Theme week(s) at the ’Rati: Work space & writing process

by Pari

Oh, man, this is embarrassing . . .
When we decided to take two weeks for the ’Rati to write about our workspaces and processes, I thought it’d be nifty. What better way to learn how my cohorts work and how their home environments reflect their personalities and literary brilliance?

That was before I looked at my own office.


Crap sticks.



As you can see, there’s a certain amount of chaos in my life. I won’t defend it. I always have several projects going on at once and my workspace reflects that . . . rather painfully. Up until July 1, I wrote my fiction in this chaos too. That’s why I still have posters and inspirational sayings on the wall behind my computer and to each side of it.

I managed to produce five manuscripts here along with several feature articles and short stories. So even if it seems horrific to the neater folks reading this post, it worked for me. But anyone who has been following Murderati for the last year knows I’ve been going through tremendous transformations in my career and self perception. The slapdash approach I had for the first decade — mas o menos — just stopped being effective for this new, improved Pari.

On July 1, when I made the vow to write fiction daily, I needed a workspace that mirrored that commitment. So I appropriated one wall in the mess of my office for free-rein creativity. No editing allowed. No self-criticism. No distractions (unless they feed my creativity). NO INTERNET.  And I came up with this:

Isn’t that better?

I know it may seem cluttered to you, but to me it’s quiet — easy on the eyes and mind. I keep my little notebook computer here; it’s dedicated solely to fiction.

Every time I walk into my office, I consciously decide if I want my business or writing hat on. If it’s the former, I head to the desk with the clutter (though to be honest, it’s cleaner since I took those photos.) It’s where I’m sitting right now writing this blog. It’s where I write features, do my public relations work for clients, post anything on the internet and send emails.

It’s where I edit my fiction too.

I use Open Office to write all of my stories/manuscripts now. When they’re done, I put them on a flashdrive and bring them to the business computer. To make the distinction even more profound, I convert those docs to MS Word. The result is that my internal editor, and quite a few of my demons, now sit at the messy desk. They don’t interfere with productivity, though they’re causing a bit of a bottleneck in Heinlein’s Rule #4. (You can see that in the third picture in this post.)

While it might seem hokey, by making the division between my business space and fiction space so pronounced, I can more easily protect my creative process. Self-doubt isn’t permitted on the fiction side of my office. If it starts to creep in, I get up and move. Simple. And amazingly effective.

If I’m in need of positive inspiration while writing fiction, I look out the window. More often, I glance at the statue my friend sent me. It’s the Hindu god Ganesha — the god of success and remover of obstacles — with additional talismans that mean something to me.

For those wondering about my schedule or methods, I can’t say I have much of either — and that’s embarrassing too. I have the secret fear that ALL of my colleagues are far more together than I am in this regard. But the truth is that I’ve tried outlining, index cards, strips of paper, white boards . . . and none work well for me. Rather than tools, they seem like fetters.

So I just write my fiction every day. By doing so, I affirm the habit of creativity and put it in a place of honor in my life.

Well, that’s it.
I hope the following two weeks are interesting for all of you. I know I can’t wait to see and read what everyone else posts through Toni’s round-up entry on Sept. 19.

Bonus Pictures: I just had to share this. It’s a patty pan squash we grew that’s about the size of both of my hands. Yummmm.

36 thoughts on “Theme week(s) at the ’Rati: Work space & writing process

  1. Alafair Burke

    That squash is amazing! I love the idea on one offline computer in an uncluttered space without self-doubt.

  2. Catherine

    I'm impressed that you worked out what works for you and have created a space that supports that. That squash is awesome. it could be fun (totally time-sucky but maybe fun) to have your kids photoshop that into photos ala UFO sighting.

  3. billie

    Pari, I totally see the wisdom in having two spaces for writing and "business" – there is something about a dedicated space that facilitates the pure writing time.

    I just read an article from 2000 written by Kent Haruf about how he writes his first drafts "blind" – literally covering his eyes with a stocking cap and typing on an old typewriter. At the end of the article he says something like "if we didn't have our rituals and needs with regards to writing we'd have been doctors or lawyers or ditch diggers like everyone else.

    I love that squash. I made stuffed patty pans last night and they were incredible. There was one small white one that I especially loved.

