By Anna Pratt
I’m sure this must have something to do with the fact that I live in Minnesota, where snow and 98-degree weather both occurred in May of this year, but I’ve been thinking a lot about the beach lately. My fair state may be the land of 10,000-plus lakes, but they’ve been frozen since fall-ish. So, I’ve been making mental pictures of one ocean beachfront scene from recent memory; it was a rainy night, but I’ll take it. I also “flip” through a handful of beach snapshots I’ve saved on my smartphone and I seek out photos of beautiful shorelines and expensive pools, both in print magazines and online. In fact, this morning I bought a magazine that shows off a vacation home on the Aegean Sea.
My mom is originally from Florida, so I tell myself this beach obsession is perfectly healthy, that it’s probably in my DNA. Isn’t there a story I can sell that would require some quality time at the beach? But before I pack my flip-flops and sunscreen, I’m starting to consider that maybe I need to dedicate some wall space in my home office, a small sunroom, to my now not-so-secret preoccupation. (‘I think, therefore I am,’ right?) After all, I’m looking for a little creative boost.
Often, books about freelancing will tell you to set up a specific space to do business — somewhere you can define the separation between church and state (or, in this case, home and work). Many experienced writers will tell you not to let your desk get cluttered, so you’re not expending too much mental energy on simple tasks, like looking for a certain scrap of paper or a working pen. Which is all good advice. But beyond those practicalities (and feng shui), what about some inspiration for the in-between times, when you’re collecting your thoughts, not necessarily racing to meet a deadline? Here are a few ideas to get you going:
Get organized, but don’t be afraid to show some personality. It helps to have a certain spot for everything you need, such as supplies, notebooks, mail and the like, plus a clear surface to write on. But that doesn’t mean it has to be boring or staid. Don’t be afraid to make your office your own. Maybe this means reusing some household items that are in storage instead of heading to the office supply store. For example, a plant stand can hold a printer, and a small, hard-case carry-on piece of luggage can hold notebooks. Or, maybe you want to create your own personal ocean/beach wall project.
‘Surround yourself with good things.’ This piece of advice from a painting professor in college has stuck with me. It could be as simple as having your favorite coffee cup close at hand or beautiful writing utensils or notebooks or planners. I’ve found that I like to hand-write my to-do list with my favorite Uniball pens. You might also spruce up the place with a hearty plant, colorful artwork, a funny comic or all of the above. It sounds like a no-brainer, but it’s easy to forget about the positive charge we can get from something we find aesthetically-pleasing or meaningful. Speaking of which, here’s a Pinterest board devoted to cool workspaces, big and small.
If you have room, add another seating area to change things up. Sometimes I just need to change my position to get a different take on a piece. At times when I’ve been staring at my computer screen for too long, it helps to print out the story and go read it elsewhere. I have an end table with a vintage lamp and a cozy chair in the opposite corner of my sunroom/office, which seems to work well for when I need to switch things up a bit.
It’s easy to dismiss these kinds of details, especially in the hubbub of the day-to-day, but paying attention to our work environment can help us get more done. I guess this means I’d better hurry up and figure out what I’m doing with my beach wall. Until I can afford the real thing, that will have to do.
Do you have other ideas or a beautiful office that helps you stay productive? Please feel free to share them with us! Also, check out SPJ’s “Desk Love” Tumblr here.
As a staff reporter-turned-freelance journalist, Anna Pratt, who lives in Minneapolis, Minn., has ventured into garbage houses, spent the night in a homeless shelter and witnessed a fistfight in a church basement, all for various stories. Over the past nine years, her byline has appeared in the Star Tribune, The Line, the Southwest Journal, the Minnesota Independent and several suburban and community papers, web publications and broadcast media in the Twin Cities. She’s had many beats, including education, community news, business, development, arts, civil/human rights and immigration. Pratt chairs the programming committee for the award-winning Minnesota Pro Chapter of SPJ and she’s running for president-elect of the chapter. She also serves on the organization’s national programming committee. To read more, visitannaprattjournalist.com.