise am I looking for in a coach?
  • Which skills am I looking to develop and which are my priority?
  • How much time per week/month can I realistically dedicate to working with a coach?
  • How much money am I willing to invest in working with a coach?
  • What kind of relationship am I looking for? Short term? Long term?
  • Do I want in person meetings? Phone Coaching? Email? A combination?
  • Do I want one on one coaching (more personalized, but more expensive) or will a group coaching situation work (less expensive, and less personalized, but with the added benefit of building more contacts).

Have you worked with a coach to develop or expand your skill set?  Is there anything I else I should be asking myself?

Lee Laughlin is a writer, wife, and mom, frequently all of those things at once. She blogs at Livefearlesslee.com. She is currently a member of the Concord Monitor Board of Contributors.  Her words have also appeared in a broad range of publications from community newspapers to the Boston Globe. She is a member of the New Hampshire Chapter of Romance Writers of America and is currently at work on her first novel.

There is still room in the Deb Dixon “Book-In-A-Day Workshop”being held May 10th in Nashua, NH Sign up today!

libraryGrowing up, our local library was almost a second home to me. Both my parents worked, so in the afternoons my sister and I would often walk the short distance from school to the library and spend a couple of hours tucked away in what was then a modest children’s room. Though the library has undergone several major renovations, including the children’s room, I can still see that room in my mind’s eye.

The circulation desk was in the center of the room and was flanked on two sides by tall, metal bookshelves that never seemed quite firmly rooted to the floor. On the third side was a bank of lower shelves whose configuration created a small nook in one corner of the room. The tiled floor of that nook was made slightly cozier by the addition of several rather worn vinyl recliner cushions. I loved that little corner and those dilapidated cushions.

Though I likely read hundreds of books while curled up in that spot, for some reason I have particular memories of The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster, Anne McCaffrey’s Pern series, and Lloyd Alexander’s Chronicles of Pyrdain. (I really must read those again.) I also wistfully recall a book whose author and title have long escaped me, but whose heroine I still remember – Kira, the girl who could talk to the animals of an enchanted forest. I wanted to be Kira.

Across the hall from the children’s room was “the stacks”, an eerie, dimly lit place full of old books that smelled of dust and mildew. Ours is an old New England town and many of our books are quite venerable. Back in the day, the stacks was where you went to kiss boys before your mother picked you up to go home for dinner. Today, the stacks have been replaced by The Archives Room, a sealed chamber which can only be visited by adults and only in the company of library personnel who can ensure the safe handling of the records and volumes stored there.

Above the basement abode of children’s room and stacks is the library proper. Broken into several rooms, the space is reminiscent of a grand house from a bygone era. Beyond the modest foyer is what would be the great room, the largest space in the building crowned by a balcony that runs around all four walls. Upon the balcony is where some of the oldest books reside, ones not quite old or rare enough to warrant climate controlled storage in the archives, but still quite interesting. I recently found a charming late nineteenth century book all about the origins of different meanings. And somewhere on those shelves is (I hope) a tiny volume on unicorn lore. It used to live downstairs, on the main floor of the library, just to the right of the circulation desk and quite near to the Tolkien books. It has been decades since I’ve seen that book, but it has never left my memory. I can still see the etchings that illustrated what appeared to be a field guide. I wish I could find it again.

Anyway, years passed. I outgrew the children’s room and once I was in high school, I visited the town library less and less frequently. Not only was the school library nearer to hand, I was also working at my parents’ print shop after school. After graduation, the library and I experienced a long dry spell. Life got busy. I was rarely home. I went to Boston College for a year. I worked in Boston, then Gloucester, then Wenham. Years passed. I got married and, eventually, had a little girl of my own. Finally, it was time to come home to the library.

My daughter is ten years-old now. We have made weekly trips to the library since she was about two. Though she thoroughly enjoys the books we bring home for bedtime, she has never liked choosing them. She prefers to wander around the upstairs library where our friend, Laura, works. So, while they visit, I peruse the shelves in the larger, modernized children’s room. The ambiance is not quite the same, but I swear that the vinyl cushions are the ones I sat in as a child. I will happily spend an hour running my fingers along the spines of the books, all lined up and waiting. Many are new, but just as many are clearly relics of an older age – clothbound with yellowed pages and filled with quaintly outdated stories. I wonder what the characters from those books would think of today’s heroes and villains.

