Posts tagged ‘home office’

July 19, 2013

Writing tip: Don’t lose your timer

This is my office timer and, I suspect, home to Inspiration. (At least, she seems to come out more when I use this timer.)

This is (was) my dependable office timer.  I am currently experiencing a change in timer models, as described below.

I have this issue: I don’t want my toddler to play with my cell phone, but he loves it.

About two months ago, he wandered into my office, took the cell phone from my desk, sat down on the floor and started pushing buttons to make it beep. It was adorable, until he managed to get online. Then I had a terrific idea.

I traded the cell phone for my beloved kitchen timer, the one that gets me started on days when I need a boost.

I got back to work. I vaguely remember him standing up after a while and wandering out of the room with it, headed down the hall toward his own room.

It’s been two months now. Two months, and I can’t find it anywhere. I’ve looked all over the house, and I scoured his room. I’ve checked his toy box, his drawers, his book shelves, behind his bed and under the battered recliner in the corner of his room. I suspect I’ll find it in there someday. For now, I’m giving up.

 I finally broke down and bought a new kitchen timer. I have yet to warm up to it–and I’m amazed I feel so sentimental about my old timer–but I’m slowly getting used to the new one. Slowly. I’m making new memories. I will probably grow to love this one as much, given time and a few productive writing days that feel like successes.

Someday, I’ll look back and laugh and wonder why I was ever so dependent on a timer at all.

Meanwhile, I came across another interesting timer technique on Passive Guy. This one links back to author Ryan Casey and describes his experiences with something called the Pomodoro Technique. It allows him to write about 5,000 words a day.  I’m intrigued. I plan to try it one day early next week.

Also, if you’re interested in how Joss Whedon manages to be so prolific, you can read about it here at Fast Company.

Meanwhile, I’ve learned two important lessons: one, if I don’t want my toddler to play with my phone, I need to keep it out of reach–like on top of the filing cabinet–and two, if I want to use an office timer to stay productive, I really need to keep one around.


April 13, 2013

NaPoMo post: Saturday’s Promise


In the space of three heartbeats,

all dormant things spring to life–

the e-mail left unanswered, a textbox unsourced,

blogs unread, books not marketed,

words not yet written,

lists of projects yet to tackle–

among them I find

the unopened envelope of a child’s smile

and the promise of laughter…

I will tend to that, today.

March 26, 2013

A smoky but happy adventure day

Smoke from a wildfire

Smoke from a wildfire here in Utah, summer 2012

I woke this morning to the piercing beep of our carbon monoxide detector. Our basement was filled with smoke–especially frightening because two of my children sleep down there, and one NEVER hears her alarm clock. Thankfully, she got up when she heard my voice and went straight outside.

There was no fire–only smoke. Cold air apparently sunk down our chimney last night and pushed the smoke from our last fire, two days ago, out through the basement. It was enough to make my eyes water and my throat burn.

I’m grateful. It could have been a lot worse.

We opened several windows, set up all the fans we could find and even turned on our swamp cooler vent. The air upstairs is breathable now, but it’s cold, so two of my children and I are camping out in my office. There’s almost no smoke in here. The heat source in this room is electric, so there are no vents for the smoke to come through, and it’s cozy warm. As long as we keep the door closed, we’ll do fine–although I think a trip to the library later today may still be in order. 🙂

In an hour or so, when the smoke has cleared a little more from the basement, I’ll heat the chimney up with a hair dryer and then light a new fire. If I warm the chimney enough first, it should draw the rest of the smoke back up the chimney, and we’ll be able to close the windows, turn off the fans, and reheat the house. We can turn on our Scentsy and cook something delicious to make the air smell better.

Surprisingly, this it turning out to be a great day. It’s close quarters in my little office, but we’re having fun hanging out together while we work on our different projects.

Lots of little things are going on today– I’m blogging, of course, and working toward a deadline for an article assignment, writing some for a work in progress and editing a chapter of the pirate book. Meanwhile, one daughter is updating software on her laptop while she reads. My toddler is busy redecorating my bookshelves and rearranging a drawer in my filing cabinet. Another daughter, who truly values her privacy, has taken her laptop outside. She’s doing her schoolwork at the picnic table, and she seems perfectly content in spite of the cold.

