Wednesday, March 20, 2019

What's Your Work Environment Like?

by Kay Kendall

One of the perennial questions asked of us mystery authors at events is whether we use outlines or are we "pantsers." That is, do we write by the seat of our pants, and just let the outlines be damned?

As a published author of six years' time, having heard this question asked many times, I now know what to expect from the answers. Some use outlines, more do not, and many of us say we are sort of in the middle. We have a rough idea of where our plots are going, but we don't make detailed outlines. In other words, to each her own.

Recently I was asked another type of question:
what type of environment do I work in?

This question I enjoyed thinking about. Here is my answer, with a twist at the end.

I keep the standard type how-to and reference books heaped around me. Turns out that is mostly for their good karma. I suppose that’s what it is as I rarely refer to them when I’m writing. Once upon a time I had a hard bound thesaurus, using it often. I adored it. But when the online dictionaries and thesaurus type websites got really good, I began to just use those.

My writer’s lair is, I confess, a dreadful mess. When I need to hunt for or double check historical facts, I start to dig through piles of books to find the needed source. My so-called system works for me.

I’ve been relieved lately to read that intelligent people are usually messy. That has to mean I’m amazingly brilliant!

When I used to work a nine-to-five job in a building full of research scientists, I saw the complete range of office space, from pristine to unbelievably messy--way worse than mine. But that was only for one man. The laboratory spaces were always well ordered.

I never understood how anyone could work at a desk day in and day out and have a neatly ordered work space. Mostly tongue in cheek, I coined this maxim--Never trust a person with an entirely clean desk. Why? Because that person is not really getting any work done.

Okay, I've indulged in true confessions. So now it is your turn. Is your desk neat or messy--or somewhere in between?


Author Kay Kendall is passionate about historical mysteries.  She lives in Texas with her Canadian husband, three house rabbits, and spaniel Wills. Visit Kay at her website   or on Facebook 


  1. Hah! Like you, Kay, I'm absolutely brilliant, based on my work space.

  2. Hi, Linda. That is a fun factoid and it makes me feel better. ��

  3. I am a collector and clutterer. A friend said it's normal for teachers, and I would sometimes leave big notes atop stacks of papers "Don't try to clean this table this time." When I worked at Prudential as a secretary, the manager's systems of piles of paper could NOT be disturbed. The cleaning staff were not to touch it, and his assistant manager showed me the system of moving papers to the floor, in order, dusting, then moving them back to their rightful places. A new manager's philosophy was "A messy desk is the sign of a messy mind." Then I saw a sign that added, "Then what is an empty desk the sign of?" ;-)

  4. Dear Mary Garrett, boy can I relate to what you've written!I too am a collector. Although I manage to throw things out, I just keep right on collecting MORE. I shall treasure your concluding sentence!