Office Overhaul for Mental Overhaul

The view from my office window
Therese blogged about ways to jumpstart your creativity. The subject has been on my mind a lot, because I’ve spent the past month overhauling my office. It’s a great, if ordinary, space–a bedroom upstairs overlooking the street and a view of Pikes Peak and the entire Front Range, which changes daily with light and weather and season. I love being upstairs, above it all. Love the tall Ponderosa pine outside the window where birds play. Love to watch the clouds roll in.

But, I’ve been here for five years. The desk was a functional U, a hand-me-down that I quite liked, but it was not working in the space any more. I might have lived with that, but the computer was almost ten years old, and was becoming more and more of a problem the more outdated it became. I have to admit I’m kind of a cheapskate, as most creative professionals learn to be. As a bargain hound and deal hunter, it pains me to spend money on almost anything except travel and books, but this had to be done.

So I hunted down a great bargain on a good-looking desk with the hutch on the right side, and paid my son to put it together for me. I splurged on some new storage tools and a boxful of files and such things. My happy find at the office supply store was a black board with neon wet-erase markers, discovered in the clearance bin, and I love filling it out every Sunday afternoon with the tasks for the week. Once that part was done, my partner and I went computer shopping. Because we’ve both fallen in love with our iPhones, we made the switch to Macs, and it’s a gorgeous machine—but I discovered I still can’t handle the freedom of getting on the Internet from my work space. I had to ask Christopher Robin to turn off access during my work day.

Has my productivity gone through the ceiling? A project like this initially makes a big mess and I had new programs and systems to learn and I am still not quite used to that little keyboard, but what I feel is much less chaotic in my head when I go in there. I know where the pens are. I know where to put the receipt from the vet (in a file) and what to do with the royalty statement that came in the mail (there’s a file for that, too). The overhaul gave me a chance to throw away and recycle a lot of unused items and books, and align my space with the writer I am today, not the one I was five years ago.

What I love best is heading down the hall and seeing that gleaming new space waiting for me, with open spaces for my research materials and places to put the work I’ve done at the end of the day, and a line of sight to a beautiful poster I love. I find myself going back to my office to play, to spend time on my little projects like my photography or to listen to music and brainstorm. A couple of times this week, I’ve even found myself back in there at night, making lists of scenes, or writing a background piece or blog, which I haven’t done for ages.

It might not be time for you to overhaul your work space as much as I did, but maybe a few tweaks will make it feel fresh. How long has it been since you bought yourself some new organizational supplies or changed the art on the walls? Maybe a set of inexpensive plastic boxes or a sleek stacking file holder would give you a sense of order and calm. Maybe some new paint or a dry erase board will allow you to feel more comfortable and happy in the space where you do the work. Whatever you do will be a signal to your creative side that you do, indeed, honor and respect its needs.

What kind of work space do you have? The luxury of a full office or something else? Have you recently indulged in sprucing it up at all, or do you have ideas?


About Barbara O'Neal

Barbara O'Neal has written a number of highly acclaimed novels, including 2012 RITA winner, How To Bake A Perfect Life, which landed her in the Hall of Fame. Her latest novel, The All You Can Dream Buffet has just been released by Bantam Books in March. A complete backlist is available here.


  1. says

    Wow – your “new” writing space sounds wonderful. Sprucing things up would be a great idea! In my writing office, I really need to tackle the papers piling up in the file cabinet and around the room — but lately my writing is really pulling me in (and when there’s a choice between writing and tidying up, writing wins).

  2. says

    I don’t yet have a dedicated writing space… During the day it’s my desk at work (I’m a receptionist, I’m allowed) and at night it’s either the dining room table or the couch so I can spend time with my boyfriend and dog, and *late* at night it’s either my bedroom desk or my bed, depending on whether or not I think I’ll be too tired to fling myself the four feet from the desk or not. Occasionally oh weekends I write at Panera, too.

    I dream of having a home office someday — one with hardwood floors, my piano in the corner, and a mirror wall with a barre so I can dance too — but for now, I do okay with my hodgepodge of locations.

    My one workplace/workspace indulgence was my MacBook. (Yeah, haha, that’s a biggie.) Now, by no means am I saying that every writer needs a Mac, but I’d been craving one for a long, long time, and I do think that finally getting one has made a difference for me, because they better fit the way I think.
    .-= Kristan´s last blog ..This just in =-.

