I recently inherited a bedroom left vacant by Kid 3, who took Kid 1’s bedroom when she moved into an apartment. This empty bedroom has become my new office. It was no easy task to move a decade’s worth of stuff from my small office on the main floor to this vast expanse on the second floor.
I learned a few lessons while on this month-long journey.
- Take it step by step. Anne Lamott’s lesson from “Bird by Bird” applies to paint and decor. Her advice to move through your writing one step at a time, step after step, makes the same sense as I removed cowboy decorations, spackled, primed, taped and painted the walls. The process couldn’t move ahead without accomplishing the previous steps. Same in your writing life. Take the next step, then the next.
- Know your plan and work that plan. I wanted gray walls so found accessories with that in mind. Gray lamp from Ikea, off-white chair with gray writing from Wayfair, gray and white curtains from Home Goods all worked with my plan. That lesson works for writing too. Know the plan for your novel, so you stay within it with research. Outlining your nonfiction book keeps you from rabbit trails. In writing and decorating, a plan is a wonderful thing.
- Move outside the box. While having a plan is good, experimenting can be good too. My office isn’t all gray. There are coral-framed bulletin boards, a coral shelf, a light red wagon bed holding miscellany. I also hung a huge vintage painting of downtown Grand Rapids (after painting the hideous frame the dark gray of one wall.). Your writing, too, can use a little outside-the-box thinking. Plot twists, new genres, new markets, new styles. Never hurts to try something different and a little crazy.
- Throw stuff away. You’ll not believe the pounds of paper I tossed. Papers, notebooks, old files, brochures, business cards, notes: into the trash it all went. I didn’t need 25 reporter notebooks with notes from stories I wrote 15 years ago. It’s a great feeling to get rid of stuff you can’t possible use ever again. Same with your writing life. Toss the stuff that doesn’t work, physically and psychologically. This could be a characters, others’ expectations, a genre you’re just not good at, bad advice, or a critique partner whose passive-aggressiveness is diabolical. Lighten your life, space and mind.
- Recycle. I have boxes of books to bring to my two favorite used bookstores to sell. Boxes of stuff headed to Goodwill. I’ve given away a few things, too. Some things deserve a new home and I’m happy to give it to them. Same with writing. I recently interviewed a local author and will use that interview in two publications. Sometimes I’ve sold one interview three times. Use extra research for your novel in another novel, a short story, or a novella. Don’t waste anything good. Find a home for it if you can.
- Get help. Moving my file cabinets up the stairs took four of us: two kids pulling on the rope wrapped around it, and one kid and me pushing from the bottom. It took effort to move those things—and they were empty! I also paid a kid to paint the walls for me; it helped that he needed cash. Good help is a good thing in decorating and writing. Find a good critique partner; hire an editor; find a tutor for social media. Don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it.
- Enjoy the results. I love my office. I sit in my chair and stare at the walls and decorations and curtains a lot. I smile, too. It was worth all the work. So is that first clip, first box of your books, byline, or media interview. Enjoy every minute of the good stuff that comes from being a writer, no matter how small or large. It’s the life we chose and the life we’ll keep.