  4. PK the Bookeemonster

    I believe it is said that, as an example, if you're having problems falling asleep you should assign your bed just for sleeping. No reading in bed, etc, to train your brain that the bed is for sleeping (we're keeping extra curricular activities out of this example) hence you fall asleep better, faster. So having a space for creativity and a separate space for business makes absolute sense.

  5. Cornelia Read

    Pari, I am so impressed with your office and your new realizations about self-doubt and EVERYTHING. How wonderful! The part that most resonated with me was:

    "I have the secret fear that ALL of my colleagues are far more together than I am in this regard. But the truth is that I've tried outlining, index cards, strips of paper, white boards . . . and none work well for me. Rather than tools, they seem like fetters.

    So I just write my fiction every day. By doing so, I affirm the habit of creativity and put it in a place of honor in my life."

    It's always been reassuring to me to know that I'm not the only one to have my fears about creativity, organization, and–I guess–general *worthiness* and possibly even "artisty-ness.".

    And I now I wish my Ganesh weren't in storage in California. I miss him.

  6. judy wirzberger

    Isn't traveling a new path as wonderful as it is scary? Like Dorothy on the Yellow Brick Road, you have much to discover and uncover. You seem to rise up to the challenges you face with pluck and wisdom. It has been inspirational following you on your journey. Writers like you leave sand prints for writers like me.

  7. pari noskin taichert

    Wow. Thanks to everyone who has commented so far on this lazy Labor Day.

    I'm so pleased with that squash. Growing these patty pans has been tremendously gratifying. They're pretty and tasty.

    As to defining that space for myself — the uncluttered one — it's been very helpful. I'm absolutely protective of it, too. Won't let anyone else even sit at that table.

    That'd be fun to do with the squash, but you're right about the time sink.
    I'm curious. What's your workspace like?

  8. Debbie

    I like that you have a dedicated work and a dedicated writing space. I'd like to be untethered from my dest in order to be more productive while getting out with my family. Making the psychological distinction is an excellent way to stay focused! As for technique, I'm still looking for my niche and I worry that I won't ever have one-it'll very book to book.

  9. pari noskin taichert

    The small gesture of dedicating that space has had extraordinary effects. I really am learning to turn off the nasty voices that render writing joyless. It's becoming a pleasure again.

    I've seen your beautiful, serene world. Can't wait to read more about it and your process.

    I've heard that too. And some of my closest friends who are writers have spoken about creating that division between the creative and the business side. I just didn't quite believe it until I did it myself <g>.

  10. pari noskin taichert

    Thank you. Thank you. I can't wait to see what you're going to post. This is such a wonderful way to strengthen our inner community of 'Rati writers and broader community of 'Rati readers. Zowie. Who knew?

    Oh, man, what a lovely comment. Thank you. To me, the journey is fascinating, exciting, scary and unexpected. Just when I think I've got something figured out, something else comes up. Life. It's life. And I wouldn't want it any other way.

    I think book-to-book is just fine, if it's how you work. Why not? And I know people who merely dedicate a computer to their creative writing — rather than doing both like I did — so it's a matter of what works in your life, and your situation, for you. I know there may come a time when my husband and I have to share this office space. When that happens, I'll at least have my habit of the creative computer. I'll probably be able to sit in the living room and write on it effectively.

    Of course, I'd rather have my calm space too.

  11. Grace

    Thanks for the peek into your writing world – I love the space – windows, flowers, quiet, calm. The notebook is a fabulous idea. I can distract myself quite easily with Internet when I need to be focusing on WIP.

    Never, never, have I've seen a squash like that and I grew up in farm country. Breathtaking. Thanks for the post.

  12. Robin McCormack

    Love that you have separated your fiction writing space from your business space. What a great idea. I've been thinking about getting a new computer, mine is 6 years old and can't use Windows 7 on it, nor does it have a webcam. Now I can see a good reason to go ahead. Use my old laptop to write on, minus the internet and no distractions. Either that or get an alpha smart. Thanks for sharing your work space.

  13. pari noskin taichert

    Thank you.
    Try the dedicated computer. It's amazing how the temptation to surf goes away when it's not a possibility.

    BTW: folks,
    I just read in a book about the brain that "they've" done studies that show that if you break up the work you're doing by going online for emails, searching, slightly unrelated research, etc — that it takes about 15 minutes to get back to the task at hand. Think about how much time you might use better in a day.

    . . . at least that's what I'm thinking about right now.

