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Saturday, July 6, 2013

Have Story, Will Write

by Ellie James

A funny thing happened last fall…

It all seemed so benign. After twenty-five years working in the corporate world, in a corporate office, my husband decided to go out on his own and build his own business. He was excited. I was excited. It was a huge change in every way imaginable.  At the time, the fact he’d now be working from home didn’t seem like any big deal. Okay, maybe kind of a big deal, since that meant both of us would be working from home, but of all the uncertainties, having him setting up shop from the upstairs of our house seemed like the least of our worries; I mean, we already had a home office set up, right?

Way back when, before our children were born, we moved into our current house and furnished one room as an office. My office. I was writing for Silhouette Intimate Moments back then, and took great relish in decorating my new writing space. It’s a lovely room upstairs, with a big east facing window. Initially, I had my workspace situated so that my back was to the door, but quickly discovered that I HATED that alignment. It just never felt comfortable, kinda like I never feel comfortable in a restaurant if I’m not sitting with my back to a wall. (Kinda thinking maybe in a former life I was a warrior who met a grim fate through a sneak-attack from behind!) Anyway, I have to have my back to the wall—and I really, really prefer a neat and tidy workspace: for me, clutter in my office= clutter in my mind.  However, with young kids…well, that’s another story for another day.

When planning my workspace, I consulted Feng Shui for paint color and ended up with a blue-green that is supposed to stimulate creativity. I also have an entire wall dedicated to inspirational sayings, such as Shoot for the Moon. Even if you miss you’ll land among the stars and Don’t believe everything you think!, as well as a display of my books.

And of course, there were all the fun knick-knacks, such as the necklace on the cover of my YA novels and a replica of the Flat Iron building in NYC, where my publisher is located!!!

So…we had this great office, right? It only made sense that my husband set up shop there. And that’s where the funny (actually, not funny at all) thing happened. Once he moved in, I had no choice but to move out. Oh, I tried. I tried to work with him in the room. But we listen to different music, and he’s on the phone. A lot. And when he’s on the phone, his voice is louder than it is when he’s just talking to me. Heck, he even breathes differently than I do!  And before I knew it, my muse had headed for the hills. Realizing I needed my own personal environment to write, I set out to stake claim on some other space in the house.

At first I tried the family room. I mean, there was this nice little secretary desk there, just perfect for my laptop. And while the kids were gone, the room would be nice and empty and quiet. So there I went. You see?

Here I embarked upon my new YA proposal. Weeks went by. A few more. Then a few more. September turned into November, and I should have had my proposal ready for my editor. But I didn’t. The words weren’t flowing. I found myself writing and rewriting, not at all happy with what I was producing. I did a lot of staring. And a lot of angsting. It took a while, but finally I realized it was the space. I couldn’t work in that space. It was the family room, for goodness sake. Where I relaxed and watched TV. For some reason (or maybe those reasons) I simply couldn’t gather myself to work there. Upon reflection, I see another problem, too. See the set up of the laptop and chair?  Yep. Had my back to the rest of the house, a position I’d already learned didn’t work for me.

So…I went in search of another space, landing in the brightest space of the house, the kitchen. There I had sunshine and a workspace in the table, and I could sit with my back to the window, giving me a full view of the house. Shoulda been perfect, right?  Well, there was another problem….

That’s Marie, and she was relentless. Sure, I could lock her in another room, and trust me, I did. But my muse still didn’t come back.(Maybe the stacks of dirty dishes were too distracting?)  Christmas came and went. It was January, and my ever-patient editor was tapping her foot. So…I set off again, still searching. A bedroom wasn’t going to work, I already knew that. And while my awesome neighbor volunteered her house, I wanted to find somewhere in my own house, you know?

Finally I found myself in a small nook off our living room, where we’ve got this big brown comfy chair and a lot of books. In the past, it’s where I would go to read, but, out of options, I decided to give it a try.

You can see it wasn’t really conducive to a laptop, so I went old-fashioned, reverting to yellow tablets and a mechanical pencil, a technique which had worked to lure my muse back before.

And….it happened. Finally. She came back. My muse. She settled back into place like a warm, familiar blanket, and the words once again begin to flow. Rapidly. And beautifully. And I realized I'd finally found my new workspace. I also realized just how important finding the perfect space really is (which is probably why setting up shop for a few hours in the library never worked for me.) Not just any room will do. Not just any desk. Not just any laptop.

Like the princess and the pea, it seems, my muse prefers that everything be just...right. :)


  1. I love that you had all those choices! A fun post to read.

  2. Ellie, that's such a cute story. Aren't we authors crazy? It all has to be just right to make a story flow. I love my little office. It is a bedroom, but it's bright, yellow and very comfortable.


  3. Ellie, I so agree. My husband and I tried to share an office and it just wouldn't work. Now we each have our own space and each of us is more productive.

  4. I'd've kicked the husband out of my office, he can talk on the phone anywhere, lol.

    1. Yes, but, Di...the DH makes 99% of the $$. Gotta let him do his thing, you know?

  5. You are writing longhand on a yellow legal pad???Egads, woman! Such a purist and I am so impressed. My hands couldn't grip a pen for very long. The chair does look comfy, and images of Goldilocks arose as you searched for the "just right" space. Glad you and your muse are happy now. By the way, have you ever seen a photo of the tiny wooden table where Jane Austen wrote...and she used a quill? :).

  6. Ellie, enjoyed your story and fully understand your plight. I do write better in my office at my desk. Any other place is a struggle. Glad you're settled and back to writing!

  7. Great post, Ellie. I'm so glad your muse came back. I wound up on the couch with my laptop, feet propped on the coffee table, and lots of books. But there are so many disruptions. I think I need a different space too.


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