A Writer’s Fiefdom by Mae Clair

What do you do when your work space is usurped? When chaos, clutter and disorder intrude upon your writer’s fiefdom?

Although I can plot, visualize, and jot story notes just about anywhere–and don’t mind working on my laptop now and again–like most authors, I have a preferred spot for writing.  When I want to buckle down, concentrate, and knock out a decent word count, I need my den and desktop computer. I want the big screen PC and the mojo that comes from a long established domain. My territory.

My den.

My husband might poke his head in occasionally, but it’s foreign territory. He has his own laptop,  workshop/shed, and thus no desire to sort through my books, notes, WIPs, and writing paraphernalia.

A perfect yin-yang balance of space.

Until last week when we decided to remodel two rooms in our house–my den and a spare bedroom. In order to start, we had to move everything (everything!) from the spare bedroom into my existing den so we could rip up the carpet. That means–Kodak moment, please–my den is now overflowing with two rooms of furniture that have been haphazardly stuffed into one. Please dwell on the word “stuffed.”

Woman in a small office

Why is this chick smiling? Doesn’t she get this is NOT how I want to work!

I have a single path that allows me to move from the door to my desk, another from the desk to the closet. Other than that, the room is an obstacle course. Bookcases, dressers, a flatscreen TV, file cabinet, two tables, a monstrosity of a desk and assorted odds-and-ends all vying for space. My fiefdom suddenly feels the size of a box.

A common question between hubby and me these days is “Where did you put the (insert name-of-thing-you-haven’t-needed-in-three -months-and-probably-won’t-for-another-six-but-it’s-now-insanely-critical-that-you-find).”

There is clutter everywhere, and it’s doing nasty things to my organizational OCD. Although my desk is routinely littered with post-it notes, purple index cards, magazine clippings, photos and colored stones (I fiddle with them when I’m stalled on a scene), there’s structural madness to my disorder. Or maybe structural disorder to my madness.

In any event, the disruption couldn’t have hit at a worse time. I’m working on galleys for TWELFTH SUN and putting a final polish on ECLIPSE LAKE before shipping it off for submission. So how am I dealing with the mess? By reminding myself that when all is said and done, I will have a brand new den and a brand new work area. I can’t wait! In the meantime, I hold a vision of the finished product like a mantra in my head as I wend my way through a labyrinth of uprooted furniture and bric-a-brac.

Have you ever had your work space disrupted? How did you handle it? Do you have a preferred place for writing? I’d love to know if I’m the only one set in my ways when it comes to my writer’s fiefdom.

40 thoughts on “A Writer’s Fiefdom by Mae Clair

  1. Urgh I imagine that to be a very frustrating environment! I know what you mean by needing a certain space for writing. Personally I haven’t got a single space like your den, which sounds great, but a space has to fulfil certain conditions in order for me to be able to work in it. For me the most important aspect of a writing space is tidiness, it may take me quite a bit of time to set a room organised enough, but once that’s done I’m much more efficient in my writing.
    So no, you’re not alone, but I hope there are a few more of us out there! My family don’t seem to understand my madness with it, but then again I can’t explain the logic either.

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    • Hi, linettg! Welcome and thanks for visiting my blog. It’s amazing how much more we can accomplish when we’re at peace with the writing space around us. No matter where that space is–a room or even a favored spot–it becomes our personal creative niche. So glad to know I’m not alone in that thought!

