Andrea/Cara here, We get a number of questions from readers about our writing processes and the behind-the-scenes things that go on in making a book come to life. And one query that seems to pop up regularly is where do we actually work? Well, since you asked . . .
I am falling off a deadline cliff, even more behind than usual. My desk is even more of a mess than usual.
This is not helped by my twenty pound Panda cat, who sprawls and is not easily moved. I have constructed the Great Wall of Panda out of cardboard and heavy tape dispensers in hopes of keeping him off the keyboard. This doesn't work very well. But I do rather enjoy his company.
Now that I’m mostly working indie, I have nothing but deadlines, all the time. Writing the book is only a tiny part of the whole. Right now I’m proofing six old books, approving covers, helping my husband as he formats them, uploading them at half a dozen retailers, and uploading them again when more errors are found for a 9/13 release. That’s on top of writing the next Magic book, editing the draft I just finished, and doing a final proof, format, and cover for the October mystery release. Oh, and trying to put together a Christmas novella and possibly (cringing) reformatting the related Rebellious Sons series.So my desk suffers from a parade of research books, reminders, calendars, and post-it notes. But my koala (thanks, Anne!) and tea see me through. Oh, and my outside office, where I retreat to actually write—you know, that stuff that happens with pen and paper.
Now this is what I should say: I should say I get up in the morning, wrap myself in a pretty flowered silk wrapper, and pad out to my elegant mahogany desk to sit in an ergonomically designed way in my black leather chair.
That’s what I should say.
What I actually do is stagger blearily from bed, wearing my anyoldhow ragged tee and shorts, harried by my small but vociferous pack of local animals, (one dog, one cat). I walk, pat, scratch, feed, praise and coddle everything in sight. Then I'm finally free to collapse into my big white sofa that has had no ergonomics anywhere in its ancestry since its manufacture in Sweden back in 2006.
I sit cross-legged, hold the laptop in my — wait for it — lap, and hunch over it like a slaughter crow inspecting carrion.
Later, I might go to a coffee shop for a change. I work surrounded by company, interesting noise and bustle, some new music, and air conditioning. I get so much in exchange for the price of a latte.
Years ago, with my Guys and their friends taking over the house and me working at home trying to ignore the commotion of video games, horsing around (and later college boys brewing beer in my kitchen!), we built another bedroom over the garage with extra insulation, accessed by a little dogleg hallway. That added space became my office. It's quiet here, and I love the view of the back yard, the evergreens on the hill, the sense of privacy tucked away from the rest of the house. The noisy kids are grown now, and we still get a lot of family traffic, which is lovely–but I still have writing to do, and this is a great space for that. The bookcases are crammed with research books, there are two desks and a hutch in an L-shape, an ergonomic chair specially made for short people, and there are things here that mean a lot to me–a collection of angels, good luck charms, a small fountain. And I can keep this room just as cluttered as I like.
Stuff accumulates around me as I write, stacks of pages, notebooks, research books, sticky notes, that day's teacup and water bottle, lotion, headphones, all the flotsam and jetsam that starts to become invisible the deeper I get into a book. I write more effectively with isolation–I can't think around others and I'm highly distractible–and I listen to music that becomes background and balancing, kind of an extra layer of insulation, so it's just me and the story. I'm still liable to jump up fairly often to run around a bit, get tea, get the mail, do whatever needs done and talk to whoever is downstairs, but I have my little nest of an office to retreat to when I'm ready to sink back into the book again. This photo was taken before the current wreckage of the current WIP took over!
Victorian-era etiquette guru Eliza Leslie, in “Miss Leslie’s Behaviour Book “,saw fit to include an entire chapter on “Conduct to Literary Women”, in which she instructs people how to behave when meeting an “authoress ”:
“If, when admitted into her study, you should find her writing-table in what appears to you like great confusion, recollect that there is really no wit in a remark too common on such occasions, —‘Why, you look quite littery,’—a poor play on the words literary and litter. In all probability, she knows precisely where to put her hand upon every paper on the table: having in reality arranged them exactly to suit her convenience. Though their arrangement may be quite unintelligible to the uninitiated, there is no doubt method (her own method, at least) in their apparent disorder. It is not likely she may have time to put her writing table in nice-looking order every day.”
This makes me feel much better, because “great confusion” and “disorder” would describe my writing room most days. My desk, which was my father’s desk when I was growing up, is usually buried under so many papers and notebooks and cups of cold, half-finished coffee that anything placed on the top would roll off. I work in archaeological strata—I know where everything is, and can find it when I need it, but to outsiders it looks like something straight out of an episode of “Hoarders”.
Thankfully, when I’m working to deadline like this, I write everywhere and anywhere, carrying my trusty laptop with me, so my workspace sometimes looks a whole lot better, like it did this past week at the cottage (even if I didn’t really look up from my keyboard much, to notice).
I've just this minute finished a book, and the state of my office . . . well, put it this way, never tidy at the best of times, it is now the worst of times, and if you saw it now, I'd probably have to kill you. In the nicest possible way, of course.
As for where I write, apart from my office, I write in a variety of places; my bedroom (especially in winter when if we happen to have a sunny day, the sun shines right into my bay window and cheers me up no end), the local library, an occasional cafe, the dining room table (handwriting) and the place where I go on my annual writing retreat with a group of writing friends. And since the library is closed today, and the house is a mess (book just gone in, housework has been on hiatus for the last um . . . I was going to say week, but it's more like a month) and since, in the words of a small friend, I have "a magination" I will share instead a different aspect of my working life – a painting of me doing my research, by that well-known Australian artist E. Phillips Fox, who died in 1915. He painted me here in 1903 — the painting is called A Love Story. Apparently I was a redhead then.
My (fairly) new digs has a much bigger space for my writing room. It has a lovely couch—I wish I could claim that I spend time lolling on the comfy cushions, sipping lattes while snapping my fingers and ordering the Muse to type a little faster on the computer keyboard. But no. I am mostly glued to the chair (or sometimes duct tape is necessary when a deadline looms) as I am a s-l-o-w writer.
To keep me company during the writing hours, I have accumulated a host of good friends—beginning of course with my books. Then there’s the variety of silly little things that make me smile—my fox and bear puppets from childhood, my mother’s artwork, a good friend’s sketch of George Washington, a Nathan Hale bobblehead . . . There’s also a seven-foot tall vintage French advertising poster that never fails to cheer me up, no matter how badly the WIP is going. Honestly, how can "Prunier –Man" not lift your spirits? (Bouillabaisse, anyone?) The only thing I miss from my old house is the upper floor window out of which I watched the antics of the squirrels and crows while I worked. They were quite entertaining. My windows are now on the side of my desk and the wildlife is less lively (alas, fewer reasons to procrastinate.) But I’m just a five minute walk from Long Island Sound, so I take daily walks to see the gulls and ospreys cavort over the water.
(p.s. Poor Nicola is so deep in the black hole of a deadline that she can only wave up to us from from its stygian depths. She promises to dig herself out by next month! <G>)
So that's where we toil away—now it's your turn! If you could create your dream workspace, what would it look like?