It reminds me just a little of a few of our camp-out-in-the-basement days we had last summer, when the wildfires in Utah got so bad that the air was gray and the swamp cooler drew smoke into the house. It wasn’t as thick as it was this morning, maybe, but it was still a wonderful way to break the routine and bring my family together in a unique and fun way.

Inconvenient. That was the first word that came to my mind this morning. Now I’m calling it a blessing. How weird is that?

March 26, 2013

My Lake House

The Great Salt Lake, late summer 2012

The Great Salt Lake, late summer 2012

In the late winter and early spring of 2012, I began writing a book for my eldest daughter. She always enjoys action and adventure, especially in unreal or historical settings.

This is the daughter who loved the first Pirates of the Carribean movie so much that she choreographed a pirate ballet when she was seven. She and a ballet-class-friend performed it at their Christmas recital. After that, how could I not take her interest in pirates seriously? So she learned about Anne Bonnie and Mary Read, and when I finally got around to starting her book, her love of all things pirate-y was my inspiration for it.

I can’t say that it’s gone without a hitch. The first draft needs some major re-writing to fix plot holes. I’ll spend days editing it to deepen the characters, enhance the writing and clean up the grammatical errors.

I set it aside this winter when I began blogging because I needed a break from it. Now that there are hints of warmer weather, I think I’m getting ready to tackle it again.

That’s partly because I’m reminded of it every time I drive past the Great Salt Lake and see sail boats out on the water.

In the spring, when the water is high, I can see a small sliver of the lake from my office window. The fact that it’s about twenty miles away doesn’t matter. I’ve never lived anywhere with a lake view of any kind before, so by default, this has become my lake house. I’m finally settling in, but for the first full year here, that’s how I thought of this place. It felt temporary.

Moves always do that to me. For quite a while, I feel like I can set my new home aside as easily as I set aside a manuscript I’m not in the mood to edit. It takes a while for the feeling of home to seep back into my skin. It’s finally happened. I realized today, as I was thinking about picking up the pirate manuscript again, that I’m ready to resume life as normal.

I’m not on vacation. This isn’t temporary. It’s real, and it’s wonderful, and it’s a life worth embracing. I think I love it here.

I’ll be working on the edit for this particular manuscript through the spring. I have a goal to get a solid next-draft done by the first of June. I’ve even contacted a book cover artist, and I’ll be commissioning a cover with her as soon as I’m able to pull the money together. It feels good to be sailing ahead on this again.

Speaking of which, there’s something else really great thing about this: in order to make my plot believable, I’ll get to learn at least a little bit about sailing.

I’m really, really looking forward to that–and if anybody out there sails and feels like answering questions, please let me know!

March 11, 2013

How the Flylady strategy keeps my life manageable and fun


It’s time for another Flylady Reboot.

I’ve mentioned before that I’m a Flybaby, that I write better when my home is at least somewhat clean and that I really love my timer.

I do tend to get sidetracked, though. There are days the dishes build up in the sink, days when my ‘hot spots’ get cluttered, days when the folded laundry doesn’t get put away and promptly gets unfolded and stepped on by a helpful toddler.

There are even weeks like that–and last week was one of them. When the house gets out of control, so does my writing life. I feel guilty closing myself off in my office when the rest of my family still has to work around messes. If I do make it to my office on messy weeks or days, I’m too keyed up to write well, and my writing time is interrupted by a bazillion little emergencies.

I’ve decided it’s actually a time saver, on weeks like that, to set aside at least part of the day to catch up on laundry, make easy dinners ahead of time, make sure my daughters have everything they need for school the next week, etc. Saturdays are usually my day to do this. I think my Saturdays are akin to what author and life coach Sheila Williams calls ‘claiming days.’ (See her book here.)

Thanks to some decently evolving routines, I don’t have to spend all day long every Saturday doing this, but a few hours of reclaiming my life makes a real difference in my attitude the following week. This past Saturday was one of those days. I’m not even sure how many loads of laundry I had to catch up on. I didn’t get it all done, but I got it back to the point where I can do a load of laundry a day and keep up with it.

