Where most of the work gets done

I've written about the wonderful places to which I've traveled within the past year to work on the major project that is nearing its deadline (I'm not saying "completion": it will be pulled out of my hands, far from complete, because otherwise it will not be ready for a few decades).

I spent most of a week in a rented cabin shared with other writer friends.


Another set of friends helped me obtain the delight of a full week's residency.


And I retreated for a too-short weekend with co-author Carol Ekarius.


(That's me with Tuf, one of Carol's dogs. Carol took the picture.)

Yet I haven't shown where most of the work is getting done. That's partly because I'm embarrassed. It's organized, but it also looks like, as we used to say, "ten pounds in a five-pound bag."

I've worked in this office for many years—I think it's at least fourteen or fifteen:


For the final four or five years that I edited Spin-Off magazine, most of that work was accomplished in this space. Now this is where I do all the work on the books published by Nomad Press and for my freelance editorial clients. It's compact, but I have a window (the high, basement kind, just out of sight), and the tools I need are close at hand (an understatement). I do go off to a coffeeshop or the library several times a week, taking a single set of tasks with me. It's refreshing.

The photo above was taken during the time when the computers were breaking down, and just before Jessica Derksen, who has been an enormous help in my continuing efforts to accomplish the impossible, showed me how to fit yet another major job (The Project) into my office. It was April 2008. I'd signed the contract for this work four months earlier. Already 14 boxes of fiber were in the dining room (because there was no room for them in the office), and it was
obvious that many more boxes would be part of this undertaking before
it was done.


There was a storeroom adjacent to the office, separated from it by a wall. When we bought the house, this space was called a bedroom. We learned
later that technically it shouldn't have been listed as a bedroom because there's no closet (there was
also no closet in the formerly so-called bedroom that is now the
office, although we have since built one).

The only access
to this room was through the laundry area. This space has a nicer window than
the office does. And a heat vent. The office doesn't have a heat vent.


Jessica got the idea of taking down the wall between the two rooms. The primary reason for this was so we could use the small hallway/entry between the laundry area and the storeroom to stash boxes of fiber. It was only about 10 square feet, but that can look like a lot if you are tripping over boxes. If we took down the wall, we could fill that entry space with boxes because we could walk into the storeroom through my office. The change was kindly, quickly, and neatly implemented by Jessica's husband, Jonathan.

I did lose a floor-to-ceiling wall of bookcases, shown here when I'd almost completely dismantled them:


I still haven't found permanent, orderly homes for everything that was displaced. However, these lines on the wall are the start of a big change.


And the wall came down:


Here's the view of the office from the former storeroom:


And the former storeroom as seen from the office:


Most of the work on The Project now takes place in that former storeroom, which, a year and a half later, looks like this:


You can't see all the active boxes in that picture. There are now 54 (if you don't count the ones that contain the extra bits that are not directly part of the book), so in addition to what's here there are more in the laundry room, in that entry/hallway this exercise freed up (which you can see a bit of between the bookcases in the photo above and, from the other side of the opening, below), and in the downstairs bathroom (as seen from the laundry area in the photo below):


I can't get a photo angle that shows the boxes on top of the dryer.

We're not done yet. There will be more boxes, and I'll need to figure out what to do with them. There's still space for about 3 on top of that pile in the bathroom.

It's been nice to pack 12 boxes (the number that will fit) into the car, along with the tools and the computer, and to go elsewhere. It's easier to focus when everything is neatly organized and I'm not having to juggle all the other responsibilities of these spaces and of the house, although I can only withdraw from the other dimensions of my life for a few days at a time.

Yet day in and day out, week, month, and year in and year out, most of the work gets done right here. The trips away have been real boosts to my progress: I'm amazed at what can get done with the support of those protected times and places. Yet plodding along in the middle of everything is also part of the whole package, and without it the job as a whole would be unreachable. 

I'm constantly grateful for Jessica's idea to tear down a wall, for my willingness to say yes, and for Jonathan's help in getting the restructuring job done so I could move forward.


8 thoughts on “Where most of the work gets done”

  1. Though work in different mediums it is amazing how your workspace reminds me of my workspace! I often feel buried in a cacophony of wood, tools, parts, boxes, raw materials, etc.

    I have to admit that I find a certain comfort in this not unlike a ratty old shirt I’ll wear till it falls apart.

    At the same time, it feels awkward when someone wants to visit my shop. I feel like they are entering my private, somewhat embarrassing world.

    I’m happy to hear you are getting some “clear the pallet” moments!

  2. Congrats on the missing wall and its benefits. I am not as courageous as you. I do not take photos of my workspaces. Ugh.

    My work results in beautiful things, but I do not always have beauty outside me. Luckily this house has a lot of windows on the main floor.

    The basement where I dye yarn has tiny windows that are useless but I have three huge true-color fluorescent fixtures to make up for it. In the cement/wood beam basement where only spiders think it’s lovely.

  3. Oddly, moving has helped me realize that not everything I thought was “absolutely necessary” before actually is. I’ve made do with much less stuff since moving, and there are a lot of boxes I still have to go through or cut open! It’s been an important exercise in reducing stuff in my office.

    I admire your renovation–it probably made your office a whole lot more useful!

  4. Organization is something I excel at in some areas and completely fail at in other areas – go figure! I need some motivation to make my studio a place I could actually work in perhaps this will help 🙂

    Any tips for obtaining some residencies? I have a new long-term project that would likely greatly benefit from a few such things.

  5. I’ve been replying to comments in a way that used to work (through my e-mail), but nothing is getting posted here.

    Doug, thanks for the ratty old shirt analogy–in general, the workspace is pretty good, although the wall of shelves I lost is showing up in clutter elsewhere that I don’t have time to think through and resolve. The trade-off was worth it, big-time. What I’m doing would be impossible otherwise.

    AnneMarie: Fortunately, the boxes are light and their contents are unbreakable!

    Lynn, it took a while to get up the courage to show where I really work . . . and a big gulp to post it.

    Joanne, the office works about the same way it always did, which is nice. I do have access to the heat vent. Light from both sides has been the big change in the desk area! I just do have room to perform the other tasks that had to happen.

    Kristi, I’ve dropped you a note with some residency ideas.

  6. Holy Cow, Thank you for posting this! If I ever feel overwhelmed…which is often…I need only look here…I admire you tremendously. Congratulations on your new space.

  7. Thanks in return for the laugh! It's actually a little tighter in here now. I had to put together more boxes to accommodate more samples, both incoming and completed. Without the new space? Utterly impossible.

    And this morning I'm off to the library, for a bit of work in a space that is extremely well organized. I'm very grateful for the alternate realities of coffee shops and libraries.

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