Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Work-in-Progress Wednesday: A Tour of My Office

I've decided that since a new year is upon is, it is time for a new Wednesday blog tradition. I've really loved doing Women Who Rock Wednesday interviews and I am sure I will still do them or author/musician/artist I admire interviews in some other form in the future, but they just haven't gotten the response that they used to recently. This is probably my fault for several reasons, mainly being that I'm a sporadic blogger, or it could be because people are getting bored with the format or just want something new. Either way I decided that it is time for something new, so my Women Who Rock Wednesday interview with Lucienne Diver that ran last week will be the last for now. However I've decided to extend the contest that accompanied that interview (and the contest *is* international) for one more week, so if you haven't entered it yet, go here and do so.

My new theme for Wednesdays is going to be "Work-In-Progress." I plan to talk about what is going on with my writing and share the tips and things I've learned along with my struggles (and if you read this blog regularly, you know I have a plethora of struggles!). Also, when I'm feeling brave enough, I may even share snippets of my current work-in-progress.

I know this puts me at risk of turning my blog into yet another one of those writerly blogs. I've heard it said that readers want more from authors than talk about process, so maybe I'm taking a risk here, especially since with my schedule, "Work-In-Progress Wednesdays" might well be my only regular blog posts. I'm sure I will bring you sporadic interviews and rants and raves about new music and books I've discovered. In fact all of that may be included in "Work-In-Progress Wednesdays." And trust me, this blog won't lose it's personal feel and become simply a source of tips/a teaching tool. I love those kinds of blogs and blog entries, but I'm just too much of an emotional, oversharing Cancer to keep my personal feelings off of my blog, even when reflecting on the writing process. The writing process is insanely personal to me and a huge part of my life. But the more personal essay type stuff that I have written in the past about my struggles with sleep or self-injury, etc, has found a new, much better outlet: ROOKIE. (For example, a piece I wrote about insomnia posted there last night.) So I'll be saving my energy for that kind of writing for ROOKIE and I hope if you like that side of me (which is kind of like the real life version of some of my characters), you will visit me there.

Maybe focusing this blog mainly on process is a little bit selfish, but umm it's my blog and that's what I need. If you read my New Year/tough realizations entry, you'll see that I'm really fighting to stay afloat as a writer right now. I'm taking this year to evaluate my career and my life in general to see how writing fits into it and blogging will help me do that. Recording my struggles with The Bartender Book really helped me to examine my process and become aware of patterns. Unfortunately I didn't do that from the beginning, so now that I am starting a new novel, I feel lost as to how to get started, which happens every time thanks to how long it takes me to write a novel. Though I don't remember exactly how my process started for my last three novels, I do know that this one is different, so why not record it. But more on that in future posts.

My motives aren't completely selfish, though. I actually hope that these posts will inspire people and also build a bit of a community where we can share suggestions and ideas and cheerlead for each other in the comments section. Though my attempt to do NaNoWriMo failed yet again, what I took away from it was a real joy in community. I haven't really had that since I was in grad school. During November, I checked in regularly with several different groups of people, shared advice and motivation and I LOVED it. I wondered why we couldn't do this all the time since people (hopefully!) don't only work on novels in November. I have a few friends that I do regular check-ins with on Twitter (I love you Mari, Melissa, and Kaz!) or have regular sprints or process talks with (I love you Jeri, Tara, Vanessa and Kaz again!), but why not widen the scope. So this will be my once-weekly (when I can! I'm learning not to make myself feel obligated about things, but again more on that in future posts) progress report and I encourage any blog readers to use it to check in and share your triumphs, struggles, tips, and rants as well. Sound cool? I hope so.

To kick this new series off, I thought I would share my writing space with you. I'm very pleased with it and finally completed honing the perfect creative vibe. It's a "new" office for me. Since I bought my house in 2004, I've worked in a larger room across the hall, which had always been "my room" in addition to my office. I didn't sleep there, but I stored all my stuff there (I'm kind of clothing whore so I require an additional closet and dresser besides what I have in my bedroom) and I'd decorated it much like my teenage bedroom. I didn't bother painting the walls any particular color (I'm horrible at that sort of design thing), I just plastered them with all my old posters and cut-outs from magazines, some of which I've had since the early 90s (and you will see pictures of my teenage bedroom in ROOKIE at some point next month if you are curious). It looked like this (and you can click to make them bigger, though it will look funny in some places where I crudely erased things off the board by my desk that give away specifics about my projects):

It wasn't horrible by any means and it was certainly inspiring for writing BALLADS and IWBYJR to be surrounded by pictures of musicians I loved/a reflection of my teenage bedroom. But it was kind of distracting to have non-work things in there (such as a dresser) and while I like some clutter, it got too cluttered at times.