It feels good.

As this new week begins, I’m working harder on developing my routines. I’ll be focusing on evening and morning routines first.  Changes in my family’s schedule means some items previously in my morning routine have to be moved later in the day, and some things that weren’t really part of a routine will have to be accommodated.

I have an image in my head of my life as a strategic game. I HAVE to be flexible, to be willing to try different angles and strategies to reach my objectives. It’s part of my ‘level up’ philosophy, and living this way is both entertaining and fulfilling.

I like the fact that my routines are flexible. Life would be boring if I thought of my routines as a set of rules and regulations rather than tools to help me become the best person I can be.

Once I’ve got the hang of my new evening and morning routines, I’ll begin revamping my work routine. One area I really want to improve is having a set time each day to write fiction–no matter where I am. I’m looking forward to watching my routines, watching how and where I spend my time and finding a time I can consistently set aside for this.

I know it will change again in a few months. As the weather gets warmer, I’ll want to spend more time outside, and that will mean a change in schedule, again. It keeps things fun!

February 26, 2013

My fountain helps me focus

My hummingbird fountain

My hummingbird fountain

While helping clean out my grandparents’ home a few weeks ago, I came across a hummingbird fountain.

It didn’t work. The tubing connecting the pump to the actual fountain had corroded and broken. I brought it home, anyway.

Last Thursday I was pleasantly surprised when my sweetheart replaced the tubing for me and set it up on top of one of my filing cabinets in my home office.

I’ve turned it on every day since then while I work, and it’s been extremely pleasant.

There’s something to be said for the sound of running water. This is especially true on deadline week. It completely soothes me and reminds me to ‘go with the flow.’ When my fountain is on, my creativity seems to stream from my mind to my fingertips, where I can write it or type it out.

Perhaps I think too much about these things. I tend to look at the objects in my life as symbols, things I can learn from, lessons to treasure. Still. Where’s the wonder in the world, if you can’t feel awe over something as simple as clean water?

It’s food (or water) for thought.

Anyway, I’ve noticed a strange correlation between having my fountain on and how focused I am at work. In a world full of distractions, this makes my little fountain a valuable asset to my home office.

What helps other writers focus on their writing work? I’d love to know.

January 3, 2013

Three strategies to jump-start sluggish writing weeks

This is my office timer and, I suspect, home to Inspiration. (At least, she seems to come out more when I use this timer.)

This is my office timer and, I suspect, home to Inspiration. (At least, she seems to come out more when I use this timer.)

Sluggishness happens to everyone occasionally. These are the days when you can’t seem to stay in your seat, when you wander around your office or home doing menial tasks rather than focusing on the writing that you know you should be doing.

I’m not fond of wasting time like that–it feels like a bad dream where you’re trying to run, and you can’t.

It’s not exactly writer’s block. For me, sluggishness happens when the rest of my life catches up with what I’m doing in the writing world. I still have plenty of ideas to work on, but I feel guilty enjoying my quiet writing time when there’s so much to do around me.

Catching up from a holiday or vacation always creates a sense of sluggishness.

These days, there are dirty dishes in the sink and a few extra loads of laundry to do, snow to be shoveled, paperwork to file and bills to pay.

When I’m in my routine, these tasks seem to take care of themselves. It’s those fun interruptions that take their toll…and the longer those interruptions are, the more sluggish I tend to be when I finally do get back to work.

A decade or so of writing work has taught me three strategies for dealing with sluggish writing days. I’m listing them in order of my favorite, most used methods, here:

Use your timer, and work in a pattern. I set my kitchen timer for fifteen or twenty minutes, and I write a short pattern on a sticky note to help me get started. My pattern might look something like write, housework, write, housework or write, paperwork, play with baby, repeat.

On these days, the point is just to get started. One or two repetitions, and I find I’m feeling better about everything. I see progress in all the pertinent areas of my life, which allows me to relax into my writing.

Once this happens, I put the timer away and focus on the work at hand until I’m finished. So far, this has been my most successful strategy–and yes, I used it today to help jump-start my 2013 writing!

