A (Digital) Room of One’s Own

My desk. Yes, those are rubber ducks.

I love seeing people’s writing spaces. From the tidy and well-organized desk to the unruly pile of papers around an overstuffed chair, the writing space can be a great insight into the writer’s mind — and sometimes it’s just fun to see what other people stock their desks with.

But equally as important as the physical space is a writer’s digital space. Unless you write longhand (and more power to you if you do, really), you’re going to have a digital environment in which you work. It’s a bit rarer to get a glimpse of these environments — a desktop screenshot might not, by default, seem very exciting — but I believe that one’s digital space is at least as important as one’s desk or table.

And now, because you totally didn’t ask, here’s a look at mine!

My Digital Space

I have a dual-monitor setup on my machine, which I once thought excessive, and now can barely live without. I hate trying to hunt through taskbars and buttons to find a particular program, and two monitors gives me way more room to breathe. I also run Ubuntu Linux, which means I have a lot more control over the look-and-feel of my workspace. Some people (especially Linux people, it seems) don’t believe aesthetics has any place in computing. I disagree. If you’re a writer, it’s likely you spend hours a day in your computing environment — why not make it an appealing one?

A terrifying glimpse into the world of the first draft.

Anyway. First and foremost, I have a separate login just for writing. (It’s called “writer.” Which I think you will agree is very imaginative.) I customized the menus to take out all the shortcuts to various games and distractions — but primarily, switching to the writer account puts me in the mood to write. It’s a mental signal to get prepared.

On the left monitor, I have my word processor(s) of choice. These days, I mostly use Zim and Write or Die. I use Write or Die to generate the raw text, which I paste into Zim for organizing. I like Zim because it constantly auto-saves to Dropbox, so I never have to worry about losing anything. Between Dropbox, my desktop, my laptop, and my netbook, I have three redundant backups, which is a big load off my mind.

On the right monitor, I have my scene list spreadsheet and my media player. I almost always write to music, and I often create specific playlists for different kinds of writing (I even have one for blogging, which is probably kind of excessive, but there it is). If I open up anything else, like Firefox or Tweetdeck, it also goes in the right monitor. Basically, the left monitor is for raw writing, the right monitor is for everything else.

Does this seem mildly neurotic yet?

“Scene 23: Then A Miracle Occurs”

While it might seem overly specific, this approach works for me. I’ve honed it to perfection over the course of years, figuring out what helped my productivity, and what ended up hindering it. The ability to write in adverse conditions is still a valuable one, but if one has the luxury of a controllable digital space, why clutter it up with distractions?

So, do you have a particular “digital space” for your writing? If so, what’s in it?

19 Replies to “A (Digital) Room of One’s Own”

  1. Often observed, especially by IT folk, that many people have clean desks and disorganized computers, disorganized desks and clean computers, rarely both one way or the other.

    Really, that’s always spoken to me of a particular problem when trying to actively make acreative space in which to work: many people avoid one aspect of their environment or another. And once they avoid making it work for them, it sits there like a little resource drain no matter how genuinely welcoming the rest of it is.

    I’ll have to get a sampling of my space together. Today’s busy but I’ll share in kind…

    1. It might be worth noting that my everyday computing environment (not related to writing) is pretty hideous. I tend to shove things into directories en masse like a hoarder. I have pictures and videos and music that is a hopeless, disorganized snafu. I won’t even talk about my old documents. There’s a reason I keep everything in a Zim database now. But the writing space is very clean, because I work daily to keep it that way.

      1. It is work to keep organized isn’t it!

        I think one of the other reasons, besides it being work, so many people tend to leave one part or the other cluttered is because so rarely do you meet someone who feels competent in keeping both aspects organized. Knowing how to organize a file structure in a computer doesn’t make one a maven of a clean minimalist desk, and vice versa.

        But, hey, there’s also a breaking point: how much time are you going to spend cleaning/organizing and when does it become avoiding DOING something? Oh, were it more simple to know when one is stepping over that line as opposed to discovering it twenty paces in…

    2. That’s really interesting! I’m definitely of the messy desk and clean computer variety, myself. It never even occurred to me that the two are in any way related before…

      1. They seem to be! I should also add that if a messy desk and a clean computer actually feel inviting and help you focus, well then… Obviously that’s good! Hasn’t been my experience or the experience of anyone I’ve spoken with BUT… That’s just my sample of experience. You? How about you?

