A Peek at the Creative Space of Melanie Conklin

melanie_conklinJoining us today for Creative Spaces is author Melanie Conklin, author of Counting Thyme (Penguin, April 2016). Melanie lives in New Jersey with her family and previously worked as a product designer. Counting Thyme is her debut novel and has been described as Rules meets Counting by 7s. It tells the story of a girl named Thyme whose younger brother is accepted in to a new cancer drug trial, which means her family will have to relocate thousands of miles away from everything she knows. To learn more about Melanie and Counting Thymevisit her website, or follow her on Twitter or Tumblr.

Now let’s take a peek inside her creative space and hear about how Melanie works . . .

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Describe your workspace.

My office does not have a door, but it is filled with windows. The carpet is strewn with Legos from my children, while my childhood silhouette hangs on the wall. The window frames over my desk are filled with sketches, notes, and post-its—I like being surrounded by ideas while I work. My desk is a rescue from an estate sale in North Carolina with a generous wooden worktop and a drawer that sticks. Don’t mind the back left leg, which is still held together with packing tape fifteen years later!


Describe a typical workday.

Now that my book is out in the world, my workday has changed a lot. In fact, it’s taken some work to figure out HOW to work now, with so many distractions and varied responsibilities. What I’ve settled on is a pattern of purpose. Each day has a purpose, and I do my best not to stray far from it. Some days are for email and marketing and keeping up with the goings on of Counting Thyme. Other days are for writing, with absolutely no interruptions from email or social media. Most days start with a glass of orange juice and a glance at my bullet list, which keeps me on track.

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List three of your most favorite things in your workspace and why they are meaningful.

1. The windows. I love looking out on the world, feeling the energy of passersby and watching the sway of the trees.

2. My headphones, which cancel out the noise of life or provide a background track, depending on what I need.

3. My accomplishment jar, where I store scraps of paper with good things written on them—a collection of moments to look back on in the future when I need a boost.

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Do you have any rituals in your work habits? If so, describe them.

My rituals seem to vary with every project that I write. Some require quiet, others need the same song on repeat until I’ve used it up. I almost always have my headphones on either way. I work with selfish single-mindedness when my children are at school or camp. The laundry and the dishes can wait. Once I’ve gotten something done, be it an admin day or a solid writing session, I’m energized for the rest of my day, which I generally spend with my kids.
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What do you listen to while you work?

I’d say that I listen to silence more than anything, but when I do want music, it’s generally a single track or artist that I play on repeat. Usually the selections are suitably embarrassing, like a Duran Duran track or Sia’s latest hit.

What is your drink and/or snack of choice while you’re working?

I always have a glass of water within reach, but I don’t eat while I write, which means I skip lunch most days, but the hunger hits me the moment I stop.

What keeps you focused while you’re working?

Focus is a moving target. I try very hard to give myself the freedom to do what I need to do on any given day. Right now I’m listening to Natalie Imbruglia for some reason. Other days, I escape to my public library or my local Barnes & Noble cafe. The hardest part of writing is accepting that there is no fixed formula, and that your writing process will continue to evolve.
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Do you write longhand, on a computer, or another way?

I keep a project notebook for every book—a small notebook that I fill with notes and sketches. My creativity has free reign on these pages. I scratch things out. I write them again. I tear pages into tiny bits and flush them down the sink. When I’m ready to draft, I write directly on a Word document, but for revision I print the pages and work on paper again.

How do you develop your story ideas? Do you use an outline, let the muse lead you, or another technique?

My project notebooks play a key role in developing stories. I need that space to think freely, to mess up and fumble around as I try to find some answers. I love story craft, so my focus is usually on a character’s goals, wounds, and wants. I write according to an outcome rather than an outline. I establish the emotional arc first, and the rest of the project builds upon that scaffold.

If you were forced to share your workspace but could share it with anyone of your choosing, who would it be?

I share my workspace with my children every day. Stepping on Legos sucks, but being surrounded by their boundless creativity is a gift.

What is the best piece of writing advice you’ve heard or received?

The best piece of writing advice I’ve ever read is not actually writing advice, but a poem I first encountered in seventh grade that has stuck with me over the years. So much of creativity is about tolerating defeat that I think it applies.

Defeat may serve as well as victory
To shake the soul and let the glory out.
When the great oak is straining in the wind,
The boughs drink in new beauty, and the trunk
Sends down a deeper root on the windward side.
Only the soul that knows the mighty grief
Can know the mighty rapture. Sorrows come
To stretch out spaces in the heart for joy.”