In the Lair

by J.T. Ellison

This is a truly misleading topic for me, because while I have an office, a beautiful, private, somewhat comfy office, I rarely use it to write. I’ve spent the past four years writing on a laptop, which means I’m basically a nomad. I can write anywhere in the house – upstairs, downstairs, in my office, in the bonus room. But 90% of the time I write in the living room. Which is a shame, because I do love this desk (and yes that is a bat dangling from my fan…)

Now we’ve gone and messed things up, because a few weeks ago we bought a new couch. I adore said couch. It’s big enough that both Randy and I can lay on it watch movies or read – it’s a rumpus couch, without a doubt. But we had to move everything around, and sell the end tables, and suddenly, my office away from office was gone. My chair which used to back to the bookshelves now backs to the front door – disconcerting, to say the least. I’ve tried writing on rumpus couch, and that worked, sort of, because of the lovely side table beside it, but I ended up sort of hunched over, and one day last week, I found myself back in my chair. Ahhh…

So I’m in transition. I’m making a concerted effort to actually work in my office – I’ve moved almost all my material up there. My Quo Vadis Equology planner, my 5 year diary (not doing so well with that – shame on me) the old Moleskine with all my notes from last year, my bible – the Levenger Circa notebook that houses my series’ cast lists, current research, notes and other necessities, all stay upstairs now, watched over by one of my blessings, the stone carving that says “DON’T PISS OFF THE FAIRIES” My idea box in there (that red box) and the files that I get into daily.

And my Owl, who watches over me and gives me wisdom…

And my whiteboard, with book stages and due dates, plus other projects. (I’m kind of ready for October, because September’s cat looks a bit psychotic to me.)

My laptop goes on the nifty lapdesk I picked up at Staples last year and immediately got addicted to – it has the laptop, a cushion for my wrist, my Rhodia notepad/mousepad for to dos, and my Clairefontaine notebook for the book I’m working on. (If you can’t tell, I’m addicted to Exaclair products – truly the highest quality materials for writers in the world.) I’ve been trailing this through the house, searching for the right spot to nestle in and work. We’re moving the chair in my office into Randy’s and moving another one into its place, so we’ll see if that’s better.

Why don’t I work at my desk? Well, I think the true answer is I don’t feel very productive there, and I think it’s because my back is to the door. The room we made my office is strangely shaped, with an offset, diagonal door. The door opens to the stairs, and down right out the front door. Anyone vaguely familiar with Feng Shui will recognize that all my creativity leaks straight out of the house through a clear, delineated path. I don’t like the keyboard either; I’ve gotten so used to the Apple keyboard on my laptop with the individual keys (I know, there’s a word for that) and I hate the clacking the joined keys make. I’ve talked about my boxes, which you can see in the picture below – most are stored away now, but the two books I’m working on now are still out.

And here’s the view. Right into my next door neighbor’s pool. Which, let me tell you, is a real treat.

We took steps to make that problem go away last night – we planted a row of Thuja Green Giants along the fence row. They should grow to about 40′ – 60′ and kill that awful view. And I also got to dedicate the very first tree we planted to the memory of our friend David Thompson, which makes me happy, knowing that eventually, when I look out my office window, I’ll see David’s tree instead of the pool.

We’re going to redo everything here before long – put wood down, paint, and I’ll make a decision about the desk. As gorgeous as that furniture is, it takes up a LOT of room space. Space that if I turned the room, faced the opposite wall, had the door to my left instead of at my back, might make me feel more settled. But there is something about working at a desk that feels like, well, work, to me. I don’t know if redecorating will change that.

Which brings us to process. That’s something else that seems to be in flux right now. I’ve been very unsettled for the past year from both personal issues and so much travel that I’ve lost my good habits. Which is B.A.D. For someone like me, to whom schedule and order and planning are paramount, losing my habits is a big freaking deal. I also switched computers, from Windows to Mac, switched writing programs, from Word to Scrivener, back to Word, to Pages, back to Word, and back to Scrivener again. These changes were monumental, and have wrecked my normalcy. The good news is that instead of doing a major tour for THE IMMORTALS, I’m relying on the Internet, so I get to stay home for a few months. This make me very, very happy. I plan to create new habits.

All that said – I still shoot for 1,000 words a day at the beginning of a book, and struggle through the first half for months until one day, almost by magic, the story comes together, and then the last half of the book gets written in a few weeks. I think my one day record is about 8,000 words, and that’s only happened once. But I was so close…strangely enough, that book is called SO CLOSE THE HAND OF DEATH, so I guess if you look at title as an allegory for deadline, it’s right on.