        1. Heh, I never mean for my desk to become unorganized, but it invariably happens…until I take the time to organize it again only to find it in disarray a few weeks later. Oh well, I suppose it’s a never-ending cycle.

          Keeping my computer organized is easier. I think. Or maybe I’m just more neurotic about it.

  2. So I’m actually a Microsoft Word person. I write everything from the first draft to the final draft on Word (even when I hand write, the first thing I do is type it into Word) and after losing laptops rather unexpectedly, I’ve learned to keep backups (although come to think of it, I’m probably overdue for a backup, so thank you for the reminder).

    I like your dual-system and it doesn’t seem overly neurotic to me at all–however, I’m a relatively neurotic person myself, so I’m probably not the best person to ask. 😀

    1. I don’t use Word (or LibreOffice, for that matter) because I really hate auto-correct, auto-spellcheck, auto-suggestion of any kind, and it always seemed to come back up with the traditional word processors. Playing Settings Whack-A-Mole ate up too much writing time.

      1. The auto-correct can get annoying when it corrects something I don’t want corrected, but it’s not usually a big deal. When it happens I just right-click it and revert it back, then continue on as normal. I find auto-spell check mostly useful (mostly because names are invariably always spelled “wrong,” but you can add names to the dictionary with another right click, so that doesn’t take much time to fix, either). I understand why you wouldn’t like it, though.

    2. Actually, w/r/t backups, that isn’t too neurotic. My introduction to Disaster Recovery Planning was to edit a massive bank DRP document as a temp. Which was ironic because my training is computer science and I was temping and sold as clerical with expertise in computers. Anyhow… IT standard practice for stuff you can’t stand to lose is a _minimum_of (a) the thing itself, (b) a local backup and (c) an off-site copy, preferably to a degree fire and flood proof. Why? Because we’ve learned the hard way OVER and OVER and OVER again.

      The only question you need to ask is: can you afford, however you define afford, to lose it. No? On-site and off-site, on a regular schedule, at a minimum, always. Because you want to be on the side of zero trial learning, not the side of “I wish I’d…”.

      You may be neurotic, but here? Here you are among the sane.

  3. Yay you got GFC! All that RSS drama for nothing…lol

    I love seeing people’s space as well but this is the first time I’ve seen a writer’s digital space. Your level of OCD is AMAZING. I want to marry it. And have it organize my life.

    I was a Word dieheard like Ava until I tried Scrivener for this particular WIP. I’ll still edit in Word but drafting in Scrivener has its merits.

    My bf’s been a proponent of the dual monitor for years (he’s a video game producer) and has been encouraging me to rock it – now I see how writers can benefit.

    1. Yes! I did that just for you, Sophia, I hope you appreciate it! 😉

      Also, my OCD is available for hire at a very reasonable rate! Unfortunately, he’s lazier than most people suspect.

      I tried Scrivener briefly but it didn’t really grab me. I’m going to give it another shot one of these days.

  4. I prefer to work on a single screen for writing, with writing software that expands to full screen and totally drowns out distractions.

    I have a dual-monitor workstation, but I don’t like to write on it. I’m too used to that as my development station, and I find I’m too quick for my own good – before I know what the hell I’m doing I’ve got Chrome open and am reading my latest email.

    MacBook + Ommwriter is my combo now. Preferably without an Internet connection.

    Maybe what I really need is a deadline…

    1. Thanks for the comment, Mike! I definitely agree on the merits of full-screen writing. I often use FocusWriter for just that effect.

      I’ve never gotten the hang of successfully keeping the Internet off, though. I’m jealous of people who can do that.

  5. I have serious writing-space envy! I use two monitors at work and feel bereft when writing at home on the laptop. Having not long moved house, I have yet to create my perfect writing space and wrote most of my nanowrimo propped up on the couch on the laptop (although, to be fair, I did light a candle for ambience… does that make it better?)

    I adore your neurotic ways; I aspire to be as organised as you!

    1. Hey, comfort counts for a lot when you’re writing. My space might be neurotic, but I’m still hunched over an office chair. I’ve just never gotten the hang of writing on a laptop if I’m not at a desk or table.

  6. Nice setup, Dan! I’m a big believer in the “You Can’t Have Too Much Screen Real Estate.” I run on a similar rig to yours with the multiple monitors. It definitely makes life easier.

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