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  2. I don’t mind so much when the invaders of my space are my dogs. They give me comfort. For me, it’s not so much the space invasions as the time invasions. I’ll be in the middle of writing a scene and hubby will come in to ask me something and doesn’t always understand that just one interruption can completely displace my train of thought. 😡

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    • Ha, Kitt, I so agree. I don’t mind the cats rubbing up against the laptop or the dog, Lillie chewing her bone like she is right now or when she puts her toy on my arm, continually. Or Charlie when she barks at me to come out and chase her. Right now Houdini just put his butt in my face and now is waiting for me to pet him. My husband will knock on the office window as he goes by, asks me a question and totally pulls me out of the scene I’m writing, like it’s nothing and then goes on his merry way. Argh!
      Mary

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      • Mary, I had to laugh over all those animals being demanding of your time. It sounds like you have a crew of pets to keep you occupied! What is it about animals wanting to hang out with writers? 🙂

        As for your husband and his questions, mine will do that too (although he has to walk in the room as my den is on the second floor). It takes such a concentrated effort to refocus with those kind of interruptions whereas a pet is often happy with a simple scratch behind the ears and there’s no break of concentration!

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    • My cats were always good at invading my space. I miss that now with them gone. Somehow pets can get away with it and not be nearly as distracting. Occasionally my husband will crack the door of the den and press his face in the opening just enough to mimic Jack Nicholson in The Shining, Distracting, but fun, LOL!

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  3. Like you say, just keep picturing what your work space/haven will look like soon.
    I don’t have a work area. I have a couch (any will do), laptop, feet up and tea – then I’m good to go. 🙂

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    • Laptop, couch and tea sounds great, Emma! In the warm weather I love to take my laptop out on our covered porch. It might actually be warm enough for me to do that this weekend (if I’m not busy stripping wallpaper in the spare room, LOL).

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  4. Hi Everyone, This is a great subject. My husband and I share a room for our office and somehow he got the bigger desk. Almost all the walls are covered with this bulletin board, because my son when he had it had a habit of pounding nails everywhere, or holes when he was mad. I have the small desk and my stuff does slip over to his desk. I’m a bit messy, but once a week about, I go through everything, throw out any post it notes I don’t need anymore, update my to do list. My plot book is always laid out next to my laptop, my dictionary, thesaurus and reference books are at arms reach. I don’t have the bulletin board in front of me, so I tack things right into the wall. Any pictures I want. Mostly friends and family, pictures my nieces and nephews made or quotes. I do have one giant white board over my printer. I write my years goals with dates up there, lists of marketing I need to do and I drew on a calendar, so I always have a couple months I can look at so I don’t miss anything. Whew. Sorry for the long post. All the cats hang with me. My old girl, Daphne is going to be 17 this year and she gets a little bed next to my chair. Houdini has his own chair, and Junior can be found in my in-basket. Mizzy likes to recline right next to my laptop. Sometimes I’m typing over a cat in my lap. That’s my office in a few nutshells. Thanks for the great post.

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    • What a great description of your writing space, Mary! BTW, I love cats. McDoogal used to lay in my lap while I worked. Arafel was one to hang out on the desk and Onyx liked to curl up next to my chair. Both McDoogal and Arafel also enjoyed strolls in front of the screen and across the keyboard. That cat look-at-me-I-want-attention thing, LOL.

      I like your idea of a whiteboard. I have a blogging/marketing point (constantly with me) that serves about the same purpose. It’s marked up with goals and all of the posts I need to write plus reminders of who’s guesting on my blog and when. It’s the one thing that really works for me.

      My desk is massive but it’s a dinosaur (think 1950s PI-type desk). When my new den is done, I’m definitely treating myself to a new one!

      Glad you enjoyed my post and thanks for sharing!

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  5. I know exactly what you mean down to the smallest detail because I too went through the remodel of my library/office a few years ago. Crabby, impatient, agitated… but OH how much fun when my husband and I stood back, looked at the finished project with huge smiles on our faces and said “It is finished!” (Except now I want to add some corner cabinets…) 😉

    Great post and you’ll have to post pictures when you’re done!

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    • I can’t wait for that moment, Debbie! It’s satisfying when you’re able to step back and look at what you’ve accomplished. My husband and I remodeled several rooms in our house previously and I love seeing the finished results. I just hate all the construction stuff and the disarray you have to live with until you reach that point. I bet your library/office is awesome!