And here’s a random shot – my filing cabinet, so to speak. This is my daily workspace – my Dropbox. And yes, everything is filed (and subfiled, and so on) – I’m not good when it comes to chaos.

Thanks for letting me share my space with you! This has been a fun and illuminating process, and has proven one thing to me – I have severe office envy. And if you want to compare and contrast, here’s a piece I did on the subject two years ago. It’s goes into greater detail on what’s actually ON my desk…

Wine of the Week: Mirabile Nero D’Avola 2007 – Spectacular! Rich, fruity and ridiculously inexpensive. Would I steer you wrong?

29 thoughts on “In the Lair

  1. Karen in Ohio

    JT, the one thing I hate about desks like yours is peering into a cave all day long. Does that aspect of it bother you at all? For some reason it makes me feel trapped, and I can't focus.

    You have so many options! Hmm, writing in a chair. That leather recliner right behind me might make a great writing place. Thanks for the idea!

  2. Alafair Burke

    That chair looks soooo comfy. And the tree was a sweet idea. Watching it grow will be satisfying, I'm sure.

  3. Zoë Sharp

    Hi JT

    I wouldn't like to write entirely facing away from the door, I don't think. Mainly because at night I'd always be expecting to turn round suddenly and find a masked intruder looming over me with a big knife.

    OK, sorry to put THAT image into your head…;-]

    And I'm fascinated by the fact that most people seem to use an executive-type chair rather than a proper typist's-type chair. Doesn't everybody have a bad back – especially on your 8000-word days? (I'm totally in awe of that, by the way!)

  4. Alexandra Sokoloff

    Oh, God, an owl – could you be any more Athena?

    Great desk, and I understand completely why you don't write at it. I don't know why most of us even bother setting up a desk….I guess we all have them in case we ever maybe feel like using them?

  5. Chuck

    Thanks JT! These blogs have demonstrated to me how books are all conceived so differently (kinda like people!) Your organization makes me a tad envious, especially since I'm quite orderly myself.

    And totally understand about the screening trees. I like people, but not when I want to be alone in my own backyard!

    Have a great weekend! THE IMMORTALS is almost here. 🙂

  6. Pari Noskin Taichert

    Where do I begin, J.T.? Fab post. Thank you so much for sharing your spaces — physical, creative and organizational — with us.

    I remember being in your beautiful home and looking at that office and admiring it so much . . . but wondering if I could be happy with something like that. The back-to-the-door thing doesn't bother me — that's my office set up too — but it's the feel of expectation and formality, I guess. Beautiful but a little stiff?

    You looked so much more comfortable with the computer downstairs at the kitchen table or in the living room. BTW: what does the kitty think of the new couch?

    As to your organization — man, do I wish I had that proclivity. But what works works, what doesn't doesn't, n'est-ce pas?

  7. Stephen Jay Schwartz

    Okay, so now I realized what my problem is…I've pissed off my fairies. What do I need to do to make up with them? Wine? Do I leave a plate of cheese on the floor? Do I invite them in to share my bed? (Wait, I think that's how I pissed them off in the first place…)

  8. JT Ellison

    Karen, that actually doesn't bother me so much, because the cat sometimes comes and lays behind the monitor, which is amusing, to say the least. The nice thing about that space is if I ever decided to get an iMac, I could get the whopper monitor and it would block all the space out. But writing in a chair is joyous for me : )

  9. Dudley Forster

    I love the “Don’t Piss Off the Fairies” damn right, the Fae are a vindictive bunch. So about your Mac, is it a MacBook pro 15” screen? I am looking at the 13”, I had a 15” laptop and it was a pain to lug around. So you settled on Scrivener? I’d like to know what was behind the process when you stopped using it and then went back to it.

    I couldn’t work at that desk either, too claustrophobic. I don’t like the idea of writing with the door behind my back. I hate people lurking behind my back and the door would give me an itchy feeling. The “idea box” sounds intriguing, what kind of stuff do you put in it?

  10. JT Ellison

    Alafair it is. LazyBoy. I was sort of embarrassed by it when I first got it, because what woman digs a massive recliner. But it's been a lifesaver – I HATE having my feet on the floor while I work. I guess its my body ergonomics at play.

    And thanks about the tree – I was shocked at how much better I felt afterward.

  11. JT Ellison

    Zoë, I don't write at night – I have to keep it strictly daytime. Freak myself out too much. But the chair thing – since I'm so tall, a typing chair hits me in the wrong places, I need something that has lumbar support. Plus they look so much more important ; )

  12. JT Ellison

    Alex, I know… I keep finding my way back to Athena. My mom sent me the owl in honor of finishing the 6th book, and I've found myself much happier under his green gaze.

