Thursday, July 20, 2017

Notes from the “Way-Back Room” -- How I Made My Home Office My Own

I’m a writer and poet. Ideally, I need a quiet place to be creative. It doesn’t have to be large. But for years I never had such a space other than a shared dining room table. Team that with the notion that I was soon to embark on a new work-from-home schedule after a number of years commuting 50 miles a day to and from a suburban company office. Alas, it was high time for my own home office. I was joining the 30 million Americans who now work from home, and more than 60 million who telecommute.

My husband and I have a smallish house, which had no extra bedroom at that time to use as an office. I looked into renting a small office space close to home.  Of course, since we live in the city of Chicago proper, commercial rents are high, even for a one-room office. My husband panicked a little. He didn’t want me spending extra money we didn’t have on office rent.

A creative poet and thinker himself, he brainstormed and suggested converting an enclosed second-floor heated back porch into my home office. It had previously been used as a catchall for storage, odd boxes and a rack of off-season clothes. Similar to the way other people use an attic. I thought we really needed the space for all that stuff. Yet as we cleaned it out, sorted through, and made sure our grown kids took what belongings were theirs, the five-and-a-half foot by 12-foot space opened up before my eyes.

Another woman may have made it into a light and airy feminine walk-in closet, complete with a bench, accordion screen and full-length mirror. And that’s what I may eventually turn that room into if and when we sell our house. A house with an extra closet is extra valuable.

But that can wait. This office was my priority. And for that space, I favored the “Old Chicago” colors of dark rustic red, olive green and ochre yellow for my palette. My husband and stepson gifted me for my birthday with the room conversion paint and labor, meticulously painting each surface in those colors – juggling walls and trim with a mix-and-match of the three hues.

Adding a desk, a lamp, a small file cabinet, a supportive office chair, a number of bookshelves, a small throw rug, curtains that picked up the color scheme, and Chicago-themed art and photos, my office was complete.

I now lovingly call it my “Way-Back Room,” not only because is it the farthest room at the back of the house (with a beautiful view of our back urban vegetable garden, by the way), but also because it’s provided a serene, inspiring and personal space for me to find my “way back” to my writing whenever I enter.

A few small details: I like to cover my desk with a horizontal woven runner to add to even more quiet to the desk, where I place my laptop and active writing files. I stash my cellphone on a higher shelf away from me and use a coaster on my desk to prevent rings and spills from my morning coffee cup. A small wastebasket has proved invaluable in helping get rid of excess papers I no longer need, with the next stop the recycling bin.

Rather odd and serendipitous in such a small space, there are two doors leading from my office. One that connects to the rest of the second floor, and the other leading down back stairs to the first floor kitchen -- where I can grab coffee and pad back up to my haven without waking my husband during early morning writing sessions.  

Ultimately, my “Way Back” home office is not only way-back, but also perched way-up and way wonderful for creative contemplating and productive writing.  Be assured, if you can find a corner in your home that may have once been a walk-in closet, porch, stair landing or kitchen pantry, you can turn it into a creative space that’s uniquely yours. 

Friday, July 14, 2017

For this author, a writing contest made all the difference

The following is a reprint of a recent message from my publisher, BookBaby. Company President Steve Spatz interviewed me and wrote this piece in regard to the recent National Indie Excellence Award I received for Frugal Poets' Guide to Life: How to Live a Poetic Life, Even If You Aren't a Poet:

"Last weekend I shared posts on some writing basics to help you start your next book. Today let’s talk about the other end of the process—after you’ve finished and published your book.

That’s where BookBaby author Cynthia Gallaher was last July. She had just published her book, Frugal Poets’ Guide To Life. Gallaher describes her book as 'part personal journey, part life-coaching for poets (or those who’d like to live like one), part creativity guide, and part reference.' Her book is available on her own BookShop page. Take a look.

As all self-published authors know, promoting books can be a daunting task. Gallaher saw a BookBaby blog post on entering book contests and decided to enter a few contests, including the prestigious National Indie Excellence Awards. Read it here.

'When you self-publish, it makes it that much harder to get attention,' said Gallaher. 'As I come from an advertising/marketing background, I understand the need to get the word out to as many potential readers as possible, but the word often needs to be backed with some clout, i.e. a blurb from a well-known author, an excellent review, a high number of Amazon reader reviews, and having your book be an award winner.'

I’m pleased to report her book was one of the 60 top books of 2016 produced by small presses, mid-size independent publishers, university presses, and self-published authors.

'Because my book is independent/self-published, I felt that the National Indie Excellence Awards was a good fit,' said Gallaher. 'The entry fee wasn’t too expensive–remember, I’m a frugal poet! I entered this contest basically to see what others thought. As a result, I was fortunate that National Indie Excellence Awards chose my book as one of its winners. Now I wish I would have entered more contests, but it’s a little late for my 2016 book!'

It’s not too late for self-published authors to enter this year’s contest. Submissions for the 12th Annual National Indie Excellence Awards will open on August 1st, 2017. Here’s the entry form."

All the best,
Steven Spatz

President, BookBaby

Link to a BookBaby online page with the same article.