The Writer’s Workspace

Today’s guest post is by the wonderful agent Michael Kabongo of The Onyxhawke Agency.

So, Kate has been talking about the writers toolbox, and per usual doing it in a compelling way. I’m going to talk about the writers workshop. I see clear evidence of writers neglecting this part of their writing nearly every week. The most common is a data failure. Usually this is the result  of not having a backup at all, or going through some arcane procedure that boggles my poor mind and is probably 83/97ths of the way to the alchemic formula for turning lead into gold. The way some writers ignore their physical toolkit makes me wonder if I’d ever let even the doctors among them perform surgery on me.

The three main areas of focus for a useful physical works space are:

1: Environmental

2: Productive

3: Protective

Let’s start at the beginning: Environmental.

If like most writers you do a large amount of your writing from home this can be both good and bad. Space limitations, other people sharing your space, and income constraints can all impact your ability to get the ‘perfect’ environment. But that doesn’t mean you can’t have a damned good one for a reasonable price.

First up is the most important part of your environment that affects everyone. As a big believer in the ass-in-chair method of writing, I can’t think of anything more important than where you put your ass. Find a comfortable chair. A good one will last you a while, and be comfortable the whole time. I don’t want to count the number of chairs I went through before my current one. Some lasted days, others months, but they all had one thing in common: I couldn’t stay in them for long. At a recent con a writer with a day job that pays well was talking about their four digit cost office chair. Yes four digits before the decimal. That’s I think as much money as I spent on my chair, lamp, and tower, probably throwing the monitor, speakers, and microphone for VoiP. The chair I adore, and upon which my fundament rests as I stroke the keys cost me right around $200. Not really cheap, but well not only can I sit in it through hours of slush, and fabulous client manuscripts, I’ve fallen asleep in it and found it as comfortable as most of the beds I’ve slept in.

And god said “turn the damn switch on and get rid of the dark.”, or something like that. I wasn’t there, lots of people believe it and this post isn’t about religious beliefs, it’s about having the ability to see without it hurting. The best then $230 dollars I ever spent was on a bedside lamp that produces natural light. Technology being the foul demon that it is, I saw a similar lamp with the same flat bulbs for about $80 at a major hardware store recently. I’ve also the traditional round bulbs that put out natural light. One comment on them is that I found I can step down one or more levels and see better than the yellow murk produced by normal bulbs.

Productivity being the key, once you’ve got your working environment set up, it’s time to make sure you have the physical tools needed. We’ll start with one of the most overlooked things. Hint, you’re looking at it right now. Yes that monitor on your desk. Chances are if its over 5 years old its probably not very good for the eyes. If its one of the old tube designs, I have no idea how you can spend more than 20 minutes at your computer. I was looking at them recently; you can now find 27 inch high resolution flat panels for under $200 at that big electronics store. Granted you probably don’t need a 27 inch monitor for your writing. But prices are good, go pick a good brand, stare at the one with the color you like best for 15 minutes in the store, if your eyes don’t hurt go with that one.

Keyboards, most of us kill at least one every few years. I think my personal record is three in one year. I was using my mother’s when I set her computer up recently. For the love of Harmony & Reason, I couldn’t believe the difference between mine and hers. Not only is hers loud, the keys were harder to press. It probably doesn’t matter in the least what keyboard you use if you only type about 600 words a month, but for those of us who will do 750 or so words in a single short session, it can matter. Get one you like. Hell, if you’re flush in the pocket get spares, that way when it eventually dies you won’t have to adjust to a new one and the drivers for it will be preinstalled on your desktop.

Protective may seem a little redundant, given that most people take some measure of care to have backups of their work, but as I mentioned a couple hundred words ago, some of the methodology is a touch…bewildering. So, with your finite time, do you prefer to create or cleanup? I consider any time spent not working at working and working effectively at protecting it wasted. For me, effective means one and done if at all possible.

A battery backup is one of the things I’m totally and completely baffled to find out a writer doesn’t own for their computer. Not only do they provide surge protection, but they will give you some time to save, and maybe printout a manuscript if needed. My last one was a small one, it lasted years with no problems and was done in by several bad storms, my computer, monitor, and printer which were all plugged into it survived, some of the other electronics in my house, not so much.