Use your timer, and work in big blocks. I use this strategy on days when I feel completely overwhelmed by deadlines or when I’m so into a book project that I simply can’t put it down. The house could be on fire and I’d still need to write–so the idea of the timer here is really to limit the time I allow myself to write.

I know, it doesn’t sound like a sluggish start at all, until you know the background of it: If I allow myself to write to my heart’s content, everything else in my life gets so overwhelming that once I leave my office, I have a hard time getting back to it. It might take me a day or two to finish all the little projects needing my attention, and by that time, my inspiration is usually so impatient with me that she’s gone. Just gone.

It’s better for everyone if I limit my writing time to, say, two and a half hours, then get up and do an hour or so of other work. I can come back to my writing later, when I feel like the rest of my life is back under control, and my muse is merely amused at how distracted I can be.

Use your timer, and let writing be its own reward. Well, writing IS its own reward, as far as I’m concerned, which is what makes all of these strategies work–but this strategy takes advantage of that by making me wait to write.

On these days, it’s something to look forward to, a treat for when I get the shopping done and the groceries put away. I set my timer for about an hour and rush around getting things done for my family, then allow myself twenty minutes of writing time.

It might seem counterproductive from a writing standpoint, but the truth is, if I know I’m going to get to write on one of my favorite projects in an hour, my mind becomes a prolific idea generator. Those twenty minutes of writing are truly enjoyable and super-productive, and it makes the non-writing work speed by like a daydream.

December 27, 2012

Write past the holiday noise


It’s becoming evident that time management is an obsession of mine. As a work at home writer with a busy family, it has to be–and the more I learn about time management, the more I enjoy it.

Even now, over the holidays.

It’s loud, to be sure. The baby gabs away at his dad, the television blares (my father-in-law can’t hear it otherwise), the dog whines to be let outside and barks to be let in. The phone rings, and a teenage daughter gets the giggles over some unseen antics of the friend who called.

In the middle of this good-natured chaos, I try to work.  It’s difficult, but not impossible. Here’s how I got things done today:

Days like this aren’t the best for phone calls. I save them for quieter times and focus instead on communicating through e-mail. Since most of my work is done electronically anyway, I hardly feel like I’m fudging.

Between every other activity, I check my social networking sites and have a little fun there. That’s partly because it’s the holidays (and I can).  I love talking with other writers. It helps keep me motivated, and when I open up a new file I have at least a few minutes of fire under me.

Rather than trying to focus on the flow of writing itself, I use these days to outline what I want to say.  Once a basic outline is written, I break it out several times until I have a fairly detailed idea of what the draft will look like. Then I move my words from outline format to a simple text format that I’ll use as a first draft.

On days like this, I can’t expect perfection. This draft will be subject to serious editing and re-writing, but when I get to those quieter days, I’m that much further ahead. The writing from these outlines often isn’t very elegant, but it’s amazing how prolific I can be when I’m working one idea at a time. The copy editing can come later.

Occasionally I come to a point where I do need to focus, and then I use headphones to permeate the background of my mind with relaxing music. This seems to wash away the other, more jarring sounds that otherwise interrupt my train of thought.

And when that train of thought just chugs around the bend, when all else fails–I get up and shut my office door.

December 23, 2012

Biking down Imagination Lane

This is how I bike down Imagination Lane

This is how I bike down Imagination Lane

Of all the things that take up space on my office floor, the compact stationary bicycle I borrowed from my sister is the most inspiring.

I can’t type while I’m using it. Even though I keep it under my desk, my knees hit the table when I use it there. I have to pull it out and turn my chair slightly to get any good spin of the pedals.

This doesn’t mean it’s a nuisance. On the contrary, it gives me more reasons to enjoy my thinking time as well as work on my health as I work at home.

I assume that every writer has a thinking time. For me, this is the time when I hit writer’s block, and I desperately want to DO SOMETHING, but I know if I leave my desk I won’t come back for a very long time–or, if I do come back soon, I’ll come back with an open bag of chocolate chips. Not a good thing.

This little bike has already had several impacts on my writing.