One of my favorite things about the old children’s room was the entrance. Though you could get there from the main library, it was much more fun to enter by the side door which was tucked down behind a cast iron fence on the corner of the building. I always got a little thrill descending those stairs. There used to be a roof which gave you the feeling of being in a tunnel. It felt like I was entering a subterranean hideaway.

But time marches on and things change. Though I miss the charm of the old place, I’m grateful almost beyond words that we not only still have a library, but our town and citizens have seen fit to invest in it. Our library is one of the lucky ones, and it’s lovely to be back.

Jamie Lee Wallace is a writer who also happens to be a marketer. She helps her Suddenly Marketing clients discover their voice, connect with their audience, and find their marketing groove. She is also a mom, a prolific blogger, and a student of the equestrian arts, voice, and trapeze (not at the same time). Introduce yourself on facebook or twitter. She doesn’t bite … usually.

Chunking Time

It’s the start to another new week, and a new time to (possibly) be challenged with accomplishing all you want (or need) to accomplish.

Having a To Do list is important so you know what needs to be done — but sometimes the list seems a bit overwhelming and you may try to multitask and end up starting many items while finishing few.

Chunking your time can help you be productive and get tasks done — especially if one of the tasks is writing. Isn’t it difficult to find the time to write when it’s one of a list of things to do?

I have two approaches to chunking: individual tasks and similar tasks.

Basically, you decide on the top 2, 3, or 4 ‘must-get-dones’ for the day and choose an amount of time to dedicate to each. Chunk that time in your schedule

Since I’m still using a paper planner, I use a highlighter to mark off time periods – a different color for each task/project. If you’re using an online planner, say, Google Calendar, it’s very easy to select different colors for different chunks of time.

What’s the benefit of chunking time? You can be fully focused on the task/project at hand knowing that you’ve dedicated the time to it. Other items will be done later, but for the chunked period, shiny object syndrome and procrastination gremlins should remain at bay.

Chunking time helps you relax – you know you’re attending to a priority and won’t have to hope to make up the time later. Sure a task may take multiple days, but chunk what you need and take some pressure off your shoulders.

I don’t think there’s anything worse than hoping to get to an item or saying “I’ll start that as soon as I finish this, this, and this.” Chunking is setting an appointment for yourself to be focused on one and only one task (or a set of similar tasks, such as making phone calls, setting appointments, replying to emails, and so on).

Writing can often fall off the plate for the day if paying work is present, but having a 1-hour chunk of time to solely focus on writing is encouraging. I know everything else will get done, but for this 1 hour (or however much time), I have the singular focus — it’s quite freeing.

Have you tried chunking your time before? Do you see the possibility with it?

Lisa J. Jackson Lisa J. Jackson is an independent writer and editor who enjoys working with businesses of all sizes. She’s always trying new things in order to use her time most effectively. You can connect with her on FacebookTwitterGoogle+, and LinkedIn.

Welcome to the Weekend Edition. Grab a cuppa and settle in for a meander. Glad to have you here.

fairytale cottageA Place to Write:

We’re moving in a couple of weeks. I have spent the last year trying to find a house to buy (an “adventure” partially chronicled in a piece by fellow L2W-W2L blogger Lee, How to Buy a Home in a Seller’s Market), but – alas! – we were unable to find a suitable home. Part of me is disappointed. Part of me feels like I dodged a bullet.

I will be keeping a close eye on the market, but I’ve begun to question whether or not I want to buy a house. Though my nester’s heart loves the idea of having a little corner of the world to call my own, the physical and financial responsibility of home ownership is enormous. Life is short and we have limited resources. Am I sure I want to invest so much of my time, money, and attention in the procurement and upkeep of a physical space?

As a writer, my priority is to be able to write. But, what does that mean? It isn’t so much about having a room of my own as it is about having a different kind of space. Owning my home is less important than owning my time. To own my time, I need to create space in my life. I need to have the freedom to spend my minutes and hours and days doing the thing I love. While owning a home is a lovely ideal, it comes with a price. Am I willing to trade not only my existing financial assets, but also my future time assets in exchange for being able to say, “This is mine?” As my dad likes to say, “You can have anything you want, you just can’t have everything you want.”

