Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Creating a space that allows me to write multiple books and articles without going crazy by N. J. Lindquist

N. J. Lindquist is what some people call a Renaissance woman. We won’t say what others call her. An award-winning author and journalist, an inspiring speaker, a down-to-earth writing teacher, founder of a Canadian organization of writers, mentor and coach, over the years she’s tackled a variety of things, and made them all work.

A former English medalist and high school Teacher of the Year, N. J. homeschooled her four sons for a total of 17 years while cooking, cleaning, sewing, gardening, mastering a variety of crafts, remaining active in a number of volunteer leadership positions, writing, speaking, mentoring others, and, basically, never wasting a minute.

Her books include two Manziuk and Ryan Mysteries. Publishers Weekly said of the first (Shaded Light) “…captivating…she updates the Golden Age template.” Library Journal’s review of the second (Glitter of Diamonds), called her “a master of plotting.” She also has five novels and three nonfiction books for teens.
N. J. co-edited and published Hot Apple Cider: Words to Stir the Heart and Warm the Soul, an anthology featuring 30 Canadian writers, with a foreword from Janette Oke. Since its publication in 2008, 45,000 copies have gone out.

Hot Apple Cider features “The Diamond Ring,” an article by N. J. that addresses her childhood as an “ugly duckling,” unaware that it was her creativity that made her “different.” Most of her life, N. J. felt embarrassed or guilty for being who she was, but these days, she wouldn’t change a thing.
Read more at N.J.'s website:

Creating a space that allows me to write multiple books and articles without going crazy
by N. J. Lindquist

Okay, the “without going crazy” part might be stretching it. The truth is, I’m one of those people who apparently make other people feel a little crazy. You know, the kind of people who write those long letters at Christmas about all the things they’ve done in the last year. Every time I hear a joke about those people, I cringe.

I spent years feeling guilty about being so busy, embarrassed that I was a “jack of all trades and master of none.” It’s not as if I do all those things just to be able to list them and make others feel bad; doing those things is what makes me feel really good, and I want to share my excitement.

Barbara Sher, in her book, Refuse to Choose, calls people like me “scanners.” There are various types of scanners. Some flit from one thing to another the way butterflies flit from one flower to another. Some have one main interest but a number of satellite interests. I, on the other hand, have a large number of equal interests, and I try to keep them all active at any given time, much like the guy with all the plates in the air who used to appear on the Ed Sullivan Show. Plus I don’t just want to know a little bit about the things I’m interested in; I want to know a lot about them, and keep learning, often until I can teach them.

Honest, I used to feel guilty for being that way. I mean, I didn’t set out to know all those things, or to write in eleventy different genres. It just kind of happened as I was going about having a life. Okay, a busy life. Yes, I even homeschooled all four of my sons until they went to high school. While being very active in church leadership and editing a newsletter and writing on the side and planting a garden and macraméing all my light fixtures and creating a cookbooks of my favourite recipes and.... Did I mention I used to make my husband’s suits? And I enjoyed it! All of it. Equally.

What does that have to do with my office? Well the thing is, many writers talk about the book they’re working on; I talk about the six books I’m working on. Okay, to be perfectly honest, more like 22. Yeah, I know, that’s a bit of a conversation stopper. I’m sorry! Okay?

So in the interests of brevity, let’s say I have six books I’m currently working on: my third Manziuk and Ryan Mystery; a memoir; a book based on my writing workshops; a sequel to my teen novel, In Time of Trouble; and a fantasy novel I originally wrote for my granddaughter, but which has taken on a life of its own and now has me busy revising it and creating a series. I’ve also just begun production on Hot Apple Cider 2, a follow-up to the anthology Hot Apple Cider, which has done really, really well. Was that six or seven? Well, close enough.

I’m also teaching a number of workshops, doing readings, and, well, a few other things.
So, how did I create an office that allows me to do all these things without going crazy?

Let me preface this by saying that over the years, I’ve written in all kinds of “offices” in a number of different houses: kitchen tables, our dining room table, our dining room without the table, our family room, our living room, various bedrooms, our loft, and, finally, an actual room just for me!

My room is on the second floor of our three-storey house. Our oldest son and his wife used it as their bedroom for several years, but since they moved out five years ago, it’s been mine, all mine.

It’s a decent-sized bedroom, but not large by any means. However, it holds a lot.

The windows (there are three of them) face west, so I didn’t want a warm color, but neither did I want a cold one. So I painted the walls a light olive green. This color works very well, I think. The carpet is light taupe and the window blinds and doors, etc. are white.

The two bookcases (Canadian Tire, I think) hold most of my books on writing. I actually just got rid of about 30 books—decided they were outdated or had been supplanted by books I liked much better. It’s always difficult for me to part with books I’ve enjoyed reading.

My reading chair and footstool (early Walmart) are taupe and the desks and bookcases are all a sort of oak color.

The sideboard (early garage sale) holds, besides my TV and copies of my own books, my awards and other paraphernalia, books and other things I’m using for research, and whatever letters, magazines, papers, or other items need to be hidden at any given moment. (You didn’t think it looks this tidy normally, did you?)

