Tag Archives: Workspace

This Side of Morning

Three weeks ago, I tried something new. So far, it has stuck.

During the day, I’m editing a juvenile novel that I’ve been working on for some time. Okay, years. But I wanted to draft something new as well, so I decided to try morning writing.

I started off with a bang. At 5:00 a.m. each day, I would get up and write. I usually lasted until about 6:30, then I’d run out of steam and collapse back into bed until the alarm went off at 7:00.

That turned out not to be such a great plan. In order to function at that hour, I needed to be in bed by 9:00 or 10:00 at night. But late evening is usually the time that my husband and I have together, to talk or watch television without The Critter running around. Plus, my husband is a night owl. There’s no way on Earth he could shift his hours. So with my 5:00 a.m. start looming, I would traipse off to bed just after Daughter did, and he would be left behind looking forlorn.

I seem to be settling into a more modified routine now. I set the alarm for 5:45. When it goes off, I get up and go straight to my desk and write longhand until 7:00. So far, this seems to be working. I might even try backing it up to 5:30 and see how it goes.

I also came across a book called “The 90-Day Novelist.” Usually I ignore books with titles like that. I’ve worked on enough novels to know that imposing a time frame like that doesn’t pay off in the long run. Not for me, at least. Some stories take more time, some take less time. Most stories, for me, take quite a few drafts before I’m happy with them. Okay, years. So I’m not going to hold myself to the 90 days.

What I do like, however, is that there are writing exercises for each day. I do those each morning. And sometimes I add in something I picked up from Donald Maass or another resource, or sometimes I just take a stab at a scene or write about a character I’m trying to understand better.

I’m still in the pre-writing stage. That’s something new for me, too, and I think it’s going to turn out to be a good thing. I would usually think about a story for a long time, figure out who the characters were, and then start planning out a plot. Once I had that all set out on index cards, I’d start writing. By about halfway through, of course, things would have diverged so much from the original plan that my index cards were useless, but at least they’d gotten me into the story.

So far, though, I’ve spent three weeks not-writing the story. It’s weird. Instead, I’m writing every day about the story. Answering questions from the point of view of characters, developing the world, writing about whatever I want to explore. I’ve never done that ahead of time before. It all just happened alongside or in the messy first draft.

I’m impatient. I admit, I’ve taken a stab at the opening scene. I had to. There are also some little scenes and bits of dialogue that emerged out of the writing exercises, and I’ve tucked those away in case I need them.

I hope that, when I do start writing, I’m going to have a better first draft for having spent the time. For one thing, I realized that my main character isn’t who I thought it was going to be. That’s a good thing for the story, and will save me a rather large rewrite. For another, I have a much better feel for who all my characters are and what they want, and how those wants will bring them into conflict with each other and with themselves.

I’ve also taken some time to do things like drawing a map of my main setting, and studying floor plans from the late Victorian period (my story is set in 1910) to come up with a house layout. Setting details tended to shift around somewhat randomly in the first drafts of my previous novels. Distances varied according to how long I needed my characters to take to get places. Rooms could appear and disappear. I have a fairly nebulous relation to setting (and directions) in real life, so that shouldn’t surprise anyone who knows me. But I digress.

With this pre-writing, I’m not expecting a usable first draft. That’s not how I write. But I think that, because of having done this work first, I’ll end up with a first draft that has different problems than the ones I usually encounter. I have an idea of my beginning, and an idea of my end, and I know some things that happen in the middle. I haven’t got everything sorted out yet, but I’ve got different things sorted out from what I usually do. Writing from this starting point should be interesting.

So, as it turns out, this whole pre-writing thing has potential. I’ll know more once I start into the actual draft a week or so from now. I suspect that once I start writing the story, I’ll want to switch to typing rather than writing longhand (but maybe not — that might be an interesting experiment as well), and I’ll want to spend more time at it each day, so my schedule will need adjusting.

But I know now that I like working in the mornings. I like taking some time for writing when no one else is awake, and my brain isn’t full yet of all the things I have to do. And I like knowing that even if my day gets busy and everything goes down the drain, at least I did some writing before breakfast. I can hold onto that.

It’s a new routine, but it’s working.

When do you write?

Beanbags are the Answer: Treadmill Desk

This is my first official “treadmill desk” post. I’m walking as I write this. I still haven’t quite got the brain/body connection going, though. My typing isn’t quite up to par, and I caught myself trying to write “I’m writing as I walk this.” But I’ll get it with practice.

The first treadmill desk-er I met was Arthur Slade. That was less than a year ago; I’ve been thinking about it and working my way up to it ever since. Take a look at Arthur Slade’s treadmill desk here. I haven’t got a fancy helmet like his, though.

I like the idea of walking while I write. I’d been standing at my desk for a few months now (I elevated the keyboard and monitor with pop cans), and it felt pretty natural. I fidgeted a lot, though, and would get a sore back if I stayed in one position too long.