  3. says

    When I first started writing habitually, I got serious about a space to call my own. The only problem was that every place in the house was taken (even my bedroom had a crib and sleeping baby in it). However, in the kitchen there was a small nook that I had always planned to fill with a bar table/stools. Instead, I got a bargain on a little computer desk that I loved, and added an antique chair I had stolen from my sister-in-law (she has way too many antique chairs, she should share, right?) The desktop is covered in papers, not all writing materials, but the view into the back woods of my property is brilliant–almost as nice as yours!
    It may be in a shared space, but I’m the only one who uses it and it’s close to the coffee pot.
    .-= Sarah´s last blog ..Changes =-.

  4. says

    I love that picture! Beautiful.

    My laptop is set up in my living room. Sometimes it does get distracting, but I need to be able to write *and* know what my son is doing throughout the day. From where I’m positioned, I can see all of the main living space, including the kitchen, with a simple eye-shift from my screen. And peripheral vision comes in handy when my son tries to get away with stuff and doesn’t think I have the slightest clue because I’m typing.

    There are some perks to this, too. For instance, my “office chair” is a big cushy recliner. How many people can say that? ;)
    .-= Lydia Sharp´s last blog ..How Much Do You Love Your Story? =-.

  5. says

    I have my own office space–a benefit of being an empty nester. And when it’s clean, it’s wonderful. But I’ve been doing taxes and grant work and all kinds of legalese in there lately and I find myself using DH’s laptop on the couch w/ the tv muted in front of me.

    Too many projects in the air to clean up now, but I’m making office renewal as my reward for getting through deadlines.

    How about some pics of your new interior for inspiration, Barbara?

  6. thea says

    Barb, Love your ‘room with a view’! How about some pix of your finished office??? I got a new desk last year – a V that fits into a corner. I have a very small office so this desk is glass so it keeps the room from looking crowded and heavy.

  7. says

    When looking at your view and comparing mine, I have to sigh in jealousy. The view from my pharmaceutical office window looks onto the manufacturing facilities: pipes bending and twisting their way to unknown and prohibited regions, plain brick buildings sans windows (at least I don’t work there), a railroad and a busy state road, and off in the hazy distance… a coal burning smoke stack.

    Now, one could say that this leaves me with great imagery for a suspense-laden mystery novel about the seedy underworld of this industry… but I like to write poetry, so it’s rather depressing. This has the unfortunately affect of making my poetry usually bitter and cynical (but then again, aren’t most poets?). These two qualities are also a great part of my character. So, these factors combine at a detriment to my attempts to change my outlook as a whole.

    Therefore, in a move towards positivity, I wanted to say I am stealing your view and mentally plastering it across my window. Instead of somber brick buildings, I will have the quaint homes in your forefront, and the fluffy white clouds of smoke from the coal plant now will be the snow-capped mountains surveying all beneath its beauty. Thank you for the new mental image!!!

  8. says

    Kristan, that’s a good example of investing in your creativity, giving the muses good tools.

    I will definitely take a picture and post it. Tried yesterday afternoon, but it was very sunny and just not good conditions.

  9. says

    That is one gorge view, Barbara.

    I’ve moved to the couch. That’s my new office. A couch, my laptop, and a filefolder with my millions of Post Its trapped within.

  10. says

    Synchronicity is amazing sometimes. My blog post today iss about how my vacuum died, which led to an office renovation, which resulted in a writing decision I feel good about. My theory is that forward movement of any kind begets forward movement.

    That said, I write best away from my mainframe, which is the mainiest frame I’ve had in a while. It’s also attached to the Internet. :(

    So my best work is done on my wheezing laptop while seated on my bed. Hmm. Maybe it’s time for a new coverlet…?
    .-= hope101´s last blog ..Suction and The Boop: Unexpected Writing Friends =-.

  11. Cassi says

    I just got a desk this summer and had to rearrange my whole room to fit it. Now I can’t see the TV from my computer (unless I watch in the mirror which I find annoying but my boyfriend thinks is perfectly acceptable.

    I love my desk/office space. Even if it’s not a real office and it’s a desk I bought at a scratch & dent sale, it’s my space that’s meant for writing/reading/computering. Rather than having a laptop that I sit on my bed. I think it increased productivity BUT I need some more organization for the stuff on the desk itself.

