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Posted Friday, April 22, 2011, at 10:48 AM

Every mad scientist - um, author - needs a laboratory. Your workspace. Where you do all that important thinking, plotting and creating. It might be an office in your home, a partitioned-off corner of the family room, or a table at your neighborhood coffee shop. Where you work doesn't matter so much as that it's comfortable and offers you a reasonable amount of privacy. If you're a busy parent, that may be a luxury yet out of reach. In that case you might have to get up every morning an hour before the family does, to find that precious time for yourself and your writing. It can be done.

My first couple of books were written in a spiral notebook in longhand, often sitting at the kitchen table while supper burned - I mean cooked - on the stove. I made it work because the compulsion to write was so strong and all those stories swirling around in my head needed to get out. I now have a home office, a separate office in town, and a laptap that makes it easy to take my work with me. I no longer have children underfoot, but there are three dogs who always seem to need me for something. Plus the laundry beckons and the window over my desk constantly steals my attention.

Did I say privacy? I guess that depends on how well you're able to block out surrounding distractions.

J. K. Rowling famously wrote portions of her first Harry Potter book at a cafe near her home in Edinburgh, Scotland, with her small child in a stroller beside her. Stephen King wrote in the furnace room of the trailer he lived in, his portable typewriter balanced on his knees. George Bernard Shaw had his own private "writing shed" in his back yard (about the size of a large bathroom) that he called "London" so his family wouldn't be lying when they said he'd "gone to London."

Speaking of distractions, I received an email this week asking about writer's block. Do I ever get it? And what's the cure? I'll tell you what I told her: On the rare occasions when I get writer's block, it's because I let the view from the window distract me or my mind wandered because we're having guests over later and I need to vacuum. Or because I'm in a public place with my laptop and there's just too much activity going on around me. When my mind doesn't want to stay on my writing, I become frozen, unable to move forward.

My cure for writer's block is simple: I write in longhand. There's something organic about that mind-to-hand-to-pen connection that transcends the limitations of the keyboard. Typing is faster, sure, but writing in longhand is magical; the writer has time to think, and the words that flow onto the page have a special beauty and poetry to them.

You need a place of your own in which to create, but that doesn't mean you should limit yourself to only that space. Inspiration can strike anywhere, and you must remain open to the process.

Your creature will thank you.

"A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction." Virginia Woolf

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Yes, farmergirl.sp, if you have a home office it is tax deductible to you, as a freelance writer. But I want to stress - Talk to your tax preparer about this.

That said, if you are making sincere efforts to get your work published, you are a freelance writer and your home office allows you to deduct a percentage of your mortgage/rent, property taxes, utilities, etc. But it must be a separate room that you use exclusively for writing. It cannot be, say, a partitioned-off corner of your family room. (And no, the table you regularly use at Starbucks does not count.)

Last time I checked, you had 3 years to make money from your writing to keep this deduction. If, in 3 years' time you haven't sold anything, you lose the deduction and it becomes a hobby. But if you really put your mind to it, you should be able to sell something - an article to a small magazine or local newspaper - in that time.

Your deductions also include the paper and envelopes you buy, postage stamps to mail your work out, a percentage of your computer and printer, printer ink cartridgese (expensive!) and all those other expenses that go along with the pursuit of your craft.

But again, I urge you - TALK TO YOUR TAX PREPARER about it.

-- Posted by JTennant on Fri, Apr 29, 2011, at 6:00 AM

Is it true that if you have a home office you can deduct the cost on your taxes, as a business expense? How does that work if you're not actually selling anything?

-- Posted by farmergirl.sp on Thu, Apr 28, 2011, at 10:14 AM

I like to work in public places. I seem to thrive on chaos around me, and one of my favorite spots is Carrol's Bakery, fueled my endless cups of coffee. The main problem i have when I write in public is that people tend to ask 'what are ya writing, a book?' If i dare say yes, then the curious don't at all mind asking more about it... and out the window goes my concentration.

-- Posted by DHarris on Wed, Apr 27, 2011, at 7:34 AM

Yes a space, a simple quiet space, but please do not lower the lid... So on with the block-out-head phones and the sign on the door, 'BACK AFTER LUNCH.'The family can see me through the glass door as my mind goes 'to lunch.'

-- Posted by wordgardener on Sun, Apr 24, 2011, at 11:49 PM

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Jean Tennant has been writing professionally for more than 30 years. Beginning with short stories, newspaper and magazine articles, she eventually branched out to full-length work, with several novels published by Warner Books, Kensington and Silhouette. Now the owner of Shapato Publishing, LLC, in Everly, Iowa, she teaches writers' workshops throughout the Midwest, for which her schedule can be seen at: www.jeantennant.com. Jean lives in Everly with her husband, Grover Reiser, and their dogs, Kirby and Dakota. Favorite quote: "Outside of a dog, man's best friend is a book. Inside of a dog it's too dark to read." Groucho Marx.
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