By Christina Struyk-Bonn
My agent asked me recently to write about the writing work space for the agency blog. I thought, sure I can write about that, no problem. Then I started thinking about it and realized that I am completely unqualified to write on this topic. Not only do I lack a writing work space, I break all the rules that might apply to having a successful and effective place to write. So what I’m going to do is talk about what not to do, with the realization that I do all of these things but know that I shouldn’t.
As I am writing this, I am examining where I write. At this time it contains the following elements: two books, a Lego magazine, three stacks of unopened mail, a pair of scissors, a head lamp, an iPad, an extension chord, and a dirty pair of socks. (And yes those socks are mine.) My writing workspace is a complete disaster all the time.
My five don’ts for the writing work space.
Don’t #1: Do not invite your cat to sit on your lap while you are writing. Ironically while writing this, I received a Facebook post from an author friend with a picture of a cat sitting on a keyboard. Under the picture it said, “Look who came to visit me while I was writing?” Not only was this friend distracted by the cat, she was distracted by Facebook because she took the time to take a picture of the cat and post it!
Yes, I know that many of us do this (and enjoy doing it), but the truth is the cat does not stay where we place the cat. Rather the cat must take part in the writing process by rubbing its face against the keyboard, by standing up in front of the monitor and arching its back as it purrs, by kneading the keyboard with both front paws while drooling as we scratch it under its chin. Yes cats are lovely and lovable, but they should not be part of the writing workspace.
Don’t #2: Do not slouch lower and lower in your seat as you are typing. This is easily done, especially if the writing session has been a long one; perhaps if writing a section that is exceptionally difficult, even a bit boring. Slouching lower and lower is detrimental to the writing process. Soon your back gets sore, your hands are no longer positioned correctly on the keyboard, you feel sleepy, and sometimes the inadvertent slouching results no longer seeing the monitor screen clearly.
Don’t #3: Do not suddenly feel the need to trim your fingernails and toenails. For some reason, the act of typing on the keyboard and putting those words down on paper cause us to be hyper aware of cuticle growth or hangnail issues. Yes it is terribly annoying that the nail on your first finger catches on your shirt due to that infinitesimal snag located on the top left side. But here’s the truth – it won’t snag on your shirt if you keep your fingers on the keyboard. I don’t believe the ten and two position applies to typing or writing; always remember hands up, fingers forward, wrists arched, and carry on.
Don’t #4: Try to avoid checking your word count every two seconds. (I am currently at 504 and need at least a thousand to make my goal.) Yes I know that in NaNoWriMo we have word counts that we must reach in order to earn our certificates, but glancing at that word count every two seconds will only distract from the work at hand. It will become frustrating because it is very difficult to type more than a couple of words in two seconds. This will give a feeling that the word count is creeping toward the daily goal, rather than leaping toward it.
Don’t #5: Finally, do not fixate on the cobweb swirling around the light fixture above your head. Yes, you really should take a broom to those cobwebs. There most definitely seems to be more spiders than normal around the house this year, even the one you sucked up in the laundry room certainly was closer to the size of a grasshopper than a typical spider. But now is not the time. Please wait until after your writing session.
The truth is, I am just as prone to distractions as the next writer. We all have days when focusing on what we need to accomplish is very difficult – there is laundry to fold, dishes to put away, litter boxes to clean, and children to pick-up from school. Sometimes there are jobs to do, classes to take, and dogs to take on walks.
I understand all too well the distractions that we fall prey to. But do know this: we get it. We have the same distractions and the same issues. We are united in our inability to focus at all times, except for perhaps Stephen King who writes an astronomical number of pages each day and can maintain that pace over extended periods of time. Aside from him, remember that we’re all in this together. Knowing that we’re in this together will provide enough reassurance that we can overcome our distractions and continue with our writing.
Chris Struyk-Bonn has detassled corn, worked in a small motor-parts factory, framed pictures, served in various and sundry restaurants and labored in an egg factory. She is currently a high school English teacher in Portland, Oregon, and has at last found a job she thoroughly enjoys. Whisper, her first book, was a YA finalist for the Oregon Book Awards.