My Desk

Reflections on the Creation Process by Anthony Stevens

My friend, the Sassy Brit, has a weekly challenge.

What’s On Your Desk, Wednesday?

I accepted her challenge, sent her a photo and a brief description, but then it occurred to me that some folks might be interested in a more detailed description of how I do what I do.

  1. Workspace

“Art should comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable.” – Cesar A. Cruz

Any discussion on the creative process should start with the physical environment and tools to be used. With that in mind, here’s a little background.

My wife and I have retired to a small apartment wing of the old family homestead. With this in mind, I downsized my office to include only that which I found critically useful.

    1. Desk

I knew what I wanted and how much I wanted to spend. When I couldn’t find a used desk in good condition, I built my own. This is what it looked like the day I set it up.


The three black cabinets are sold as a single system by Harbor Freight. They contain all sorts of tools as well as pencils, pens, rulers, tape measures, and miscellaneous stuff. Don’t ask.

    1. Computer System

My computer is also home built. It is a mid-tower case with a large power supply, six-core AMD processor, 16Gb of RAM, DVD burner, and more than 4Tb of HDD. It features a 24” monitor, external speakers with subwoofer, Logitech HD webcam, and a Blue Yeti microphone.

    1. Software Tools

Other than the physical hardware of my desktop computer system, I have no financial investment. All of my software is Free and Open Source. The following is a list of what I use on a daily basis.

      1. Kubuntu Linux

Kubuntu is an operating system built by a worldwide community of developers, testers, supporters and translators. Kubuntu is a free, complete, and open-source alternative to Windows and Mac OS X which contains everything you need to work, play or share. http://kubuntu.org/

      1. Libre Office

LibreOffice is a powerful office suite – its clean interface and feature-rich tools help you unleash your creativity and enhance your productivity.

LibreOffice includes several applications that make it the most powerful Free and Open Source office suite on the market. http://www.libreoffice.org/

      1. GIMP

The GNU Image Manipulation Program (GIMP) is a cross-platform image editor available for GNU/Linux, OS X, Windows, and more operating systems. It is free software, you can change its source code and distribute your changes.

Whether you are a graphic designer, photographer, illustrator, or scientist, GIMP provides you with sophisticated tools to get your job done. You can further enhance your productivity with GIMP thanks to many customization options and 3rd party plugins. https://www.gimp.org/

      1. Inkscape

Inkscape is a professional vector graphics editor for Windows, Mac OS X and Linux. It’s free and open source. https://inkscape.org/en/

      1. Audacity

Audacity is an editor that I use for creating audio books. http://www.audacityteam.org/

      1. Google Earth

Everyone should install this free program. Not only is it invaluable for research, it is the most marvelous of time-wasters for the armchair traveler. https://www.google.com/earth/

      1. NASA/JPL

There are thousands of public-domain images available. If you’re creating any sort of space-related writing, there is great cover art fodder. http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/spaceimages/

      1. Wikipedia

It should be noted that Wikipedia is ONLY useful for tertiary research. I use it for quick-reference, but any serious researcher should dig much deeper. https://www.wikipedia.org/

  1. My Creation Process

Please keep in mind this is what works for me. You may find it helpful or something else might make a muse jiggle your elbow. Whatever you do, just keep writing!

    1. Inspiration

Writing is easy. All you do is stare at a blank sheet of paper until drops of blood form on your forehead.” – Gene Fowler

Most of the time, my inspirations come from discussions with family and friends. An image, name, or phrase will trigger and idea that I’ll add to my notes file. Sometime later on, I’ll revisit it and decide if it is worth investing the time to develop.

This is the area just above my workspace.

Sometimes, a challenge will evolve into more than I would have expected. As an example, several years ago, I was in a group chat with several other authors and editors and the topic was “the worst opening lines”. Off-the-cuff, I came up with “Shivering in sodden furs, Koragh gazed out of the cave as hurried clouds shed fetid streams”.

While I was busy laughing at the outrageous line, several people came back with, “Hey! That’s not half bad. You should use it.”

So I did. Not once, but in two different stories. The second tale is actually quoting the first.

Insanity does not run in my family. It strolls through, takes it’s time, and gets to know everyone personally.” – Anon

Finally, two or three times a year, I’ll have a vivid dream sequence with some characters and situations so real that as soon as I wake, I’ll load up my notes file and type everything I can recall about them in stream-of-consciousness format. Several of my stories have grown from these notes.

    1. Setup

“I hear, and I forget. I see, and I remember. I do, and I understand.” – Chinese?

Whatever the inspiration, as soon as I decide a tale is worth developing, I’ll create a new sub-folder with a working title, load my favorite story template, and start writing.

If I think the tale will become more than a few pages, I’ll create two files. One is the actual Work-In-Progress title while the other is a Notes file. The Notes file contains character names and brief bios, location maps, important vehicles, and world building details. Most of the info won’t make it into the story, but it helps me to visualize each scene as well as keep track of the sequence of events.

    1. Character-Driven

“Go to Heaven for the climate, Hell for the company” – Mark Twain

I’m a huge fan of characters and generally let them tell their own stories. Once I start a tale, I’ll bring new ones in as needed, but they all have to have some part of the story to share. It is always amazing how a character brought in to fill a temporary roll will occasionally take over a tale.

    1. Editing

In the force if Yoda’s so strong, construct a sentence with words in the proper order then why can’t he?” – Anon

I’m a HUGE fan of editing… but ONLY after the story is done. The rule is simple. Tell the story first!

Once I’ve wrapped up a story, I resist the urge to fiddle with it right away. I will work on another, unrelated project for at least a week.

After a week or so, I’ll start at the beginning and work my way through, editing and pruning as I go. At this point, I’m looking for plot issues, contradictions, and general flow of the language.

The second edit pass is where I’ll actually read the story out-loud. You will be amazed at what sort of errors will show up while trying to speak while you’re reading. I highly recommend you do NOT skip this step. It feels weird, yeah. Too bad. Just do it!

When I finish the out-loud edit pass, I’ll share the tale with my beta readers and/or with another editor. They will tell me what parts need work or need to be pruned.

    1. Graphics

“I hate to advocate drugs, alcohol, violence, or insanity to anyone, but they’ve always worked for me.” – Hunter S. Thompson

With one exception, all of my current cover art is my work, using GIMP and Inkscape, two of the programs mentioned above.

If you wish to create your own covers, I highly suggest you keep them simple enough so that they are recognizable as a thumbnail image on a website and on a smartphone. I’ve seen some beautiful cover artwork that turns into a vari-colored blob when viewed on my phone.

    1. Publication

“The covers of this book are too far apart.” – Ambrose Bierce

These days, I’m publishing ebooks only. I will convert some of the shorter publications to .epub files using a free plugin for LibreOffice and make them available on my website. Full-length novels are submitted to SmashWords, where they handle all the conversion issues. https://www.smashwords.com/

Later this year, I’m planning on releasing a few titles as ink-on-paper publications. Those will be produeced by Ingram-Lightingsource.

“A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies. The man who never reads lives only one.”

– George R.R. Martin

That about it. If you have any questions, please feel free to ask in the comments.

Keep writing!

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