Good antivirus protection. If it came preinstalled on your computer it probably is not worth owning. I’ve used Avast for years, upgraded to the paid internet protection which adds a few goodies and needs less input from me and I don’t regret it. I’ve also used AVG and had good luck with them. Anti-malware tools like Spybot Search and Destroy or Malware Bytes are a good idea too, and I’ve recently become a convert of IObit Security 360 which is nice little suite.

Last, and possibly most important, especially if you ignore the last two paragraphs is the backup of your data itself. At some point you will have a computer failure or be away from your computer and need files that are on it. It is inevitable, put it up there next to death, taxes and reality tv making you dumber. The two services I recommend have both free and paid options, and do all the work after setup for you.

The first is Idrive this is pretty easy software to install. You just select the folders you want backed up, when and shazzam, done. The free service is good for 5 gigabytes of data. You can backup and restore things pretty much at will. For ye smartphone users they have a nifty app that works on most smartphones Http:// that’s free and easy to use, it only covers contacts at this point but that’s better than losing everything.

Sugar Sync is about my favorite piece of software. Install it and sync folders on multiple computers, and get instant backups, and view the files from the web or just about any cell phone with internet access. one of the neat things they also do is give you additional space for referring people. You can also allow say, your first readers or family members to view particular folders. You can revoke access any time too. As with Idrive you get 5gb free, can install it on multiple smartphone platforms, Windows and Mac computers as well.

Cheers, and happier writing! Thanks again to the Mad Genius Club for letting me lower the tone here for a second time. I think they only let me blog here to remind their readers how good their writing is.

8 thoughts on “The Writer’s Workspace

  1. Can I echo Mike’s thanks to the hosts? I can? cool. Thanks.

    I’m going to have to print this out and make a study of the post later on, this week is actually just a mass of chaos, but there’s some notes I picked up in passing while reading that are going to take some thought then I’ll have to put them into practice.

    Off to study.

  2. Yes, I need a new chair. I’m pretty good on everything else. Now if only I had started this years ago, my mind might not have escaped. Or at least I would have had it backed up.

  3. Mike,

    Thanks for a great post, and for reminding me that I have to replace my monitor which is on its last leg. As one who has been a victim of the sudden blue screen of death as well as hard disc failures, I have to agree with you. Backups are your friend.

    Thanks again for a great post and, btw, my reasons for asking you to blog are completely mercenary — can’t speak for the others. They’re nicer than me. Well, I think Kate’s nicer than me, but she tells me I’m wrong ;-p — I like seeing what you have to say about the business of writing. Now, when is your next slush party? I have some I’d be glad to send you to read bwahahahahahahaha!

  4. Mike, our environment really does affect how we feel when we sit down to write.

    I would add your screen’s desktop picture is important. I try to theme my desk top so that it ties into the books I’m currently writing. A snowy scene for King Rolen’s Kin, something baroque and sensual for Outcast Chronicles.

    Coming from my background as an artist, the visual is really important for me.

    1. Rowena,

      You must have a hellacious monitor! Mine, the word processing software covers up everything else. (It’s a good monitor, just not BIG enough to show pretty scenery as well as something I’m writing and the various browser tabs for all the research windows…).

      Environment matters more to some than others, I think. Me, I’m used to squeezing bits of writing in between other things. Word processor and time to type are pretty much it. Comfy chair helps, but I’ve gone without before and will do again. Desk… at home cluttered with an assortment of stuff including the “keep the cat off the desk” piles. At work, cluttered with work stuff. It’s not like I get much time to write at either one.

      1. Kate, I have two monitors side by side. I believe in being able to spread out. So I use one monitor to write on and the other has a document open with chapters, scene by scene. I writer these up as I write the story, so I can find exactly the right page and scene, if I want to add a clue for something that develops later.

    2. I tried to only cover the things that will effect most if not all of us who spend most of their day at a keyboard. I’m not the most visual person on the planet, and tend to fail to notice the appearance of things most of the time. Functionality that’s a different beast entirely and I’m occasionally lost in parsing the possibilities in how something is or could be done.

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