2003, 2004, 2005 & 2006: Named one
of the 101 best Web sites for writers by Writers Digest Magazine.
A Writer's Place
Whether you're a successful freelance magazine writer or an unpublished poet, you need a place where you can plot your novel, do a phone interview, compose a play, or polish a haiku.
The best writing environment for you depends on your personality and work habits. Do you need total silence or do you work better knowing what's going on in the rest of the house or in the rest of the world? Do you like peaceful or lively surroundings? Some writers can work only if there's clutter, while others need a spotless secluded room.
Many writers enjoy staring out a window. Annie Rassios, a Greek literary writer, finds the view from her window inspiring. "I have a great view out of a window with its own balcony--looks over red-tiled roofs towards the river, and pine-covered hillsides." Not all writers are lucky enough to afford such a wonderful location. Still, a good view can spur great writing. A prison cell doesn't normally make an ideal office for a writer.
All home offices must be airy, safe and well lit (unless you're a vampire). Your work area should have enough electrical outlets for your computer, phone, answering machine, printer and all the other high-tech equipment that modern writers can't live without. Bobbie Dempsey, a former newspaper journalist, now a full-time freelance writer has just finished putting in a home office. She advises, "Figure out the number of electrical outlets you think you'll need, then put in twice as many."
There should be a clear path to the desk and files. Watch out for electrical cords, phone cords, printer cords and anything that's going to trip you up and make your day miserable.
Good ventilation is vital, and keep in mind that natural sunlight is easiest on your eyes. Track and overhead lighting are the best artificial lights. Fluorescent lights are as annoying to some writers as a missing mailman.
The room should be large enough for all your equipment and furniture so you don't trip over files and printers. Plan ahead by measuring all your furniture and draw a rough sketch before you move in.
Bobbi Dempsey warns, "Before you actually install countertops, place your computer, et cetera on top of it so you'll get a good idea of how much space you'll actually have to work with. Counters tend to look very spacious when they're bare, but once you throw a computer, printer, and scanner on top of them, they get crowded fast."
Garages are wonderful places for an office retreat. However, renovating a garage costs time and money for wiring, insulation dry walling, flooring and proper lighting.
For a basement office you'll want to insulate, hang track lighting and put down a tile floor to avoid mildew and dampness. Attics, are an above-it-all spot but they're hotter than Harry Potter in the summer, so have a fan or air conditioner ready. Sky lights can make an attic seem bigger and provide natural light.
Many writers convert a rarely used guestroom into their office. Bob Kellogg, a former IBM systems analyst turned mystery writer has a home office which doubles as a guest room, "It has a queen-sized convertible sofa. It's an ideal place to take a nap or search for inspiration."
If space is as hard to come by as two-dollar-a-word assignments, stake out a portion of a room as your own permanent office. An L-shaped desk can make the best of any small space by utilizing corners. Us partitions, like a bookcase or a screen, a filing cabinet or plants or an area rug to mark off your special corner of the room. You cold even paint your little corner a wholly different, but of course, complementary color from the rest of the room.
Child-proof your office by covering exposed or loose wires and place guards on electrical outlets. Have a box of office toys, a play phone and a typewriter for your children to play with. If your office is a child-free zone, write only while they sleep or are in daycare.
Put a lock on your office door or install a child-safe doorknob. Writing should not be hazardous to your physical health (mental health, well that's another story).
A straight back wooden chair can cause fatigue, backaches and leg cramps. Invest in a comfortable, adjustable chair with soft upholstery. Your feet should touch the floor and a slight bulge in the back of your chair or a small cushion gives the small of your back good support. A mobile chair must have five strands to avoid tripping over. Karen Jones, a romance novelist, has a solution for anyone concerned with back strain. "I have a wooden box for a footrest. If I turn it one way it's 7 inches high, if I turn it the other, it's 4 inches high. This way I raise and lower my feet and vary the strain on my back from sitting all day."
All writers need computers with Internet access. Large flat screens are better for avoiding eyestrain. Have your computer screen at eye level or slightly higher, never lower. Your desk should be 28" deep so you're not sitting close to the monitor. Your keyboard should be lower than your computer between 24 to 27 inches off the floor. This makes typing easier and less stressful on your hands (remember, you're going to need those hands to sign publishing contracts).
Have the telephone handy--on the wall to save space. If you prefer to finish off your novel away from all distractions, leave your phone with an answering machine on in another room.
You may consider a coffee machine, microwave and a small fridge so you can prepare light meals while you work. Many writers like to do their editing by hand and others like to hand write their work before committing it to the computer. Use a separate table or desk rather than pushing your computer away for hand writing space.
The paperless society never happened Christine Reed a nonfiction magazine writer advises, " Buy a lot of file folders! No matter what system you end up using to organize your files you need a place to put your research, your query records, magazine guidelines, et cetera." If you do many projects at once use a color coded system. Hanging file folders are convenient and inexpensive. A bulletin board is a great way to keep track of important papers and letters. A calendar for all your deadlines and appointments is essential. Use a waste paper basket or recycling box for paper you don't need. Anything used at least once a week should be within arms length, otherwise, file it away or get rid of it.
Personal touches like plants or pictures, sketches and inspiring quotes about writing ("Writers do it with words," or "Editors are human, too-maybe!") can spur you on to write more. Collect anything that encourages you, like pictures of people you love, scenery, plants and music. Amy Shojai a pet magazine writer and book author has a red, white and black Afghan throw featuring Scotties (dogs) and a black and white Afghan throw of cats sitting on stacks of books. Ellie Tylbor writes a gardening column for a local newspaper and in her office there are a variety of plants and still more plants on two wall shelves that span the entire wall.
The ideal writer's place takes careful planning but the rewards are great. Having your own office says to everyone, "I'm a writer, and this is where I write."
Devorah Stone's passion for art led the way to a visual arts degree from the University of Victoria. Her true love for writing surfaced later, after marriage and three children. She has published articles on bread baking, online confessions booths, dancing hamsters, penguins, snow flakes, women Rabbis, weight lifting, high school graduation, Pokemons and life on other planets. A former Web reviewer for the Encyclopedia Britannica online guide, her articles, fiction and reviews have been widely published in Inklings, Folksonline, Highlights for Children, Chatelaine, Papyrus magazine, Amateur Chef and Straight Goods, among others. She was the Inkspot's Community Discussion Forum's Project Leader. She is currently the Historical Fiction Forum Host for the Writer's BBS.