  14. pari noskin taichert

    You're welcome. I think I'd prefer the old computer to the alpha smart just because I sometimes like switching between stories with ease and I'm not sure the Alpha can do that . . . Can it?

  15. toni mcgee causey

    I love the separation you've made, Pari — and wow, I have never seen a squash like that. It's almost too beautiful to cook.

    Do you find your process changing now that your space has?

  16. Ellen Byerrum

    I say whatever works is the way to go, Pari, and you've found a great way to divide your space that also reconfirms your commitment to writing.

    I have a pretty good workspace with all the ergonomic tools that I need and a desk that I refinished and a window overlooking the river, but sometimes I have to take the laptop to the sofa. Last year I was so exhausted trying to finish my latest book, I found that lying in bed and writing on a pad of paper for a couple of hours was a good solution. Sometimes I need to go to the library to write, and happily one of the libraries reopened after construction and allows patrons to bring in drinks if they are covered. Sometimes I go to the coffee shop and sink into one of the big chairs to write. And I always think that other writers have it more together than I do.

    It's great to hear about other writers' spaces and processes. Thanks.

  17. Dudley Forster

    I this is going to be fun – so which one of you is going to have the safari jacket on the chair, a bottle of bourbon on their desk and a bunch of six toed cats running around?

    Hey Pari – First, remember the old adage “a clean desk is the sign of a sick mind”. Those secret fears are a bitch. As a newbie, the one thing that has been pounded into me is “do it the way it works for you” If one the Ratis has an office that looks like the war room for Operation Desert Storm with maps, flowcharts and aerial shots to get a sense of place, good for you. It won’t work for me.

    The completely separate writing area is excellent. I did a virtual separate setup, moving all my writing to my net book. I had to separate writing from all the work on my PC. Same physical location, but when I am at the net book I’m writing. Have you had a chance to try PageFour?

    Love the squash, very pretty. I’ve never heard of the patty pan variety. When I saw it, I thought it was a very cool candle.

    No Ganesha, but I do have a gargoyle sitting on a ledge reading 🙂

    Regarding “I just read in a book about the brain that "they've" done studies that show that if you break up the work you're doing by going online for emails, searching, slightly unrelated research, etc — that it takes about 15 minutes to get back to the task at hand.” I am so screwed.

    Cornelia – I think everyone who creates has those kind of fears. I have lived with and been motivated by the fear of failure since grade school. I just keep bitch slapping it, it’s the only thing I can do.

    Judy – Oh no! An OZ reference! One of my favorite quotes is Rick Polito’s summation of the Wizard of OZ, “Transported to a surreal landscape, a young girl kills the first person she meets and then teams up with three strangers to kill again."

  18. pari noskin taichert

    The quality of my process has changed. I'm not sure that makes sense, but often before I'm at the computer and think, this story isn't going anywhere. When I sit there, however, things happen. Also, the fluidity and speed with which I write has changed substantially.

    Thank you for sharing your space and process with us. I think that's the ultimate realization: it's more about the commitment than the location. But I felt I needed to force, to make a big division so that the habit could be really reinforced.

    You continue to amuse me <g>. Thank you. And I find it fascinating that you're able to divide your work on the same computer. I just can't do it. Perhaps it's the sign of an easily distracted mind?

    I haven't tried Page Four yet. I'll do it on the business computer when I do, though. But it might take a few weeks.

    And I've seen that gargoyle in other friends' spaces. Love it.

  19. JT Ellison

    I adore your spaces – both of them. I love the idea of separating out your business computer from your creative computer. I've been trying to figure out exactly how to do that. I'm hoping for ideas and inspirations over the next two weeks – yay!!!

  20. Kitty

    Inspiring, Pari. I have a studio dedicated to writing and yoga, built for me by husband out of the dirt in our yard, I just need to go out every day, regardless of the other demands on my time. Thanks for all your comments.

  21. Sandy

    You have no idea how much these next two weeks are right up the proverbial alley for me! I thank you, Toni and Pari and all others, for thinking about and then doing this. For some reason, I am enamoured of living and working spaces in books and film and theatre. I am sending Toni pictures of my workspace per her request yesterday. However, Pari, I am leaving that space here in New England for six weeks in Albuquerque this fall; so, I shall have to find a new space to write. I am wondering about libraries in ALBQ. Any suggestions?

