A lovely office cottage a few steps from your home is a worthy dream. Or maybe you fancy your name on the door in a sexy down-town high rise. You might even see yourself writing in an office with a receptionist or guy-Friday screening your calls and editing your manuscripts.
All these visions and more are great as goals, but they aren’t necessary to get started in profitable writing. In fact, after you’ve been writing awhile you may find your dream of a perfect office has changed.
Essentially, there are probably six musts for a work space that will allow you to develop your writing wings.
A place to write
This may seem obvious, and maybe it is, but where you’re going to do your freelance writing deserves some thought.
The kitchen table will work if it must, but you’ll make yourself happier and more productive if you can carve out a permanent space, no matter how small. You don’t need the distraction of setting up every time you want to write if you can avoid it. Consider a tiny table in your bedroom or the corner of your living room. Maybe one of those cabinets that allows you to shut the doors on any mess is possible.
Depending on who you live with, you might also want to ensure you've got privacy. A door you can close can be a huge help when you’re sharing space with others – friends or family, even if it’s a door on what once was a closet.
You probably don’t want to start by renting space. It’s expensive and many find an office in an office building too isolating, at least in the beginning.
Get creative and make a space of your own to write right in your home. The extra bedroom is obvious, but not everyone has that luxury. A table in the bedroom may work, or a cabinet you can close in the living room.
See what you can fashion right where you are. LifeHacker regularly publishes great office hacks. Consider, for example, The Best Featured Workspaces of 2011. While many of them are expensive and special purpose, more than a few may help you discover a hidden space in your home to turn into a perfect writer's office.
The right equipment
Having the right equipment is more important than having exactly the right place. These days the minimum you must have is a computer with an internet connection, a printer and a phone.
PCs are less expensive, Macs are easier to learn. New equipment is probably the best way to go, although there are tremendous bargains to be had buying used computers - just be sure you either know what you're doing or have access to someone who can help you pick the right machine. And when you pick a computer get as much memory as you can afford.
Your computer needs word processing, probably Word™ although Open Office is getting better and better and it’s free. Make sure you can both create and read files which end in either .doc or .docx.
Face up to the fact that you’ll want to replace your computer every two, three or four years – it’s the way it is and you might as well plan for it. Just one more reason to have savings.
Your internet connection is critical. It's how you'll send and receive email, build and maintain your website, search for writing gigs, research and much more. Get the fastest connection you can afford.
As soon as you hook to the internet you need protection against viruses and phishing. ESET's nod 32 (affiliate link) for both PCs and Macs is the leanest and best program out there for both in my experience.
You also need offsite backup. Carbonite cost about $60 annually and handles the backup automatically. I love it.
You’ll want a printer – an ink jet will be more than satisfactory. A printer that scans, copies and even faxes is great – believe it or not a few folks still fax or want to receive faxes. And inkjet color is almost the default. When you’re looking at printers pay attention to the cost of ink – it can get expensive. Use the web to compare printers and ink cartridge life - it turns out ink cartridge life is the real key to keeping printing expenses low.
Some people prefer a phone that's strictly for business. Others, like me, finds a single line for both works fine. Land line or cell phone, be as sure as you can be that you’ll be able to keep the number indefinitely.
You will want business cards and a website/blog and you want potential clients to be able to call you. Google numbers offer an interesting and potentially a good alternative. If you’re in the United States consider unlimited long distance. The price is worth it for many. Not only can you call clients without worry, you can also participate in webinars and other learn-by-phone events without incurring long distance charges.
If you’re not in the US, Skype can work well. Get the best headset you can afford and the best internet connection you can afford too. In fact, some in the U.S. are finding Skype works well for them.
Skype also offers the possibility of seeing who you're calling via their webcam. That also means you can show yourself with your webcam. It can be fun, interesting and if you're willing to be pulled together dress-wise for phone calls, an advantage.
I find a headset a must for all calls. Keeps me from a stiff neck and allows me to take notes while I'm talking. Headsets.com offers a huge selection and decent prices. I've used them through several headsets now.
Ergonomics are important
Spend some time making sure your keyboard and chair mean you can work comfortable and without injury. Consider also sitting on a ball or at a standing desk. Seriously. You can do long-term physical damage to yourself, and as a result to your freelance writing career, but it’s mostly avoidable just by paying attention and making some adjustments.
John Soares has an excellent article called
Writing Ergonomics: Top Tips for Proper Posture, Alignment, and Movement. LifeHacker has an article called How to avoid carpal tunnel syndrome that makes a great deal of sense. It also includes links to specific exercises and other helpful information. Take time to figure out what's best for you.
Every successful office needs a treasure or two. Maybe it’s a lovely view, or a sacred statue, or pictures of friends and/or family. Maybe it’s some small display you change from time-to-time. Something that just plain makes you feel good.
And if you’re one of those who loves to write in a coffee shop? If that works for you, fine. Make sure you can control the noise and interruptions.
You might want to read: Your office 6 Musts for the Writer’s Office.
Assignment 4 – A place of your own (apologies to Virginia Wolf)
If you don’t already know where you’re going to set up, figure that out now. If you’re already set up, come to the forum and tell us what’s on your desk right now.
Feel free to ask questions there about software, computers, ergonomics, etc.
Carving out a space to write is important and easy to postpone. We want to help you take your writing space seriously.
Forum link to The Writer's Office