Designing a small office on the cheap.

So we have this playhouse–this adorable little space in our backyard that can’t be more than 5 feet by 6 feet–that my husband built entirely from instructions he found online about eight years ago. It started out as a playhouse for Holly, and we picked pink for the walls, filled it with plastic food and dishes, stuffed animals and dress-up clothes, and then let her make up games and play with friends out there. (These pics are from Labor Day weekend 2010–oh, how I miss that tiny girl!)

At some point we put a desk in there and added some “writing stuff”–books, inspiration boards, and our collection of red birds and rabbits–and she and I used it to work on our stories together. lady & lou

But this summer she’d finally stopped playing out there when friends came over, so we got rid of the last remnants of pretend food, gave away the tiny table and chairs where she’d used her plastic cash register to sell imaginary burgers and fries, and talked about making it a more inspiring space for both of us. She was loathe to say good-bye to the pink walls, but I finally convinced her we should try something new, and we agreed on blue.

I didn’t want to go crazy spending money on redesigning such a small space, so here’s what we did:

  • sold the old desk and chair set on Craigslist for $40
  • Bought a gallon of paint (“Resolute Blue” by Sherwin Williams)–$25
  • Printed 4×6 copies of all 5 book covers (ours, mine, and the one I wrote under a pen name) and bought frames at Target–$20 total
  • Purchased a 2-shelf white stand at Target (and convinced the hubby to put it together!)–$25
  • Found a gold cup, clock, and a white candle at Target to add some interest–$25
  • Picked up a white rug at Target for under the desk–$30
  • Moved a small white IKEA desk and chair out of our guest room and put it in the writing room (already had these)
  • Dug up an old lamp that Holly once used in her bedroom, cleaned it, and put a new light bulb in it (already had these)
  • Used our collection of books and those lucky red birds and rabbits for decoration (already owned all of this as well)
  • Brought a heavy ceramic box from my step-mum (she found it in a charity shop in the UK) down from a shelf and used it to hold paperclips and post-it notes, and to offer inspiration, as it says “NEVER NEVER NEVER GIVE UP” on the lid (already had this)
  • Total: $125, minus the $40 I made from the old desk set. So the grand total I spent to remodel and re-charge our writing space is $85–I’m pretty happy with that!

Here are some of the “after” shots (we ended up turning the desk towards the wall for functionality, but it could really go either way):

I’ve already been out here for most of the day–I think I’ve found my new “happy place”!

 

My Christmas Key soundtrack.

There’s almost nothing I do without music, except maybe sleep. I put Pandora on as soon as I start getting ready for work in the morning, I listen to music as I drive (preferably Sirius XM’s First Wave station), and I play it all day long in my classroom during the school year while my students are working. There’s more music while I work out at the gym in the evenings, and of course I listen to it non-stop as I write. A mellow Pandora station that fits the mood of my story and doesn’t distract usually works well, so for my Christmas Key books, a combination of Tropical Holidays and Caribbean Jazz are pretty much my go-to stations.

For me, music sets the mood and the tone of not just writing, but life. Certain songs can instantly transport you to a time and place (anything that came out in 1997–Chumbawumba’s Tubthumping, the New Radicals You Get What You GiveSarah Mclachlan’s Building a Mystery–are like a time machine to the fall of that year, a trip back to me driving around Miami as a 22-year-old newlywed in a beat-up car with no air-conditioning, trying to make it as a model on South Beach). Road trips are intimately tied to the music I listen to as I take in the small towns, the wide vistas, and the mottled skies, and I also find that songs are interwoven with the humans who recommended them to me, as one of my favorite students did this year when he made excellent suggestions for a handful of cool songs I’d never heard before. From this point on, those songs will always be the ones that Grayson gave me.

Music is such a big part of my life that it’s no surprise to me when I go back to revise and edit to find that I’ve name-checked several songs in every book. After finishing There’s Always a Catch and the forthcoming Wild Tropics, I had to go and buy the songs I didn’t already have in my iTunes library, and now I have a handy Christmas Key playlist to listen to whenever I need to get my head back into the game with drafting or revising. So without further ado, here are the songs mentioned in the first two books in the Christmas Key series. (I’m giving away two copies of my soundtrack on CD, so if you live in the U.S., leave a comment on this post and tell me which island on this beautiful planet is your favorite, and why–I’ll choose 2 winners on July 31st!)

  1. Let’s Stay Together–Al Green
  2. God Only Knows–The Beach Boys
  3. Trouble–Coldplay
  4. Hotel California (Live)–Eagles
  5. Brilliant Disguise–Bruce Springsteen
  6. Just Like Heaven–The Cure
  7. Jamming–Bob Marley
  8. Witchcraft–Frank Sinatra
  9. Thriller–Michael Jackson
  10. Somebody Else–The 1975
  11. Jingle Bell Rock–Bobby Helms
  12. Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!–Ella Fitzgerald
  13. Santa Baby–Eartha Kitt