  22. HL Arledge

    Seeing them on your wall, I had to go look them up…

    Robert A. Heinlein's Rules for Writing

    1. You must write.
    2. You must finish what you write.
    3. You must refrain from rewriting, except to editorial order.
    4. You must put the work on the market.
    5. You must keep the work on the market until it is sold.

  23. pari noskin taichert

    Beautiful, Kitty. What a tremendous support your husband must be for you. Wow.

    Sandy, Please contact me via my website and let's continue the conversation! Welcome to NM!!

    Robin, I know that was a consideration for me a long time ago. I think they've made some wonderful changes, so I may be misinformed.

    HL, Thanks for posting them. I realized after the fact that they may not be so easy to read. Numbers 4 & 5 are the ones I'm finding challenging at the moment. But that's at the business computer anyway . . .

  24. Debbie

    'cuse my ignorance <g>? Is that grin? And Dudley-page 4? (Wordprocessing software? How is it better/differant from MSWord? Thanks for your patience!

  25. catherine

    Hi Pari,

    For this moment in time my official work space actually looks pretty tidy. Scary tidy as I just had a visit from my Virgo sister, who when she inevitably stuck her head in the door just went, 'hmm organized'. That didn't hold her back from looking at the desktop on my laptop and also commenting' Sheez that's such a messy desktop.' As I just got back from a writer's festival I haven't it's still tidy.

    My workspace varies. I can work comfortably at my dining room table if I want to spread out material around me. . For some reason a combo of sketches, long hand and typing works.The kitchen I can see from the diniing table has to be clutter free though or else it sort of nags at me and pulls me off track. If the weather is good I sit out on my back verandah and let the green surround me. I find myself writing in some strange places lately though. I just have a note book that goes with me and give myself a moment to lasso whatever is running loose rather than rely on my memory.

    Pari, do you know if Toni has a cut off date for pics ? I think my girls may have my camera down in the city.

  26. catherine

    I just realised that my main workspace does have a description beyond currently tidy. The room is narrow with a window that looks through a shrub. So the light gets a greenish tinge to it in the day. I have a one narrow desk that holds whatever reference books I need, and notebooks. Then I have a clear desk beside it. It only holds my laptop. I have a lousy chair. In some ways it's good because it makes me sit straight, and it's just uncomfortable enough to make me get up and stretch but I wish for wheels. I like being able to slide between my workspaces. I've got candles in pressed glass holders along the window sill.

    I have a massive bookcase that takes up the back wall, painted black on the outside and cream on the interior. Fiction is organised according to genre. Reference books by colour. So I have a criminology text book next to a thai cooking book because they're both deep pink/red.

    I have an award for management strategy there too because it reminds me of what I can do when I put my mind to it. I also have little things like a vase from my Nan that she bought in Singapore. She'd been a dairy farmer and when she sold the farm to my uncles and aunties she went all over the world travelling. That vase gives me reinforcement of my own dreams and adaptability.

  27. Dudley Forster

    Debbie & Toni – I write using PageFour which is the closest thing to Scrivener for the PC. It doesn’t have Scrivener’s post-it note/index card organization feature , which would be way cool. The guys at Scrivener recommended PageFour to us lowly PC users. It took me 10 min to learn PageFour
    Check out both:
    Scrivener: One of the main reasons I want a MacBook.

    You can get the corkboard notes layout using Notezilla but is not integrated with PageFour.

  28. pari noskin taichert

    I love the description of your work spaces — all of them — and the personal talismans, the things that give you power such as that award and your vase. I have so many of those in my own life and office — a Nara Japanese lamp, a bowl I bought for my mother that meant more to me than to her (I took it back after she died), many Zuni (Native American) fetishes . . .

    And your comment about the hedge made me realize that the quality of light in my office is important too. I've got a turquoise blue blind in here, it's metallic, and the sunlight coming through it is gorgeous.

    I'm going to look at Page Four this week.

    You're quite welcome. I've got a feeling this entire two week period is going to be really fascinating.

  29. Stephen Jay Schwartz

    Sorry I'm late, Pari – I'm in Amsterdam with very spotty internet access.
    I love your work space, I love the way you divide your mind between the creative and the editor, and how you leave no room for the editor in your creative space. And then you activated this way of working by actualizing it in the physical world around you. Brilliant. And you couldn't be doing it in a better place, either – Santa Fe New Mexico!

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