For me, part of the appeal is the energy aspect of it. I want to keep my blood (and hopefully the ideas) flowing, and avoid that mid-afternoon slow-brain period. Walking slowly isn’t a lot of exercise, but it beats sitting in one place. I’m not sure how many calories I’ll burn this way, but I hope it will help me stay at my desk, and stay alert, longer.

My treadmill is a Horizon CT 5.1 It was on sale at Canadian Tire last week. It’s quiet and stable and I have enough room that I don’t need to worry too much about where I put my feet (useful for us clumsy types). It also folds up when I’m not using it — it’s not exactly compact, but at least I can run a vaccuum under it that way. I built the “desk” to work with the treadmill.

My monitor sits on a wall shelf. Since I couldn’t find quite the size shelf I needed, I built it. Same with the keyboard tray. They’re both cut from the same sheet of birch plywood, and I used glue-on wood edging to finish them. My shelf clips came from Solutions.

The keyboard try sits on two large beanbags, also homemade (filled with dried yellow peas, in case anyone’s curious). I had originally planned to stuff them into the cup holders and set the tray on them there, but that covered all the treadmill controls. The handrails were too far back, but with the beanbags tied to the spot where the handrails meet the console, it seems to work. I can reach the treadmill controls and see the monitor just fine, and everything is at the right height.

Eventually, I’ll use velcro to fix the keyboard tray to the beanbags, but I want to wait a while and make sure that this is the way I’m going to keep things. And, of course, my sit-down desk is still intact (with my laptop), because I know there will be times when I want to work that way. I still use paper for a lot of my editing.

It’s only day one, but so far, so good. I’m going to go write a chapter or three now; I feel like my characters should be walking somewhere slowly, on a journey of sorts. Gee, where did that idea come from?

Standing Up

I’m trying something new this month. Following in the footsteps of Arthur Slade and many other writers, I’ve decided that Bum In Chair is no longer the way to go. I’m standing up to work.

There are supposed to be lots of health and energy benefits to this. It’s a bit soon for me to tell, but so far, I report no ill effects (at least, not once I caved in and started wearing shoes). I like standing up to work, when I think about it. Most of the time, and it’s only been a couple of days, I don’t even notice. Not once I get going, at least.

I didn’t want to make a big investment, and the jury is still out as to whether a treadmill desk is even practical for my office (although it would be really cool), but I used a couple of abandoned bookshelves and some cases of pop to bring my monitor and keyboard up to the right heights. I didn’t want to look at pop cans for the next few months, hence the wrapping paper.

And why, you ask, does a writer have spare bookshelves hanging around? I know, I know, it’s wrong. But here’s the thing. We had this cat. He was a wonderful cat, but he was nervous (he’d been bullied as a kitten, we think. These childhood traumas are difficult to overcome). And his nervousness came out in unfortunate ways. Like spray.

Too much information, you say? Yes, well. That happens on blogs.

Anyhow, this one bookcase bore the brunt of it. We loved him enough to deal with the constant clean-up, but I’m afraid there was no saving the bookcase. Still, the top shelves were fine.

But I digress. If you don’t happen to have a spare bookshelves lying around, I’m sure you can work something out with a lumber store.

The top of the monitor, apparently, should be about level with your eyes. A good typing height is when your arms are somewhere past ninety degrees. I dunno. Two layers of mini pop cans plus a couple of Jane Austen novels feels about right for me, and I’m five foot six. Not my favourite Jane Austen novels, obviously. Those ones, I need regular access to.

And there you have it. A homemade standing desk. It’s not very original, I’m afraid. You can find examples of this sort of thing all over the web. I like to think of the wrapping paper as my own personal touch, though.

Is it working? So far, so good. I like it. If you want to try it yourself, though, I recommend wearing a good pair of shoes. And buying a brand of pop that you won’t be tempted to drink.

Just for fun: my first attempt was with Lego. I couldn’t find enough of the really big-sized Lego, and it didn’t feel stable enough. But it sure was colourful.

Sunbonnet for Stella

Stella is my iBook. I’m about to take her on a trip to Nova Scotia, for a week-long writing workshop/retreat hosted by Peter Carver and Kathy Stinson. I’m hoping to do some writing outside. Stella has a shiny screen, though, and the glare from the sun gets to be a bit of an issue. 

I looked at different visors that are available, but didn’t like any of them. Macs are nice-looking computers; why cover them up with black vinyl? I also didn’t like the idea of any adhesive residue or velcro pads stuck on the lid. There’s a pretty cool telescoping visor out there, but it cost more than I wanted to spend. 

Fortunately, I have a Mom who’s pretty handy with a sewing machine. I took some measurements, drew up a plan, and brought her some fancy umbrella-patterned fabric (and apple buttons, of course). Here’s the result.  

It might be a bit cutesy for some (okay, for most, and don’t even get me started on what my Mac-loving husband thinks of this whole dress-up thing), but it suits me just fine, and it doesn’t leave any marks on Stella. The top and side panels are reinforced with plastic binder dividers and cardboard. Thin elastic holds the “sunbonnet” on to the laptop lid. The whole thing folds down small enough to fit in my computer bag. 

So, off to Nova Scotia this Saturday for a field test…