The Space You Work In

A clean desk is the sign of a …. oh never mind.

Where do you do your writing?

Do you have a dedicated space for it, or are you a nomad, roaming from table to couch to bed to desk?

I tend to be very settled in my writing habits, i.e., I sit at the same space every day and work at my computer. Problem is, I’m also a very messy human. Well, maybe not messy, but disorganized.  I like paper and I like making notes and I have this thing that requires I write something down to remember it. All this adds up to lots of stuff to keep organized.

Or, put another way, a very messy office.

I had stacks of paper all over, along with towers of books, binders and spirals spilling over the edges of tables, and general assortments of things nobody knew what else to do with except put in my office.  My business coach told me I needed a clean space in order for money to flow in. I told myself I needed a clean space in order for the words to flow.  But no matter what I did, that didn’t seem to happen.

I lived with this mess for, um, almost a year and a half.  Ever since I moved my office to its current space.  Before this, I worked upstairs, where I felt removed from everything, and not in a good way. (When FedEx knocked at the door, it was a mad dash down slippery carpeted stairs to get there before they returned the package to the truck.) Before that, I worked in the same space I am now. Before that, I worked in a corner of our unfinished upstairs (and when the house caught on fire, the fire stopped just short of my computer and my lifelong collection of journals). Before that, I worked on the kitchen counter. And before that, I worked at a desk set up in a corner of our bedroom. So I’ve been in a variety of spaces over the course of my writing life and pretty much none of them have been organized.

However.

I finally accomplished it. My office is clean and I love it.  I can think better when I’m not staring at piles of paper.  And thinking better translates to writing better.  But it took me a long time and a lot of trial and error to figure out what works well for me.  And I’ve been an inveterate studier of writing spaces for forever. So I offer up a few ideas in case they might help or inspire you:

  • I really love surrounding myself with things I love. Like photos of family, goofy gifts people have given me (I have two, count ’em, two physical representations of Poo–as in the Poo emoji), pictures of France taken and drawn by my husband, the first weaving I ever did.
  • Must have books around me
  • I work best when my computer desk, where I spend most of my time, is clean and neat and not surrounded by teetering piles of crap. So I traded in my massive long Ikea desk/table for an old and very small desk. Most of the time, it stays clean. The tables and shelves around me might not be, but at least my desk is. Helps that it’s too small to stack much on.
  • Because of the above, I created a space where I can do my journal writing and other creative projects, which makes a huge difference.
  • Lots of space for office supplies. This was part of the problem before–I didn’t have enough room for them and they got piled and buried all over the place.  I finally figured out I had room to move a long shelf in and this has made an enormous difference.
  • Boxes of file folders beneath the work desk. Here they can stay out of sight until I need them.
  • Good lighting.

Because of all these requirements, my office is cramped.  It is a small room, after all. But I don’t care–I love it. Instead of staring at piles of crap and thinking about what a disaster I am, I now stare at pictures of family and think how lucky I am.  I feel more productive in a space I love. And since I spend most of my waking hours in this room, that is a very good thing.

Where do you work? What kinds of things do you like to fill it with?

PS.  An article I wrote for Magical Goddess magazine just came out! It’s about writing, natch. Find it here.

The Best Planners for Writers and Other Humans

daily-calendar
My daily calendar

I’m obsessed about lots of things.   Knitting, popcorn, wine, France, writing, story, character, Christmas, fire, pugs, my grandchildren, and planners.  (I know, weird list.)  And while I could wax poetic about every item on this list, the topic today is planners.

I love them.  I am a planner fiend.  (Probably for the same reason that I am now a dedicated meditator–because my over-active mind drives me crazy and I need a place to write down all the things.) I’ll buy one planner, convince that it is THE ONE that is going to change my life and make me perfect. I use it for a while, then grow disenchanted with it and find myself starting to look for another.  Here’s a (probably incomplete) list of planners I’ve flirted with over the last couple of years:

  1. Day Designer  I love the designs of these planners, and from using her free downloads I realized that what I need most are the daily pages.
  2. Bullet Journal  Which has become a whole, huge industry. If this appeals to you, please bear in mind that you can keep a very useful version of it without all the crazy detailed drawing, charts and graphs that some people do.
  3. Planner Pad. I really like the way these pages are laid out but ultimately there wasn’t enough room on them for my notes.
  4. Erin Condren’s Life Planner.  These are great because they are customizable in style. But the pages didn’t work for me.
  5. Passion Planner. Lovely and wonderful in many ways, but regretfully I needed more room in the daily section. I do like their mission of giving a planner away for every one that is bought.
  6. Dreambook.  This is a beautiful book and has very detailed and specific items to check off on each page, which was the rub for me. I don’t want someone else telling me what I should do each day.

