Today's blog post is for those of you who told me you are wondering how to get started. If you are already working as a writer, just read this as a checklist to make sure you're giving yourself every advantage.
As a self-employed business owner, you should have the basic tool of success – An Office.
(This article previously appeared in Writing Hacks, my subscription newsletter for writers. Subscribe today if you want to read articles like this as soon as they are published.)
1. Office Space
No, I don't mean a copy of the movie starring Ron Livingston. I mean a dedicated space in which you will do research, design promotion and marketing materials, promote and market online, handle email and snail mail correspondence, communicate, pay bills, file important documents, think, and, most importantly, write.
What are the chances of an artist succeeding without a space in which to paint, draw, sculpt or whatever? How good could a singer or a musician become without a space in which to practice an vocals or a musical instrument? Could an architect ever design a building without a drafting desk and supplies?
You all know the obvious answer to the above questions. Then what about someone who says he wants to be a writer, but he never marks out a space where he can sit and think and write? A space that is inviolable, child-free and/or spouse-free -- except by invitation, of course. If a person wants to be a writer, but never declares a room in the house or a corner of a room as "the office," what are the odds that he or she will become a writer?
A writer must have an office because that makes it official. There is a mental, physical, and emotional reality about putting action (setting up an inviolable space as an office) to the stated goal of becoming a writer. There is power in taking action to achieve a goal.
An office doesn't have to be a dedicated room if one's not available. It can be a piece of a room. After all, it doesn't take much space to put a small desk in a dining room or the guest bedroom or even in the den or living room. A laptop doesn't take up much desk space either. My first office many years ago was half of my large laundry room. A friend used a closet with double bifold doors as her first office. There's bound to be space somewhere. Use your imagination.
Yours, All Yours
The important thing is to have an area that's yours. The kids aren't allowed to play there. The spouse isn't allowed to take over your space. Those few square feet are yours. That's where you'll plot your book, write a first draft, research, design cover art or marketing materials, answer email, etc. Be like a soldier fighting a battle. First step is to establish a beachhead in the household. That's also the first step toward achieving a dream or becoming more business-like and successful.
If you're lucky enough to have your space in a room with a door you can lock, then lock that door and don't open it until your office hours are done. If you can set aside an hour or two every day to occupy your office, then you can write a book. After all, write 4 pages a day. and in 90 days, you have a book-length manuscript.
You don't need a giant office in which to be creative. You just need some space that's all your own where your papers won't be disturbed and where you're allowed to spend time there all by yourself.
2. Office Equipment/Supplies
Fill your office with these necessities, and use the size appropriate to your space.
A Computer -- This can be anything from a netbook to a desktop as long as it has a word processing program and Internet capability.
Reference Books -- I still believe in keeping a good Dictionary and Thesaurus at hand. If you don't have the space, then use the Internet resources, but remember, with a printed dictionary or thesaurus, you can find the many layered meanings of words faster than using the online references. There are thousands of words. When you get to the editing part of writing, always make sure you've chosen exactly the right word.
Writing Supplies -- If you have a printer, then you will need paper, ink or toner. Don't eschew pen, paper, pencils, and notebooks. They still have their place in today's writing world. Brainstorming plot ideas is far easier with paper and pen to list stream of consciousness ideas or clustering exercises or even to record the amazing ideas and/or profound insights that pop into your head while you're working on something else.
Storage -- In a desk drawer, box, file cabinet, or somewhere, make a space for storing invoices, receipts, and other papers you want to save.
Quiet Please -- If necessary until you train your family, make a sign or a tent card that says "Writer At Work" and place where others will see it and respect it.
Luxuriate in your writing time. Train yourself so that when you enter your office, you're ready to write. Sit down. Take a deep breath, and forget the rest of the world. Let the words flow.