Constance Hale on creating your dream office

When I started my career as a writer, I worked on a wooden table in my bedroom. It was set right in front of the window, so when I sat down to write I could ignore the rest of my life, packed into that small apartment. I went for a job interview with a prominent writer who was looking for a research assistant, and I was taken by his office. It was a spacious rectangular room, with bookshelves lining one of the long sides and file cabinets lining the other. The computer, printer, and other the tech equipment were at the far end. Right in the center of the room was an antique table, a wooden professor’s chair, and a banker’s lamp. “That’s it,” I said to myself. “One day I will have an office like this.” It took a while to get the perfect work space. I have found it useful to have a discrete office that is not a desk in my bedroom or the kitchen table—or even a table in café. Today I have a lovely studio on the ground floor of my home, right off the garden. It is furnished with a writing table my husband made from recovered Douglas Fir, a reading chair, my grandmother's Steinway baby grand, bookshelves, art, and a bed. It allows me some dreamy time early in the morning. I sip tea, I read some poetry or fiction (in bed), I pad around in my slippers, I water the plants, I think about the story I’m working on. I might put on some music conducive to thinking about that story. I might even sit down and right a little. (I never forgot about the line of file cabinets in Tim Ferris’s office. But I don’t want to be looking at them all the time. Next to my studio is a 10 x 10 room full of file cabinets, office supplies, and a bookshelf. At first we called it “the file room.” Then we added posters from book parties, a big bulletin board that I think of as an “idea catcher” and a very cool old oak card catalog from the old San Francisco Main Library. Now we call the room “Connie’s Unconscious.”) I like that kind of quiet solitude, that dreaminess. But I need to be hyperproductive, and I am truly an extrovert who perks up around people. So I have an office with a desk, full bookshelves, a window, a couch—and a door that closes—in a cooperative workspace called the San Francisco Writers Grotto. [caption id="attachment_3319" align="aligncenter" width="300"]Photo: RIcardo P. Esway Photo: Ricardo P. Esway[/caption] Arriving at my office helps me click into gear, and I appreciate working in proximity to other freelancers. I take quick lunches there, and I’ve been known to nap on the couch when I'm not reading there. It’s the perfect work space for me. Visualize your perfect office. Think of other offices you’ve seen. Play architect. Sketch. Dream.  

Some things to thing about while you dream

  • Good lighting (Your office needs to be conducive and good for reading)
  • Clock (You really do need to be conscious about time)
  • Ergonomic desk setup (This will save your arms and shoulder)
  • Serious desk chair (this will save your back and butt)
  • Computer
  • Printer
  • Your preferred backup system (external hard drives, DropBox, etc.)
  • One or two or eight dictionaries
  • One or two or three style manuals
    Words into Type
    Chicago Manual of Style
    The New York Times Style Book
  • A reading chair or napping couch
  • Stationery and your own letterhead.
  • Paper, pens/pencils, paper clips, stapler, Post-Its etc.
  • ”Easel size” Post-Its for the wall when you are trying to lay out structure.
  • Fax or scanning machine—or iPhone app
  • A great bookshelf
  • Plants or air plants
  • File cabinets or cool-colored boxes
Nice nonessentials Each year at Christmastime, we at the San Francisco Writers Grotto have a Secret Santa party. The gifts (which are opened, swapped, stolen and restolen over the course of the party) reveal what working writers covet for their offices: vintage typewriters, antiquarian books, air plants, bottles of bourbon, vodka, port, and fine wine. What essentials and nonessentials do you have in your office?


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