  12. says

    My space is the desktop in the middle of the living room. I get distracted when everyone comes home from work, but I do get a nice pretty nice view. I’m saving for a laptop so I can eventually write somewhere away from everyone. Then maybe I can get a desk with storage space for all my books.
    .-= Saba´s last blog ..That writing mood =-.

  13. says

    We’re nearly finished with a big revamp of my office space. It needed to happen–for better use of the space, to improve upon organization, and to say goodbye to the ghosts of novels past. I was supposed to have the carpeting installed today, but today’s blizzard changed those plans. Next week, I’ll be back in my office, though. I’ll take pictures.

  14. says

    I did much the same thing last summer when my family was away for a week, and it made a huge difference for me in the way I think about the work day.
    My next step will be to get a second computer strictly for blogging and Internet research and networking, and take the web connection off the old one to use solely for writing.
    .-= Lisa Romeo´s last blog ..Slow Down, Seed Memoir, with Memory Triggers =-.

  15. says

    Kath, you’re a Post-It’s gal, too? I’m so addicted.

    Lisa, I’ve found it so helpful to have two computers for Internet and work. It’s been very tempting to have that access on the new Mac, but I did make my partner set up parental controls so I can only get on after 4 pm on weekdays. Know thyself! :)

    Matt, your view allows you to superimpose whatever you like over it.

    That probably seemed kind of obnoxious, but most windows in this city have gorgeous views. Having Pikes Peak in my sights is a touchstone for me…it’s the mountain I grew up with and makes me feel most like myself.

  16. Sean says

    Great spot you have there! I’m a bit north of you; my home office window looks onto Mount Evans, and It looks to be snowing up there today. I find that a fourteener in front of me helps with inspiration when the climb seems too tough. i am on the ground floor, and more than once I have looked up to find a deer or elk peering in at me.

    The most recent thing I added to my space is a small model train that runs along the shelf to my right and then the shelf directly in front of me. On those days when my mind is going in circles and i can’t seem to orient it, a few moments spent watching the train roll down the track in a straight, purposeful line can help reboot me.

  17. Katrina says

    My boyfriend and I recently moved in together, and we designated one room of our apartment the “office.” The problem is whenever I walk in that room it feels very masculine (probably because his comics overwhelm my yarn stash in the corner) and thus I can’t write in there. I prefer to write on the padded loveseat on our balcony, because I can see down the valley for miles, and the brilliant green lawns of the houses on the other side inspire me. I have to balance my laptop on my lap, but that works for me in a strange chaotic way.

    Of course when it’s raining or cold, I have to write in our dining room….

  18. Barbara Forte Abate says

    I don’t quite have your amazing view, Barbara, but I do love my writing room. It is rather small, but holds all the things I love most – a big old wooden desk that’s seen abundant life before me – and has the intriquing scars to prove it. I have a floor to ceiling book shelf made of vintage onion crates, an ancient cupboard with pull out drawers for supplies,journals, and reasearch materials. Collections of vintage writing treasures: ink wells, fountain pens, obsolete office supplies rarely if ever seen in modern times. It is in fact so perfect that last month I packed up my laptop, verious notebooks, files, and pages-in-progress and headed to the third floor at the top of the house and spread out there! Not quite sure what this is all about, but it certainly keeps my abandoned space downstairs space looking very tidy these days.

  19. Pamela Toler says

    I love my office. The desk and bookshelves are beautiful. My most used references are in arm’s reach. There’s a comfy chair to read in, which doubles as the cat’s bed. But, but, but–right now I’m in the middle of three big projects. The piles of library books are getting dangerous. And now and then I move to the kitchen where I can spread out a little more. I’m thinking a rolling bookcase for the temporary stuff is the answer. Any other ideas?

  20. says

    In the apartment my wife and I have in Denver, my desk faces a wall. For whatever reason, I can bring home work from my day job and do it there. However, the sight of the wall whenever I’m writing fiction cramps my style and I have to bring my computer out to the dining room table (where I am now). I think the view you shared in the photo is telling–creativity has no boundaries, it is a limitless expanse. Walls tend to work against that idea. Joe
    .-= Joe´s last blog ..Starting off on the Wrong Foot – A Writer who Almost Became an Architect =-.