changing space

When I started writing many years ago (stuff for the local paper, then magazines), I wrote wherever I had enough space for the computer. In the first house we had, that was a sliver of a back porch which we converted to an office space for our construction company. I wrote with a four-year-old zooming in and around and an infant in a playpen. If there was a square inch of floor space, it probably had a book or a toy piled on it. I think the only free space was the tiny spot where my chair fit. I don’t think it was entirely a coincidence that I excelled at finishing short projects (news articles), but floundered at anything beyond a short story length.

The second house wasn’t much larger–just arranged slightly better so that more of the square footage was usable. In that house, there was a third bedroom. The boys liked bunking together (well, most of the time, except when they were trying to kill each other), so the third bedroom became the office. I thought at the time: wow, all of this room… I’ll never use all of this room. Yeah. I know. Delusional. The construction business grew, and its need for office space grew, and pretty soon, I was back to having a zillion filing cabinets and construction stuff cluttered around and the kids still zoomed in. I had a hard time focusing, though, because that room was pretty much in the center of the house. It was the front bedroom, and when you walked out of the kitchen into the hallway, you were facing that door, and everyone in the entire universe tramped through that kitchen. Yes, including you. It didn’t help to close the door because everyone then knocked and stood there. I started writing at night just to have enough consecutive uninterrupted minutes to be able to form a thought and then actually write it down. (I have always been a night owl–but when the kids were younger and I had to drive them to school at the buttcrack of dawn, I did not have the luxury of staying up late to take advantage of the quiet. I did it anyway, and functioned for years on three or four hours of sleep.) I managed to write slightly longer projects (screenplays), but anything longer than that was impossible for me to conceive. Not just produce, but actually conceive. I didn’t have the quiet, the head space, to work out the characters and dynamics of a longer story.

When we moved to the house we’re in now, the kids each had a room and we converted the front formal dining room into an office. We still have the construction company and still have tons of stuff for it, and for a long time, it was all still piled together. When the kids moved out, there was a spare bedroom and, joy of joys, my husband moved his office there and I had this entire office space to myself. My husband had built floor-to-ceiling bookshelves for me, and I was in heaven.

Except, heaven had a glitch: the office was still at the front of the house, next to the kitchen. My husband’s new office was further away, which meant everyone in this universe and the next one over tramped through the house back to his office. Yes, even you, do not try to deny it, I saw you and the chocolate chip cookies you ate.

I had been loathe to trade offices with my husband, even though he’d offered to do so several times, because I love the size of this space and the beautiful shelves. I love the gorgeous French doors he hung for me, which was an attempt to dissuade people from walking through (doesn’t help, people come and stand at the door and watch me write) (I feel like a science project). I love the convenience (I can burn the bread really close by, which means I can put it out before the fire department gets here).

But I want the quiet.

I know a lot of people write at places like Starbucks or at a restaurant, and I shudder at the thought. I need the quiet space, the lack of movement around me. I am too easily distracted, and I enjoy talking to people, which means, I end up talking to people instead of writing. And, it occurs to me that a lot of people who go out of their home to write do so to have the stimulus of life and people around them. I have always had the universe tramping through my house, so I’m not really at a shortage for company.

So today, as you’re reading this, my husband and I are moving my office. He’s building a bigger place for himself outside. I am either packing up stuff, or purging it, or I’m at the hardware store, buying paint. This office is far away from everything else. I’m going to expend a little extra effort to make it feel like it’s mine, like it’s a sanctuary. It has a large walk-in closet, in which I’ll have plenty of storage, and a small kitchenette. My husband just built two large white-erase boards that I’ll use for brainstorming and keeping track of the big picture of the novels in progress.

Changing space is a little scary. After all, I had success here. I wrote the first two books mostly in this room, and like any superstitious writer, I don’t  want to jinx a good thing. But on the flip side, I’ve always had good luck with change, and I know the new space will give me what I crave: quiet, room apart from the busy world.

What about your ideal space? Do you already have it? If so, tell me about it. If you’ve got a fantasy of what your perfect space would be, I’d love to hear it today. You may just be my inspiration as I’m changing spaces.

11 thoughts on “changing space

  1. billie

    Toni, that sounds so exciting. I think the change will be good – it’s like a step forward to a space that honors and celebrates the success of your books and the writing.

    I’m envious of the little kitchenette!!

    I have a small garret upstairs in our house, with an old desk and chair I can sit in if I want to, or just set up on there to print, etc.

    By the window I have my writing chair and ottoman, which is where I work, and to one side of the chair, w/in arms’ reach, is a floor to ceiling bookshelf. I use the edge of the bottom shelf to hold my piles of to-be-read books, the next shelf up is at arm level while I’m sitting, so it holds my mug and pens, and the next shelf up is eye level while sitting and it holds the various charms and amulets needed to keep me writing. 🙂

    To my left is a small table where I have a lamp and whatever books I’m actively using while writing, so I can reach over and grab one easily.

    There’s another chair in the event I want to invite a visitor in here (rarely) and an inconspicuous oak file cabinet.

    I have a secret bookshelf built in behind the door, my grandma’s old Singer sewing machine with the treadle and secret drawers across the room, and my little shrine with candles and such. I also have a couple of dog beds tucked in the corners for the Corgyn, who frequently hang out in here with me. Right now I can hear Chase breathing deep in his dog dream sleep.

    My dream is to one day build a little writing studio at the back of our property, with one big room that has a woodstove and kitchenette and bathroom, and a big window that literally opens into the back field so my horses can come stick their heads in and keep me company while I write.

    I’d have a sleeping loft too so it could double for guests staying over.

