“Writing is the shaping of letters to represent spoken words which, in turn, represent what is in the soul.” – The Muqaddimah of Ibn Khaldun
Yet another piece of great advice for writers from Ibn Khaldun. This is a third quote I found at the head of one of the chapters of, O Jerusalem by Laurie R. King (Yes, it really is my favorite book of the series and I read it a lot).
This is what I sat down to write last weekend for my weekly post. And, as you know, it’s not posted, well, until now. What happened? I was not, to quash the rumors before they start, abducted by aliens, bungee jumping in New Zealand, or breaking into a high security vault at a magical bank that shall remain nameless, and if you see posted pictures of those activities, please pay them no heed as they have obviously been altered. What happened was much stranger indeed.
Let me rewind to 2006. After fifteen years of tripping over far too many things, we moved from a very tiny apartment into a house, a house with more than two rooms…how amazing is that? My good friend and big brother in all but blood moved into a bigger place, and graciously gave us first dibs on renting his old house. Aside from our bedroom, there were two others, one for each of us. My husband’s workroom was completed almost immediately, with a desk and bookcases, and he is happy as a clam…are clams happy? Really? How can you tell?
Being completely exhausted from moving and setting up the rest of the house, and being 200 pounds heavier than I am now, and hurting like the devil, I was not in my right mind when I picked a cheap desk and shelf for our printer at an office store. As such, when I sat down to game or to write, it was too uncomfortable to be at it for more than an hour. Since that time, ‘my’ room has been the place where flotsam and jetsam hang out to have coffee, or whatever it is that flotsam and jetsam do when they’re off work, and I had my laptop set up on a table in the living room with all the author’s paraphernalia in piles and stacks in no discernible order comingled with my tools and beads for crafting. In short, it was a mess.
Fast forward to Sunday last. I sat down to write my weekly post and three years of frustration all came out at once in the sort of sound you’d imagine Nessie would make after eating one too many tourists at the Loch. I looked incredulously at six years’ accumulation of goo and junk and the tiny corner of table I had my laptop crammed into, and something broke. I just couldn’t take it anymore. I had no idea what to do, but I couldn’t concentrate on my post or anything else.
And then, like a light from above, I remembered how every single one of the authors that taught at Clockwork Alchemy reminded us to not be afraid to think of ourselves as authors even if our books hadn’t been published yet. And I remembered an episode of Impossible Shots…Byron Fergusson, greatest longbowman since Robin Hood, shooting a clothespin gently enough to let a balloon string go without damaging the pin, and then before the balloon flew out of range, draw another arrow and fire to pop the balloon. It took him several tries to do it, and, when asked why that shot worked while all the previous ones hadn’t, he said “I forgot my aim. I was only aiming at the balloon. On the last shot, I was aiming at the knot tying the balloon.”
Both memories speak to belief, to what’s in your soul. In my soul, I know I am an author and I know I will accomplish the goals I set for myself. And, like Byron, I believe in setting the bar high. As they say, if you aim for the moon and miss, you still wind up in the stars. A real author wouldn’t whine and keep dealing with an uncomfortable space. A real author would aim at the knot of the balloon and do something about it. So to misquote Galaxy Quest, “by Grabthar’s Hammer, I would never give up and never surrender” until I fought through the jungle that had once been ‘my’ room to find the author’s equivalent of a man cave on a budget.
But I am much wiser (well, maybe not much, but at least a little bit wiser) than I was in 2006. And as an analyst I have learned one lesson above all others: to fail to plan is to plan to fail. So what does an author need in a workspace? I didn’t want to do what I had when we moved and just get anything on a whim. The cheap desk and shelf six years later were listing at 45 degree angles and hadn’t worked at all. I needed something better, and something that would make it my author cave. What was important to me, as an author?
I decided that I needed an inspirational place that felt uncluttered. I needed shelving for all my dictionaries, atlases, reference books, books by the authors who encourage and inspire me, and most importantly, one special spot on the bookcase where I can put the first copy of my own book. (I am 100% sure that no matter where you live on this planet or off it, you will hear my “Squeeee!” when that spot gets filled.) I needed a comfortable desk that wasn’t too high or too low, and a better stand for the printer and its accoutrements. I also wanted (heaven forbid, mom will probably be laughing herself silly up there somewhere when I say this, considering what my room looked like when I was growing up)…I want things to fit a theme, even if it’s a theme only I can see.
Research was in order. I took out my machete and chopped through the liana vines until I could once again make out the shape of the room. I knew it was a bit small for all the bookcases I would need for references and notebooks, so I decided to clear out the junk in the closet (heck if I hadn’t looked at it in six years, I probably wasn’t going to look at it any time soon) and fit bookcases in there.
Next was a field trip to the wondrous land of flat pack furniture. IKEA is awesome. I went upstairs and sat at every desk. I poked and prodded and measured and looked at prices. I found that the three shelf bookcase (pleased to make your acquaintance, Billy) would fit in the closet, and with glee, I found that the white bookcases are only $24.99, where the brown or black ones are $49.99 to account for the real wood veneer on them. In my case, the bookcases were going in the closet, so why pay an extra $20 for a veneer you’ll never be able to see? And while IKEA uses particle board, it’s more like Incredible Hulk particle board than that pale, pasty bows-when-you-put-a-feather-on-it stuff you get at the box stores.
For a mere $179, I was able to get four Billy bookcases and a desk that I love with a fold-down top (Vika Veine). For an additional $60, I got a much nicer stand for the printer (Expedit 4 square) that will also hold paper and cords and cables without wilting or falling apart at the seams. I even had enough of my budget left over to buy a couple of frames for the steampunk prints I’ve bought at conventions. Nice frames for $1.99…wow!
We manhandled it all into the car and I spent the rest of Labor Day weekend on a labor of love. I put blood, sweat and tears into it. No, really, blood was involved. I squished and pinched my finger when I was putting the desk together, and took a nice chunk out of it (the finger, not the desk). And, with the exception of not having enough wrist strength to screw down the legs on the desk, I did it all myself without asking for help. And it was worth it.
I have my author cave. And I’m writing in it. And I don’t feel stressed or cramped or uncomfortable. I can breathe. And I can freely write what is in my soul.