The biggest problem with that office was simple: it was the coldest room in the house during the winter (note the Snuggie draped over my desk chair and that photo was taken in October!) and the hottest in the summer due to the poor ventilation system in our house and me having to keep the door closed to shut out the cats who love to jump around and knock over my clutter. We had one other smaller room, which gets the best ventilation in the house. When I had a roommate it had been her room and when my husband moved in, it became his "office," but since he's a mechanic all that really meant was it was the room where his junk piled up. So after I accidentally put our electric bill through the roof last winter by running a space heater to keep from turning to a block of ice in my office, we decided that I should move into the spare room. My old office is now a guest bedroom/place where my clothes and my husband's books are (because my books take up the rest of the house). And as an anniversary gift, my lovely husband told me he would paint the cozy little room that is now my office.

I went with a bright blue because a) blue is a great color for creativity, b) the shade reminds me of my favorite place on earth: Seattle, which is very inspiring to me, and c) it matched this gorgeous painting that Holly Cupala gave me.

Here I will give you a little virtual tour!

My decorations are more sparse compared to my old office (well, sparse for me). I only put up things that are super important/inspiring to me. As I just explained, I've got major love for Seattle and until I move there and can really see it out my window, I decided to buy a poster of the skyline and put that over the window (and I hope to make curtains for this window at some point, my recent discovery of the importance of other creative outlets will be another blogpost though). To the left of that is the painting Holly gave me, and to the left of that is a Rosie the Riveter poster my mom bought me when I was 16. I consider that one ROOKIE inspiration. My desk is cover with a bunch of tchotchkes which I will zoom in on and explain in the next picture.

Yep the desk is covered with pictures of friends, family (note my cats in the top center frame just to the right of one of a blonde me with my husband), and other inspirations (more Seattle, lots of Nirvana and Hole). In the top left hand corner is a shadow box my husband made that holds a copy of The Instructions For Life, my friend Marcel once wrote on a paper towel. Marcel passed away a few years ago and a mutual friend had copies of the instructions made for his loved ones. He has always been a huge inspiration and good force in my life since I met him when I was 15, so it's good to look up and read reminders in his handwriting like "1. Take into account that great love and great achievement involve great risk." The book to the right of the shadow box is "The Little Engine That Could," which my agent sent me a couple weeks ago when I was feeling down and out about my writing. It may be one of the most meaningful gifts I've gotten. The calendar (from Seattle of course) that hangs above my computer is essential so that I don't miss deadlines and appointments even though I also keep them in my phone and the little black day planner sitting on the left side of my desk among the many little notebooks and scraps of paper I keep out to jot down random ideas while writing. The computer is where the majority of the work happens. I got a new one a few weeks ago (more on that and the programs I put on it in a future post), so it feels perfect for a fresh start and I gave it raven wallpaper that both suits my current project and my constant Portlandia inspired jokes about "putting a bird on it."

Next to the computer is the whiteboard/corkboard, the pile of resources for the current work-in-progress, office supplies and file cabinets. I also have this giant posterboard of my first book cover that my publisher sent me and I used to take to readings. The angel print came from the EMP in Seattle. They had a bunch of locally made art inspired by their Nirvana exhibit and I really loved that one and it also totally goes with the work-in-progress. There are some work-in-progress notes on the white board though I crudely edited any specific details like title (which I'm paranoid of sharing for some reason) out. I also have an envelope with an image that reminds me of my characters and a calendar for the year the story takes place up on there. On the corkboard side, I just have badly drawn map I made for the story, an article Nova Ren Suma wrote about magical realism and then stuff for my freelance jobs. When I was finishing up my last book I had notecards up there but I'm not to that point yet and now I'm using Scrivener (again fodder for another blog post).
Here's a close up on the resource materials for the WIP to give you a little bit about it. I have a map of Los Angeles, Trickster Makes This World by Lewis Hyde, The Long Journey Home: Re-visioning the Myth of Demeter and Persephone for Our Time by Christine Downing, Women Who Run With the Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola Estes, and The Crow: Special Edition graphic novel by James O'Barr piled up on notebooks and folders with other notes....