    I can manage pretty well here in the house, but as the kids get older it would be nice to give them this room to use as a little den and let me move to the studio to work.

    It would be like being in a different world back there, which appeals to me.

    A higher level dream is to buy the 102 acre wood behind our property and convert the little abandoned house on it to my studio. That one I’d have to saddle up and ride to, and pony along one of the other horses for company. If I had some pasture fenced off and a run-in shed, I could untack and let the horses do their thing while I worked.

    That requires a movie deal to make happen, though, but I like the idea of riding to my studio!

  2. toni mcgee causey

    oh, wow, Billie, that would be gorgeous, indeed. I love horses, and we also dream of one day buying a lot of acres out here where I can have one. I hadn’t thought about a separate writing studio… though if I had the kitchen in there, no one would probably ever hear from me again.

  3. pari noskin taichert

    Toni,I’m where you were at in your second house, though my office is a little further from the kitchen. It’s definitely the place where everyone stops by — where I can keep an ear out for the kids and what they’re doing.

    I’ve been writing short stories lately for exactly the same reasons you underlined.

    What I need most of all for the concentration required with editing is an empty house. I need that total mental quiet with no outside demands. I get it far more rarely than I’d like.

    I hope your new office is heaven once again for you and that many more books find their lives through you in that space.

  4. a Paperback Writer

    I’m with you on this one: I love quiet when I write or read or study. Unfortunately, the neighbors on BOTH sides of me have 2 huge dogs a piece — and three sets of neighbors across the street have one or two dogs each as well. I hear WAY too much barking.People tell me to turn on music to drown out the dogs, but I find music distracting. I occasionally resort to earplugs, but they hurt my ears after a while.

  5. Stacey Cochran

    I like views and lots of sunlight, so I guess my ideal space would be on the side of a mountain, surrounded by glass.

    Since we’re dreaming, I would like about 150 acres, too. A space where I could walk with my dogs for about 60 minutes… woods and trails, lakes and expansive views.

    I would like privacy, too.

  6. Carol Baier

    My office is my second bedroom. I have a collection of small Feng Shuiish objects in the right-hand corner: a Buddah, incense holder, a glass fish, a rock from the main vortex in Sedona, a miniature Audi TT Roadster (my protag drove a used one until the villain blew it up), and a crystal. I keep a space cleared for them; the rest of my desk — and the office in general — looks like nuclear fallout. My two cats help maintain the post-apocalyptic look.

    On another subject — I love your blog but not the congo line of books, dancing just to the right of my eyeball. It’s really, really distracting. I own books by five of you, but not thanks to your web maven’s latest addition. Can the maven at least give those of us who find it as annoying as Microsoft’s Mr. Clippy an X in the corner to stop the music? Thanks.


  7. JT Ellison

    Carol, complaint noted. We’ll look into it.

    Toni, I just wrote an essay on my writing space for a magazine. I find it amusing that I have this great office, yet I write in my chair downstairs. You’ll find that the creative process comes regardless of the set up. Though could you send Carl up here to build me some bookshelves and French doors? Jealous!!!

  8. Alexandra Sokoloff

    I have to write all over the house because I use up a room so fast. That’s why working at Weymouth was so wonderful – 27 rooms!

    PBW, I so sympathize with you about the dogs. I lived next door to barking dogs for a while and really was thinking of elaborate ways of killing both them and the really rude owners. What worked for me finally was getting one of those bark alarms and setting it to “audible”. The high pitched dog noise did nothing, but when the dogs barked and the screeching audible alarm went off, it drove the NEIGHBORS so crazy that they finally moved the dogs.

    Dog owners don’t seem to hear their own dogs, but they sure heard the alarm.

  9. Lori G. Armstrong

    My husband built me a gorgeous office in a space in our house that’s supposed to be a formal dining room. Took 6 years to add it to the list of home improvements, because the masterbath above the room had to be finished first. When we knocked out a wall we found out it was a false wall and gained an additional 12 inches. Ditto for the ceiling, we gained 18 inches after removal of a sunken bathtub.

    In all honesty, I have my dream space. With a door that locks. A wall safe. Filing cabinets. Oversized Shelves above me for reference texts. Task lighting and mood lighting (my hubby built a trayed ceiling that is up lit and I can change the colors that is to die for) Floor to ceiling bookshelves on three walls. A huge marble desktop. A “bump out” with three windows and another window directly behind me. Lots and lots and lots of shelf space for books, and the objects my very talented daughters keep creating for me. The walls are crimson, the woodwork is a creamy ivory. Pale blonde wood floor, off-white leather furniture, including a chaise to lounge on. So it is more like a library than purely an office.

    But I don’t write my new stuff in there. I edit, email, blog, do everything but write my new material. For new WIP I write upstairs in my bedroom where I have a small desk for my laptop over a very comfy leather chair and an automan. No internet access up there, so I am working without interruptions, external or internal. Period. The library is by the kitchen and is fine during the day when no one is home, but trying to concentrate with three kids and hubby running in and out? Forget it.

    I have to have mostly quiet to work. And the thought of having to leave my house to write? Why, this is what I’ve been working toward all these years…having this lovely, inspiring place.

  10. Allison Brennan

    Oh, please, I’m panicking. I’m moving at the end of March and I fear I won’t be able to write in my new space. I’ve threatened to buy Starbucks coffee and leave it in bowls around my new office so I get the right smell. But what about the white noise? The movement? The sound of milk being steamed?

    Change is bad. But it’s inevitable. If I can do it, you can do it. And if we get writers block, we can always switch. I’ll take the construction company, and you can have the five kids. Hee hee hee.


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