Building an office for writing – part one

Every few years I reassess the way I work. I’m getting older. And lazier. And slower. Which is all the more infuriating since there seems to be more than ever to do.

Take all that together and it’s clear I need to make sure that, when I sit down to write or edit, I get the most of whatever effort I’m putting in. For me work isn’t about software, following templates or conventions, meeting other people’s goals or expectations or other such complicated peripheral stuff.

Work is about work. Putting down the right words to make a convincing and hopefully original story. Everything that gets in the way of that – complexity, sloth, crazy theories of creativity — is usually nothing but a peripheral diversion designed to disguise the fact I’m avoiding the hard part, the job itself.

I fall for that trick as much as anyone. It’s one reason why I like to throw everything I currently use in the air now and again even if it seems to work. We all need a little danger in our lives, a fresh and unexpected challenge. Writing fiction isn’t about providing answers. It’s there to throw up questions, good and unexpected ones if you’re lucky. It makes eminent sense to ask a few of yourself from time to time.

The other reason for reassessing your working methods is… things change. In my case a lot over the last few years. When I settled into being a professional writer life was easier. I wrote one book a year and spent the rest of the time promoting it and thinking about the next one.

Authors are like everyone else. These days we need to put in more hours than we used to.

In my case that entails being involved in multiple projects a year. Not all of them are full-length books. But they still demand careful attention and an efficient, professional approach. I need a system for developing ideas and delivering them that matches what I do now, not the way I worked five years ago.

With that in mind I’ve just rebuilt my office from the ground up, hardware and software. It’s been quite a process. I’ll work with it like this for a year to see how it goes. I’d be surprised if I’d got everything right, but I’m very happy with the way things are going right now. I know people, especially budding authors, are interested in the way the rest of us work. So I’ll describe these changes in some details in a series of posts next week.

To give you an idea of the kind of thing I’ll be discussing here are two of the changes which have sparked this reassessment.

Digital proofing

Until recently I worked mainly with paper after a draft manuscript was delivered. I revised on printouts. I got printouts back. Those days are gone. I rarely print anything except boarding passes and invoices now. I revise with a tablet. I make changes to the manuscript on screen with a marked up copy on one side and the original on the other. This has implications on a couple of fronts. The obvious one is… what device do you use to mark up your own manuscripts. But it goes further than that. How do you handle the correction process too?

Mobility of files

When you work more you do it on the hoof. I rarely go anywhere without a laptop now and I’m quite happy writing and editing in hotels, on trains and on planes. The system I used before – save a local file and back it up to the web – is obsolete. I need to be saving the primary file in the cloud and working off that from whatever laptop or desktop I have in front of me. This isn’t always as easy as simply lobbing a file into Dropbox.

Looking for answers to these issues has involved everything from wondering about what size and shape of monitor I should have on my desk to taking a long, hard questioning look at the software I use for developing and finishing my books. I hope I have some answers. They may not be the right ones for you. They may not be the right ones for me for all I know. We’ll see.

Oh, and one taster. Yes, this does mean I’m abandoning Apple – and this time, I promise, there’s no going back.

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