      And yes, I will definitely post pictures when mine is done, although I imagine it will be some time as we have to strip wallpaper. Yuck! Yuck! Yuck!

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  6. Here, here – post some pics when the renovation is done! Great post Mae!
    For me, Mae, my writing has never been UNinterrupted. For the last year I have written in constant chaos as we moved from Australia to Michigan to my folk’s for awhile, then to their cottage, then back to theirs and now finally in our own home. I now “own” the desk space we do have, but there is rarely a quiet moment. Ah, I wait (not so patiently) for the day…

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    • Cd, it’s hard enough uprooting and moving to another town or even another block. I can’t imagine what it must have been like moving from an entirely different country. YIKES! I’m glad you’ve settled in and have your own desk space now, even if it is rife with interruptions. 🙂

      And yes, I will post pictures!

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  7. It’s not interruptions to my space that bother me–I work on my living room couch while wrangling kids, so I’m used to little space invaders and no organization–but when I get a virus on my computer or something updates and my PC decides it needs to shut down without warning me first, THAT’s when I loose my sh**.

    Every now and then I consider a Mac. But I’d miss my right-click.

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    • Good point about the dreaded shut-down-without-warning, Jessie. I hate when that happens and normally end up spewing colorful language as a result. Good for you that you can be productive with the little space invaders! 🙂

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  8. I feel your pain, Mae. We recently remodeled our office, which I share with my husband. He too has the larger desk, but that’s okay. I like smaller spaces. Fortunately, while we remodeled, I got the prime space in the bedroom for my desk. My writing was mostly uninterrupted. Shortly after returning to the newly remodeled office I was able to finish a WIP that had haunted me for 2 years. I love the new space and the vision of zen-like organization was what kept me going. I hope for you, that soon, you are able to get back to your “structural disorder to your madness”. Love the line!

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    • And I love your line about “the vision of zen-like organiztation.” Congrats on finishing that WIP. What an accomplishment! It sounds like that new space is just what you needed. Hopefully, when mine is done I’ll have a huge burst of creativity too! 🙂

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  9. I feel for you Mae. My world is the back room of what at one time was a garage. It’s cold and hot depending on the season. the spouse is a retired muscian and doesn’t have a proper door on his music room. But it is my world. I just have to squeeze the quiet time in when I can.

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    • “Your world” sounds like a perfect space, Sue! It’s all about where you are comfortable and can call your own creative domain. I think it’s very cool that your husband is a retired musician. Music has been a strong influence in my family through the years with a few musicians in the family tree, but unfortunately, I didn’t get a drop of that talent!

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  10. Oh, I wish I had an office!! I sit on my recliner couch with my laptop and headphones and melt into my make-believe world with chaos around me. I can be easily distracted that way, however.

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    • Hi, L.J! “Melting into make-believe” sounds like a wonderful way to work, wherever that may be. As I type this, I’m actually sitting on the couch in my family room and working on my laptop for a change – – and be distracted,, LOL!

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  11. When my sister bought me this wonderful flat screen, I ignored it for a week because I knew putting it on the wall would require distruption to my living room. And it did. Took me almost a week to get matters back to normal.

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  12. Well, by default, I have the family because John has his 60 inch in the “living” room.
    John made me a “bookshelf” wall so it feels more like a “room” than an area. I’ve tried propping myself up in bed to work, but I find I work best at a desk with my feet on the floor in a chair.

    No one can work if it gets too cluttered. I’m forever getting rids of piles of paper (mail mostly) off my work surface so I can “work.” My best time seems to be when Hubby is asleep. (Sorry, John!) I can work rhough most of his ‘loud’ movies – basically anything with Bruce Willis or Robert Downey, Jr in the last 10 years. 🙂

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    • Hi, Diane! I’ll occassionally work on my laptop propped up in bed too, but I usually end up with a back ache the next day, LOL.

      Your bookshelf wall sounds very cool. John has created a great work space for you so I guess you’ve got to forgive him for those ‘loud’ movies! 😀

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