It is worth noting that most of these sites have videos or photos detailing how you can best use the planners, which are helpful. And many of them also offer free or inexpensive downloads so you can try the pages out without committing to an expensive set.  I’ve also found that Etsy has a lot of downloadable planner pages to buy very inexpensively.  But beware, looking for a planner is a rabbit hole activity that you can get lost in for hours, a particularly great way to procrastinate when you’re stuck on your writing. (A friend told me that.)

I’ve finally honed a system that works for me.  And not surprisingly, because I am the most freaking right-brained human on the planet, it is composed of three parts.  I have finally figured out that I need a planner with daily pages, so I can check off the items of my daily routine, my to-dos, and appointments, and remind myself of what’s most important to me each day. But the daily calendar doesn’t sync so well with a weekly one, and I need to be able to open a calendar, glance at a two-page spread, and see what I’ve got scheduled.  And finally I need a place to corral master to-do lists, lists of books I want to read, blog post ideas, etc.  It took me a long time to admit defeat and realize that there is not a one-size-fits-Charlotte planner out there that meets my needs. So instead I use:

  1.  A plain and simple weekly calendar.  I bought one the size of a large index card on sale at Freddies, where I shop for everything, and I use it to note appointments, and places I have to be.

    weekly-calendar
    My weekly calendar
  2. A daily calendar.  I bought this one from Danielle LaPorte (affiliate link) and I love it and can’t wait to start using it.  Because: it has space to note my schedule, the 3 most important things to get done, to-dos, stop doing, what you want to change, what you’re grateful for. Perfect.  Very close to the pages I was drawing for myself in the bullet journal.
  3. A bullet journal. This is an organizer that you put together yourself, using a Moleskine or other journal.  I thought for awhile that this was going to serve as my one-size-fits-Charlotte planner but I got too overwhelmed trying to track my appointments in it.  This is where I keep those lists and so on. I’m also drawing my own daily pages in it until my Danielle LaPorte calendar starts in January.
  4. A blog calendar. Oh crap–I guess I actually have four elements.  Geesh. Anyway, I bought another wee little weekly calendar and use it to track and schedule my blog posts and newsletters. The thought occurs that it would be a handy spot to note my daily writing word count as well.

Now if someone can figure out a way to get all this into one book that doesn’t weigh 20 pounds, I’ll pay you a million dollars in gratitude.  In the meantime, I’ll go with this system.  Which I reserve the right to change.

I also love planning workbooks. You know, the kind that take you through all kinds of questions so that you can plan your year.  There’s nothing I love more than sitting down with a workbook, a pen, and a bunch of scratch paper for a good planning session. (Well, I love planning a novel more, but that’s a topic for a different day.)

For the last few years, I’ve used the Your Shining Life workbooks from Leonie Dawson. These are a lot of fun, full of brightly colored hand-drawn images and Leonie’s signature goofy style.  You can buy a business edition, a personal edition or both. I love these–very supportive and encouraging. Last year, though, I got a bit overwhelmed by the breadth of them.

So this year I decided to try something else.  Currently I’m working through the Your Best Year 2017 workbook from Lisa Jacobs.  She’s been very successful marketing her homemade goods on Etsy, so the focus is on products, but I’m finding it helpful all the same.

Alrighty then.  Do you use a planner? Which one? Do you have questions about how I use mine? Leave a comment below or email me, I’m happy to chat about my obsession.

Also–France.  You know you want to go spend a week there focusing on your writing.  In 2017, we will have two different weeks to choose from. More info here and you can also email me any time for details!