My desk was actually found at a garage sale. It’s an L-shape, which is what I wanted, but it was black. I used melamine paint to make it brown. The chair (Staples) is blue/grey and really doesn’t coordinate at all, but it’s very comfortable and keeps my back relatively happy.

You noticed the two computer screens, right? Love, love, love having two screens. Might add a third.

The TV. Rarely miss a Blue Jays or Raptors game. And, yes, I write with the radio on or my CDs blasting. Did my homework the same way. Honest!

I’m a visual person, so I need the bulletin boards with the reminders of my current projects and the accessible file folders (files for two books in each) to help me keep everything I need at my fingertips.
Ditto the notes to remind me of truisms I’ve discovered over the years (E.g. “Out of sight, out of mind”).

The heart of my organizational system

Years ago, I read a book by Don Aslett and Carol Cartaino called Get Organized; Get Published. It was a lifesaver for me. First, it told me I wasn’t the only person in the world trying to do many things at the same time; more important, it told me how to organize for as many projects as I wanted to have—even 22 books.

Each book idea gets its own plastic container. For a week, a month, or several years, everything related to that book—newspaper clippings, recipes, books, maps, ideas—gets thrown in. When I decide to work on the book, I create a series of file folders as appropriate depending on the type of book. Because I like to read and edit on paper, I also create a binder to hold printouts. When the book is completed, everything I want to keep goes back in the bin.

To-be-written book bins are kept in a custom-built unit my husband made. He got a part of a counter top (on sale) and made shelves to fit under it on both sides. It’s at desk level so allows me to spread things out on the top, too.

My husband also put a shelf behind me above my file carts so I can keep things I reference frequently. The items vary depending on what I’m working on. Right now it has a couple of photograph albums related to my memoir. Milton’s Paradise Lost for a class on writing poetry I’m teaching, a copy of Gregory Clark’s personal stories, also for my memoir, my Flip Dictionary, my NIV Bible, and some printouts of my exercise plans (to remind me I can’t sit for 18 hours a day).

I also have a shelf at the side of my desk for my scrapbooks. I use them to brainstorm (as suggested by Barbara Sher). I use lots of post-it notes, too.

Other things in my office:

The jigsaw puzzles. Can’t forget them. I have several hundred. Doing them seems to occupy my right brain so my left brain is free to create new ideas. Not difficult puzzles. Colorful, relatively easy ones.

My puzzle table was created from two unrelated pieces at IKEA and we put two strips of Velcro on the top of the stand and on the back of the top piece so the top can be removed. I wanted to stand to do puzzles because I sit way too much as it is.

Oh, yeah. The framed puzzle is a reminder of the most exasperating one I have ever done. “Hay in a needle stack.”

Only did it because Son #2 gave it to me when he was about 12. I framed it so no one else would ever have to do it.

The closet in my office is where I keep my “speaking” wardrobe and some of my jigsaw puzzles.

There are personal things in my office, too:

- A gorgeous pot I was given for finishing second in the contemporary costume contest at my very first con (Left Coast Crime in 2000). Getting it home safely by air was a bit of a challenge.

- The stuffed dog the junior boys’ basketball team I coached gave me when I was teaching high school many years ago.

- A miniature version of the poster I made for Son # 4 when he was on the winning mixed team at the 2008 World Ultimate Championships.

- A photo collage of the dog we had for 17 years. I also have a ceramic miniature poodle Son #3 gave me. It’s almost identical to our dog, who used to sit on my lap while I was writing—yes, that made things rather difficult.

- The corsage from Son # 1’s wedding.

- The picture of pressed maple leaves my sons and I made when they were much younger.

- The pen holder my dad bought a few months before his death.

- The little Hugs booklet a friend gave me.

- The official document for the land my middle sons bought me in Scotland so I could officially call myself “Lady.”

- The proof that I’m a member of Johnny Reid’s fan club (the Tartan Army).

- A plastic Mr. Happy that brings back memories of reading books to my sons.

- The ostrich I bought while on a “grandma and granddaughter” weekend last summer.

- A butterfly mobile I bought because it reminded me of who I am A picture and a few other stuffed animals I bought for myself just because I liked them.

I could go on, but what I’m trying to say is my office reflects me. It’s complicated and busy and constantly evolving. But it’s the one place where I feel myself truly free to be myself.

P. S. In the interests of full disclosure, I will admit that I have a second office. It’s in the loft upstairs and it’s not so much office as a large storage area in need of more work. It contains:

- A cupboard with my published books’ bins, handouts, magazines, and speaking paraphernalia

- Two filing cabinets

- Two desks with stuff piled on them

- A large cupboard filled with more jigsaw puzzles

- A walk-in closet for my published books

- The library – well, most of it, anyway. The truth is there are books in every room of my house.

I know. More information than you wanted.

And now, I have to go. Son #2 just stopped by for supper (he thought we were having spaghetti, not spaghetti squash!), but it was good because I had a chance to ask him about the rules of magic in a fantasy novel, so now I have to go and pull out my scrapbook and do some brainstorming.