Or, would I be happier if I created a life that left more room for the creative work I love? Would I be more fulfilled if I had a wealth of time to spend as I pleased instead of having to sell all my hours for dollars in order to ensure the security of four walls and a roof?

Though I’m not ready to make the leap, living in a tiny house is a fantasy I share with fellow L2W-W2L blogger, Wendy. I read stories about people, like Tammy Strobel (aka “@RowdyKittens“) who are changing the way we think about the American Dream. They are passing on the white picket fence and instead choosing freedom. Imagine if your monthly expenses were half what they are now, or a third, or a tenth. How would you spend all your reclaimed time?

For now, my daughter and I are very fortunate to have found a beautiful little apartment on the second and third floors of a darling house overlooking the river. It’s not ours and it’s not grand, but I have a feeling it will be the perfect place for us at this particular moment. And – who knows? – maybe one of these days I’ll be telling you about our tiny house. You never know …

What I’m Writing:

I am dying to share some of my latest columns with you, but I’m sticking to my guns and will no longer post my essays on my business blog. I clearly had a bit of an identity crisis there for a minute. Mixing my marketing blog posts with my lyrical writing was confusing even to me. In case you missed it, last week I shared a great post by Ann Handley on a related topic, How Do You Balance Your Personal and Professional Social Media Presence? This is a conundrum I’m still sorting out. It will likely involve the launch of another site/blog in the not-too-distant future. If it does, it’ll be the first time I’ve made my creative writing a central focus instead of a sideshow to my marketing writing. Yikes!

art is messy

Art is messy.

I’m happy to report that my use of the  Way of Life app is helping me to be more consistent about my fiction writing practice. Though I’ve only been able to carve out a few minutes here and a few minutes there, those are a few minutes more than I was spending before the app. Works for me! Even better, I’ve found that even though I may spend only a few minutes actually writing, the practice is helping me keep my creative juices flowing “in the background,” so to speak. It feels good.

Affiliate Link

What I’m Reading:

I read another Kindle Single this week. I think I may be developing a minor addiction these bite-sized reads. This week’s selection was another piece by Robin Sloan, Annabel Scheme (affiliate link). After reading Sloan’s Mr. Penumbra stories, the story of Annabel Scheme was quite a switch, but I enjoyed the SciFi/ghost story romp through a world not unlike our own where a massively powerful search engine called Grail has all but taken over the world … except for the demons, they seem to do what they like.

I really enjoyed the way Sloan combined these futuristic concepts with the traditional private eye/gumshoe genre. It took what could have been standard fare and gave it a quirky flavor that was really fun.


On the other side of the literary continuum, I’m also reading Susan Orlean’s latest creative nonfiction novel, Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend (affiliate link). I acquired my copy back in (hangs head in shame) October 2012 when I saw her speak up in Portsmouth, NH. I wrote about the event in my post, Susan Orlean on Curiosity and Courage. I can’t believe it’s taken me all this time to pick it up and start reading it!

This is my current “dining” book – the book I keep handy so that I can read a bit while I have my morning toast or lunchtime sandwich. I’ve also been known to pick it up while I’m cooking (never a good idea since cooking isn’t my strong suit to begin with).

Anyway – lots more of this one to enjoy, but I’m really liking it so far. Orlean is a wonderful storyteller and this story is one that can’t help but fascinate.

 

And let’s not forget the blogs. Here are a few of my favorite writerly posts from this week:

SPECIAL NOTICE: There’s been a nasty virus wending its way around the web. There are MANY passwords you should be updating – Facebook, Google. Instagram, etc. Please check out The Heartbleed Hit List: The Passwords You Need to Change Right Now via @mashable for details.

Finally, a quote for the week:

home books

Wishing you that feeling of home no matter where you are. Have a wonderful weekend! 
Jamie Lee Wallace is a writer who also happens to be a marketer. She helps her Suddenly Marketing clients discover their voice, connect with their audience, and find their marketing groove. She is also a mom, a prolific blogger, and a student of the equestrian arts, voice, and trapeze (not at the same time). Introduce yourself on facebook or twitter. She doesn’t bite … usually.

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