I'm not one of those writers you're going to see in Starbucks hammering out the great American novel between slurps of caramel macchiato. I'm too easily distracted by...hey, what was that thump? The dog jumping off someone's bed, maybe? Wow, she hasn't been walked in hours. I hope she can hold it till I'm done with this post.
Wait...where was I?
Oh, yeah. I'm easily distracted. No way could I write a novel in public. I couldn't write a grocery list in public. Well, I could, but I'd forget all the important stuff, like chocolate chips and beer.
Since I don't own a sensory deprivation tank or a bomb shelter, I have to muddle along with a desk. It's where I do all my writing, and I love it. Unfortunately, it also happens to be where I do most of my accumulating. And I'm not talking about wealth and power.
(I'm a writer, remember? We're in it for love, not money, right?)
(Although, then again, we wouldn't actually say no to more cash, would we...?)
It's not checks that are piling up on my desk, alas -- unless you count the ones waiting to go in the mail to Visa and the phone company and the IRS, etc. etc. And piling up beside all that are books, contracts, royalty statements, fan letters (well, O.K. -- there's one), pens, pencils, notebooks, CDs, DVDs, stuffed animals (I try to keep my kids away from the computer, but it just can't be done) and a depressingly long To Do list from which nothing ever seems to Get Done.
In fact, if you were to visit my home office, you might not believe I have a desk at all. You'd just walk into the bedroom that's been designated Daddy's Place and assume you'd stumbled into one of those old houses where 90-year-old twin sisters with 200 cats stockpile every issue of The Cleveland Plain Dealer dating back to 1949. Then you'd run out screaming before the stack of Life magazines -- or, in my case, the complete Time Life "Old West" collection -- can fall over and crush you.
Which isn't to say my desk isn't organized. It's just organized in piles, heaps and mounds. (I like the heaps best because you don't have to lift anything to search through them. You just stick a hand in and start sifting.)
But though I'm a slob, I do have my anal side. It's just not things I care about organizing. It's my work. And here's how I do it.
Some writers motivate themselves with dreams of success. Some do it with the simple joy of creation. Me, I'm a guilt and fear man. Hence, the Big Board and the Calendar.
The Big Board is...well, a big board. A big dry-erase board, to be a bit more precise. On it is a grid tracking word count and chapters completed week by week leading up to the deadline for my next book. Its purpose: allowing me to size up, at a glance, whether or not I'm on schedule.
And then have a nervous breakdown when I see I'm not.
And then whip myself into a writing frenzy to get back on track.
And then have another nervous breakdown when I see I'm still behind.
Masochistic? You bet! But it works.
The Calendar is...well, a calendar. (Do you sense a theme developing with the names I give to things?) It hangs next to my desk, and I turn to it at the end of every work day and write down the number of words I’ve managed to produce.
Why? Because sometimes the Big Board doesn't make me feel badly enough.
"Just 942 words today? But last Wednesday I wrote 949 words! I'm slipping! I shouldn't have stayed up so late last night watching Doctor Who. I'm such a loser! Or maybe I'm developing Alzheimer's. Wait...what was that thump?"
Obviously, I need panic the way other writers need coffee, and if I don't get it I have to create it.
Oh, and I need coffee, too. Pot after pot of it. That's why so many of my piles, heaps and mounds are stained brown.
I could say a lot more about the patented Steve Hockensmith Feel Bad/Write Good Novel Generation System. But I see on the Calendar that I only added 933 words to my new novel today, and the Big Board tells me I'm two weeks behind schedule, so what the heck am I doing working on something else? ARGH!!!
Now where was that cup of coffee? I know it's on this desk somewhere....