When I decided to seriously try my hand at fiction, I had been making my living for years as a freelance medical writer and editor and had an office fully stocked with goodies—fax machine, copy machine, a couple dozen dictionaries, a bookcase full of supplies, even a transcription machine.
Luckily—given the yearly earnings of a fiction writer just starting out—no such stockpile is needed to get started in fiction. In fact, if you already have a computer with Internet access and a telephone, you can outfit your office for less than $500. I did so myself, in fact, after Hurricane Katrina displaced me for a few months and I created a bare-bones office to keep working.
Here's what I recommend if space or finances limit you to the minimum:
•a light-business-duty multifunction machine that prints, copies, scans, and faxes ($100–$200). A multifunction machine doesn't need to cost much more than a printer, and they are often on sale at office supply stores.
•a telephone answering machine ($20–$30) or a voice-mail system. You don't want to miss any calls from editors while you're at the post office mailing submissions.
•a sturdy card table ($50–100). You can use it as a computer table, a desk, or a surface to put your printer and dictionary on.
•a hardcopy dictionary that comes with a CD-ROM for your computer ($75–$100).
•a thesaurus. My favorite is Rodale's The Synonym Finder, which retails in paperback for $17.
•a spiral-bound month-by-month calendar (<$15). All your contest and anthology deadlines and story deadlines can go in here and be in one place. You can also check off the days you write. Most such calendars have note space where you can log your business phone calls, submissions, or other information you need to keep a record of. •basic office supplies ($100–$150). For myself, this would include a black-ink Pilot Dr. Grip gel pen, pen refills, a box of #1 pencils, bright white printing paper, 8-1/2 x 11 pads, colored small paperclips, colored large paperclips, binder clips, file folders, tape, scissors, Post-Its, #10 business envelopes, stamps, and back-up ink cartridges. (Substitute your own favorites here.)
•a ledger (<$20). For tax purposes, you need to track your business expenses and earnings. Tossing receipts and check stubs into a grocery bag is not considered good accounting practice. •a back--up system (price ranges widely). Losing a story or book you put many hours into can be devastating. Back up your files at least once a day, and you'll never lose more than a day's work. Some cheap ways to back up are onto CDs, a Zip disk, or a flash drive.
And some extras that are really nice to have if you have the money and space:
•a desk, preferably big with drawers.
•an ergonomic chair so you can work comfortably for long hours.
•a high-speed Internet connection.
•a bookcase (various prices).
•a file cabinet.
•a hard-disk back-up and/or off-site storage (various prices).
Something I learned from my own experiences after Hurricane Katrina: Ask friends and relatives for castoffs from their own home office. Many people have office supplies they no longer want or need, perhaps even an old printer or desk sitting around, and are glad to get rid of them and free up some space.
Other places to get things cheap for your office are eBay; second-hand stores; garage sales and estate sales in upscale neighborhood; and stores that sell new but dented, scratched, or otherwise damaged merchandise at big discounts.
I'll be posting again at Novel Spaces on August 7. Find out then what a nonfiction writer needs to unlearn when expanding into fiction.