This is the more personal side of the room.... Well aside from the Hello Kitty collection that I have to spruce up yet more boxes of files and because putting them in the guest room would probably be weird. The trunk is kind of like my altar. I'm um... well a mishmash of things when it comes to spirituality, but I have my rituals and I feel most creative surrounded by the energy that comes from the altar which has everything from candles and incense to items that memorialize people to images that give me strength to shells and rocks and dried flowers I've collected from various places. And water from Washington because I'm a Cancer and I have a water thing. And I also have an orchid thing, so my husband bought me one and I put it there but I seem to have killed it. Above the altar is a collage of my friends that I made when I first moved out after high school, so those are my oldest friends and above them is a goofy pic I took with two of my best friends who I met post-high school. That wall is still a little blank for my liking. I have a bunch of postcards from my travels that I may make a collage from and frame for that space.

The only posters that came from the old office were these, my two oldest posters. I've had the Nirvana one since eighth grade and the Hole poster since sophomore year. The tree painting is by my friend Kasia and both matches the room perfectly and also suits the mood of my WIP. Then more family photos on the bookshelf that houses my old journals.

I put some of the posters that bookstores and libraries made for me during my appearances up over in this corner along with a short fiction award I got in college and an award I got for my newspaper writing. My degrees on top of my shelf of reference books because it seems that degrees should be present in offices. Then we've got more stuffed animals, two given to me by my husband, one that I made with my niece and the official Hole teddy bear on my bookshelf which is filled with books that I've either just read, am planning to read or love so much I need them near me for their vibes. The closet door is my mood board for my WIP, which we shall see in better detail in the next picture.

So mood boards. I got the idea from Rookie which does a monthly calendar mood board so you can see our theme for the month and get little hints of what's coming up. My Rookie colleagues are so much more visual than me and it's been a great influence. I realized that while music has always been a huge inspiration to me while writing, images can really help too. I'm not the only one. Author Justine Musk wrote a great post the other day about using a site called Pintrest (which I admittedly know nothing about) to great a visionboard. Seems like the same thing as a mood board. Though I am using tumblr to share my muses albeit semi-infrequently and I've got pictures on my computer and in Scrivener, I like having them where I can just turn around and look at them, so I've started using my closet doors for this. On the right I have a Hole poster, though the inspiration has little to do with Hole and more to do with that image. Then there are postcards from California which is the setting of my book, photos that remind me of my main character and on the far left, those are images I have had forever, the top one is a flyer my friend Polly sent me from college when she was a freshman and I was still a senior in high school. The image and the words below it remind me a bit of my story/one of my characters and so does the picture I ripped from a magazine and have kept for years that is below it.

So that's the mood board and my creative space for this novel. I know I'm being all vague about it, which is intentional (don't want to jinx it) and also because it's still in early developmental phases. But the inspirations tell you something and I've also decided (*gulp*) to share the first rough paragraph:

I thought I died That Night. I stopped seeing and hearing, stopped feeling. Even though things were still happening to me, my mind and body shut down. I ceased to exist.

Yep, that's the beginning. It is quite short.

Anyway, tell me about your work space and how you cultivate inspiration for your WIP in it. And though I have several ideas to write about in this post. If there are any particular topics you think I should cover, let me know. Also how is your writing going? Mine is progressing very slowly but surely. More on that next week!


JenFlower said...

Has the bartender book been put on the back burner for now cause it sounded really cool? Your new office looks awesome and its great to see you feeling positive about your writing a trying new things. Looking forward to reading your tips too, need them at the moment as I haven't been finding the time to write!

Stephanie Kuehnert said...

The Bartender Book is not on the backburner, it's done! My agent is shopping it, so I'm in that totally freaked out, waiting to see if a publisher buys it phase. Fingers crossed. Hope you find some writing time and that my tips and stuff can be helpful :)

Annika said...

I love your new room! It looks so cozy and inviting and INSPIRING!

I've been using Pinterest for a while and it is a great tool for collecting inspiration. I have a "work space" board that I relied on heavily while fixing up my new workspace (which I still need to photograph and blog about!) and a food board that I use for meal planning all the time. It would be a great mood board too!

Annika said...