See you.


Vicki Lane said...

Wow! I'm in awe. Those are some great tips, though, even for those of us that only do one book at a time.

Laura J. Davis said...

Nancy, I love, love, love your space! Um...will you come to my house and do the same thing here? :)

Great article!

Eleanor said...

"It’s not as if I do all those things just to be able to list them and make others feel bad; doing those things is what makes me feel really good, and I want to share my excitement."

That used to describe me as well. I've had people say they quit writing to me (back in the days when we did really write letters) because they had nothing to report to compare with whatever was in my last letter.

Nowadays health issues have slowed me down to the merest crawl, but I recently got an email along those same lines anyway. I'm only working on 2 novels and polishing a play script right now, as well as organizing my mystery writers group and my upcoming vacation and contemplating starting a masters degree.

You either have that bizarre gene or you don't. It's nice to know I share it with N.J.

Linda Hall said...

Beautiful room Nancy!!

Doug Koop said...

Nice space well tailored to your energetic productivity.

Anonymous said...

My husband and I have this discussion all the time. How can you do 50 things at once? I don't know how, I just do. I am so relieved to see I am not alone! Thanks!
And are you also writing an office decorating book...please???
Brenda J. Wood

Diana said...

Nancy, I love the space(s) you have created for yourself. I identify with being the butterfly flitting from one thing to the next, and like you, I used to keep many plates in the air, but like Jayne, health issues have slowed me to the crawl. I will glean ideas from your post.

I love the list of your personal things. I have several similar things, like the Dutch nesting dolls my daughter brought back from the Ukraine.

Describing your space really reveals you, in a beautiful way. Thanks

Kimberley Payne said...

I love the idea of plastic boxes for your many book ideas. I've been using wicker baskets, but although they are pretty, they don't stack well and don't fit a lot of stuff.
I am forever grateful that you introduced me to Barbara Sher's book "Refuse to Choose". I, too, am a Scanner (Jack-of-all-trades) and am okay about it for the first time in my life.
Thanks for sharing!

Elizabeth (Liz) Volk said...

Wow. Are you blessed or what? My good friend, Ulrike, told me I needed to check out your space. My husband (who is blind but whoe hobby is designing and building)created me a working space that is attached on the back of his shed... He built in a counter / Desk top that runs from one end to the other and the rest is filled with lots of shelves and drawers and it has two windows and a heater so I can use it all year and about three lamps because I have trouble seeing without LOTS of light and a light table to help me see my lines when I do calligraphy (small hobby) and lots of STampin' UP and card-making stuff. I will stop that sentence so that you won't give up on my career as a writer because i don't think God has. We are sort of just starting afresh. (He is constantly the Father of new beginnings). My only problem at the moment is that my "hobby hut" is computerless. We live in a small trailer (mobile home) so the craft cottage (it has various names) was a real necessity when in came to saving our marriage. I am so blessed to have it. I feel I ought to invite you over to come and see and help me to make better use of the space I do have - there is a coffee maker in there. OH. It is 8' by 12' and unlikely to grow any larger.

Thanks SO MUCH for sharing your space. Sometimes that is hard to do.

from a fellow TWGer who has attended one of your seminars,

Elizabeth (Liz) Volk

N. J. Lindquist said...

Thanks everyone for posting all the nice comments. Glad you like my space! And thanks Kaye for giving me the opportunity to post on your blog.

Even if it's a closet, it's great to have a place of your own where you can let your creative energy loose.

N. J.

Kaye Wilkinson Barley - Meanderings and Muses said...

N.J., Thank you! It was a pleasure having you. Your space is divine, your energy is amazing. And your piece was just wonderful - we all enjoyed it immensely. I need to follow some of your advice. I'm not accomplishing a fraction of what I want to, or need to, these days.

N. J. Lindquist said...

Thank YOU for the opportunity, Kaye!

What I didn't mention is the fact that people like me frequently live with guilt and frustration because we also see all the other things we aren't doing that we still want to do. But having a plan for the coming months does help a lot. And even doing something for 15 minutes alleviates the guilt a little bit. :)


Anonymous said...

I love to hear how other authors organize. I can really do some major organization when I get started. I recently reorganized my office. Some books I will never part with. I have ever book that Bertrice has ever written, and whille she is not an "Inspritional" writer, her work is dead on with respect to historical facts. IF you ever want to know anything about Queen Elizabeth (the on that refused to Mary) then you will love her stories. She usually writes about 2-5 books in a series. You must start with Skye O'Malley. I know I got off the subject matter, but I think that your work space is the best I have seen in a while. I can't work in clutter either. It confuses my train of thought, I need to know where everything is. I hate to spend precious time hunting anything at all. Great Job....Blessing to you and yours, Tina

N. J. Lindquist said...

Thanks Tina. I have quite a few books I've collected that I never want to part with too - Georgette Heyer, Agatha Christie, Louis l'Amour, Desmond Bagley, and quite a few others.