    I wish I was one of those authors who could write at a desk – but I do like the way they look, and the knowledge that it's there is I really want it. I should break down and get a better keyboard at least, so I can use Pari's idea of business computer/creative computer.

  13. JT Ellison

    Chuck, thanks! I'm excited too!

    I've adored this series, and I can't wait until Toni's post Sunday when we get a glimpse into so many of our favorite authors' workspaces. There is something so intimate about looking into everyone's process, it makes me want more.

  14. JT Ellison

    Pari, Jade is entranced with the new couch, it has a small seat off the left side that's perfect for her to lay on. Her blanket is there and she parks it most afternoons. She misses being high up though – not sure how we can fix that for her.

    Beautiful but stiff – that's exactly it. But if I let that office go, let the chaos reign, I fear everything will fall apart and take me with it!

  15. JT Ellison

    Stephen – HA! No more fairies for you! But they do need some sort of appeasement. I'd suggest the Goddess prayer, said in the morning before work. That might help.

    O Divine Poesy, Goddess- Daughter of Zeus, sustain for me this song of the various-minded man who, after he had plundered the innermost Citadel of hallowed Troy was made to stray grievously about the coasts of men, the sport of their customs, good and bad, while his heart, through all the sea-faring, ached in an agony to redeem himself and bring his company safe home. Vain hope—for them. The fools! Their own witlessness cast them aside. To destroy for meat the oxen of the most exalted sun, wherefore the Sun-god blotted out the day of their return. Make the tale live for us in all its many bearings, O Muse.

    Steven Pressfield turned me on to this one…

  16. JT Ellison

    Dudley, I did a piece a while back about my idea box:

    Scrivener means I'm outlining much more, not letting the story take me where it wants to go so much. Which is good and bad. I thought I'd give it a try for this new book, and see if I can write the whole thing in there. We'll see…

    And the Mac is a 13" MacBook Pro. Love everything about it except for the sharp edge in front. Hence the cushion for my wrist. But I travel with it everywhere.

  17. Brett Battles

    JT…my dry erase board soulmate…have you ever though that maybe that desk is a little claustrophobic? It just seems to me to be pushing in on you from all side. I do agree sitting with your back to the door=not good. Personally, I like to be able to see the door from where I sit, so I can activate security measures before the ninja assassins can take me out. But that's just me.

  18. JT Ellison

    Brett – I have t admit – I let Randy have my dry erase board for a time, and I missed it so much! It makes me feel all writerly to plan things out like that : ) And I am with you on the Ninja attacks, though most of mine come from a cat tearing up the stairs with the footfall of an elephant. A gazelle she is not.

  19. JT Ellison

    Cornelia, can't wait to see it.

    And FYI folks, Dusty's workspace will be up on Wednesday.

    And if anyone knows how to resize high res pics on a Mac so this doesn't take years to load, let me know : )

  20. Sandy

    I've got the Levenger Circa notebook also with its Brobdingnagian (can't use that word very often but it certainly does apply here) paper punch. Must say, though, that I haven't figured out how to use the Circa System as effectively as I would like to.
    Terrific verbal and visual explanations. Many thanks.

  21. Judy Wirzberger

    Like a lot of writers, I have a desk upstairs that I don't use – it gets too hot up thre was my excuse, but now, after seeing so many different work areas that aren't used, I realize I need the space in front of me – someplace to stare off into.

    Loved looking at your whiteboard, but it made me anxious and those aren't my deadlines.

    Marvelous idea about The David Tree.

  22. JT Ellison

    Louise – they grow 3'-4' a year. I'm hoping for major growth on the top end. Fertilizer, mulch and crooning should help. They're gorgeous when they're grown… Okay, an admission, we thought they were going to be 2-3' tall already, coming in gallon buckets, and when these adorable little seedlings showed up, like 25 miniature tree orphans, I couldn't send them back. I had to keep them, so into the ground they went.

  23. JT Ellison

    Sandy, it took me a while – basically I separate it into sections, with the bible section first, then notes, then research. And when I'm done with a book, it all gets taken out and fresh stuff put in, which is nice! Rebirth, you know?

  24. JT Ellison

    Judy, thank you! I have an Uncle David that passed away last year, and it's doing double duty, because every time I say The David Tree I think of them both. Nice, that they have company.

    I think you're right – we need open spaces. I call that give me prairie.

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