P.S. Last night's dinner was AMAZING vegan ravioli that I found on Pinterest. It's a little like Tumblr in that you can re-pin other people's stuff to your own boards, so you don't have to search things out yourself.

JenFlower said...

That's great news. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that a publisher will pick it up! Because it would be amazing for you to get it out there cause I bet it's fantastic) and because I really want to read it! Good luck and thankyou :)

nancytea said...

Your office looks terrific and makes me wish I could have one of my own. I plan to make our shared home office a little less of a cave sometime soon. Until then, I will probably stick with my laptop, which moves around the house with me. My favorite spot is the dining room, but when I need to shake things up, you'll find me in the kitchen or living room. Or on the opposite side of the dining room table. I've got a notebook with the dates of music releases and pop culture events that take place during my timeline, and I'm always grabbing a CD or reference book to further fact-check or find inspiration. My advice for your blog - Have fun! Write about whatever YOU want. Let it be a stress-free place to share your thoughts and play with words. Genuine never gets old.

Sky said...

You have a Hello Kitty collection?! Yet another reason why you're one of my favorite people! :)

I wish I had a cool place like that to write...the only place I have is my room, so I usually just write laying on my bed. I have a map of the world hanging over it and pictures from Guatemala and random pictures of my friends and a Hello Kitty poster, but that's more because it's my inspiration for life (and Hello Kitty is just too wonderful) than for my writing.

My current WIP is the Guatemala Book. I'm a little under halfway done with it but I've been sending bits and pieces out to people to read because it's so close to me that when I read it, I picture everything so perfectly and I can't tell whether the reader can or not.

My writing was put on hold for a while because of midterms and everything but that's over so now I'm diving right back in!

I'm def curious to know what programs you use - unfortunately I'm just using plain old Wordpad for this but I've been considering getting something else because it's so hard to organize it when I write out of order.

Stephanie Kuehnert said...

Annika, your experience with Pinterest sounds great and I want that vegan ravoli recipe! I'm not so sure I'll dive into pinterest yet just because um I need to not be distracted and also I heard you need an invite. May hit you up for an invite at some point though!

Nancy, Love your blog advice. Fun instead of obligation is the plan and I'm glad you feel genuine never gets old. Also good job making due with the space you have!

Sky, I will definitely talk about Scrivener soon because I am loving it. And yes, Hello Kitty rules! Sounds like you are doing well with your book. It is great to get feedback esp when you feel really close to the material.

Annika said...

Here you are, my dear!

Just let me know what email address you want that invite to go to.

Stephanie Kuehnert said...

Oh my god, I am drooling over that recipe and I will email you about pinterest. Thanks!

Linda said...

I love office photos! That color is gorgeous, and looks very inspiring. I'm intrigued by your WIP's first paragraph. Sounds interesting and ominous. Can't wait to hear more.

My work space is just a little corner in my bedroom. I have my desk, which I obsessively clean as a way to procrastinate and focus :P I have some movie posters hanging around -- Black Swan and Chasing Amy -- and a cool vintage sign. There are also a lot of crazy notes I've written to myself sitting around.

Writing is going pretty well. I'm balancing a couple projects right now, all in different stages of development.

Awesome post :) I'm looking forward to the next one. I love reading about the writing process.

marina said...

So many things!!
Also, i'm super stoked that bartender book is done! I want to read it right now though. Haha.

Karen Mahoney said...

This is my new favourite post of yours! :)


Also, I got a bit teary-eyed about your agent sending you that book. She sounds like a keeper.


Stephanie Kuehnert said...

Linda, thanks for your compliments on the office (I adore the color too) and my WIP. It is definitely dark and ominous. Good luck with your projects. Sounds like you've got a nice little space to work on them in.

Bean, I want everyone to be able to read the bartender book right now too. The damn thing must sell soon!

Kaz, glad you like this feature :) and yes Agent Adrienne is definitely a keeper.

Adrianne Russell said...

Right now I have a tiny corner of the lofted space above our living/bedroom. The "desk" is an old 1950s-era formica dining table with a matching chair I scored from the thrift store. The lamp from target is one of those cone-shaped types and it gets way too hot so there's always the threat of it melting my laptop. It's nice but I'd love to have a room where I could actually close the door. I currently use Pinterest for mood boards since I have no wall space. :)

Stephanie Kuehnert said...

Oooh though it is a small space, your desk sounds super cute, Adrienne! I love thrift shop scores! And I may check out pinterest soon!