First, it keeps me active. Even if it’s a half a minute at a time while I wait for something to print or a half hour, off and on, while I sketch out a plot, movement is movement.  It means more oxygen for my brain, which I believe translates into better thinking and hence, better writing.

Second, it uses up nervous energy. When I’m overloaded with work, I mentally chain myself to my desk. I become so absorbed in my work that when night comes, I can’t unwind to sleep. If I use my bike more on those days, my life seems less hectic, somewhat balanced and manageable. Because that movement allows me to unwind, I sleep better and then work better the next day. That makes it a time-saver.

Thirdly, it seems to stimulate my imagination. If I sit on my chair, close my eyes and cycle, I can muse on possible plots or character development in my fiction projects, wording and organization and even who to contact and what to ask with my nonfiction ones.

Overall, that’s what makes this little bike so inspiring. I love thinking, but I especially love seeing efforts for my thinking. If I’m thinking and holding still, it’s too easy to fall asleep.

Staying active while trying to work full-time at home means I have to put a little extra effort into my down time. The bike comes in really handy for this. It’s become the guardian of my feet (I can’t get away from my desk without noticing it’s there) as well as my ride through Imagination Lane.

December 19, 2012

Writing like a FlyBaby

This is my office timer and, I suspect, home to Inspiration. (At least, she seems to come out more when I use this timer.)

I’m a flybaby.

For the past few years, I’ve been fluttering on and off with the FlyLady system for managing my home, my office and my life. I’m slowly, very slowly, getting better at it.

One technique that I’ve found very helpful for breaking through writer’s block is the use of a timer. Two or three freewrites of five minutes each, during which I’m brainstorming and writing as fast as I can go, generally gives me enough decent pathways that I can get back to work and expect steady progress.

My timer is a small white kitchen timer, a digital one that beeps when the time is up or can be used a stopwatch if I just want to keep track of how long one particular thought can carry me.

I was slightly surprised to discover I’m not the only writer who seems to think this way. Recently I discovered an online article by freelance writer Laura Spencer detailing sixteen things writers can do in five minutes. That article can be found at freelancefolder.

Freewriting for just five minutes a day has also helped me break through times of discouragement. Focusing that hard on one thing for just a few minutes seems to make it easier to focus on other things, as well. Celebrating for five minutes after forty five minutes or so of five-minute bits of progress breaks up the sadness completely.

Here are my favorite five-minute tasks:

  • Read a picture book to my toddler
  • Sit in a sunny window and drink a glass of lemon water while I muse on the plot for a particular story or the outline for an article
  • Review my goals and dreams (I keep them in a binder that I call ‘My Big Red Book’). Doing this every day before I start work not only keeps me focused, it helps me relax when deadlines get close. It’s as simple as remembering I have a plan, and that the plan I have is workable.
  • Call my Mom–we never have to talk long, but the brief connection with someone who always loves me is well worth the effort.
  • Water my office plants
  • Go outside, get the mail from the mailbox and sort it in the fresh air. Anything I don’t need can go right into the garbage bin before I go back into the house.
  • take out the trash–it’s still all about the sunshine and the fresh air and stretching my legs on the sidewalk for a pace or two.

I use FlyLady’s decluttering system in my home office, too. It’s most useful with the paperwork that piles up so easily. I’ve read in several FlyLady e-mails that you can do anything for fifteen minutes. For me, fifteen minutes spent filing papers and throwing away trash is time well spent.

One other technique that’s particularly helpful for me is using a pattern of activity with a timer to keep me on track. For example, the day after a deadline usually means I have to catch up on tasks that I’ve let slide a little bit. On these days, I may do paperwork for fifteen or twenty minutes, write a little, play with my baby, write a little, do some housework, write a little, and then repeat the entire process. I keep tally marks for the fifteen or twenty minute periods when I’m actually working so that when I get back into the flow of things, I have an idea of how many billable hours I worked.

Granted, these days aren’t as productive as my ordinary work days, but they’re better than looking around wondering where to start. This technique has worked for me when other methods haven’t.

When you have writing to do and can’t seem to get going, these things matter.

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