Back to School Bargains

Written by Charli Mills

Charli Mills, a born buckaroo, makes literary art accessible at She writes about the veteran spouse experience and women forgotten to history.

August 26, 2014

Tips for WritersMonday Tips for Writers was on a roll with a series about how to use a storyboard. Here’s a recap of the series:

The last two topics are on hold. My goal was to share my experience with process and open doors for discussion. However, I’m in the thick of completing my revisions and my map is in use, thus it seems premature to say how well the map did or didn’t work. I’d like to reflect on the process afterwards.

The annual progression of projects which was so clear to me six months ago has become murky waters. I’m still progressing as planned (turning out one project a year to work on) but now I have project confusion. What started out as a flash fiction has turned into project and I didn’t mean for that to happen. The problem is that it’s not in my declared genre of commercial fiction. Am I shooting myself in the foot (with a pearl-handled Colt pistol like Wild Bill Hickok carried)? Or does it not matter? Commercial lit? Cli-fi? Westerns? Oh, my!

So in my uncertainty, I’m taking you all shopping today.

Seriously, this is a great time of year to shop as a writer. As a marketer, I understand how retailers economize their sale seasons. It’s a formula based on volume. The greater the potential volume, the greater the offered sales. It’s the banana formula. Ask any produce manager what their top-selling product is and most likely it will be bananas. Thus produce departments will keep the price low on this product because it is a consistent seller.

Then there are seasons. Retailers are at the height of the back-to-school season. That means they are going to attract shoppers by offering sale prices on items typically purchased by students. Often these are items writers use. Here are a few examples of items handy for the writing life:

  • Notebooks. If you journal, research, outline or draft by hand, you can never own too many notebooks. Right now, you can get four to five simple notebooks for a buck.
  • Highlighters. Oh, how I love thee, with ink so glowing yellow! I read with a highlighter when I’m researching or studying a master’s work. Four-pen packets of Sharpies are two bucks right now. Be still my beating heart.
  • Pens & Pencils. Somehow I seem to think every room in my house must have a cache of pens and at least a few pencils. Red pens are for editing, blue pens are for original copies and why I have black I cannot say. So cheap right now a kid can buy a year’s supply.

If you have a home office, now might be the time to stock up on ink toner, folders and file boxes. If you are looking to make a big purchase, now is a good time to find a deep discount. Here’s some big purchase ideas:

  • Office Chair. That’s what I bought today at Staples in Sandpoint. My old chair sunk and no longer rises to the occasion so I’ve had some awkward writing, sitting like a little kid at a big desk. I’ve been shopping prices and today was day-two of a two day sale. I also found a coupon online that was also applied and I bought a $200 chair for $50. I’m sitting in it now and am quite happy with my purchase.
  • Desk Top Hard Drive. I back up everything–early drafts, recent drafts, photos and files to my hard drive. It’s much bigger than a jump drive and I keep it in a fireproof safety-box. For extra measure, I back up my novel projects to Drop Box, too. I like having the hard drive and its storage capacity. These were deeply discounted today.
  • Computer, Laptop, Printer. I’m not looking forward to the day that I need to replace my laptop, but I seriously need a desk top. Between now and the Christmas shopping season these big ticket items will continue to be discounted. Unless you have specific preferences, look for close-out deals or ask for showroom models. My laptop was a showroom model and it cost me half the normal price.

So there you have it–back to school is big savings for writers! Have you made a bargain buy for your writing?

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  1. Annecdotist

    I totally understand the thrill of the stationery cupboard, but I’m surprised a country girl like you wants to take us shopping! I actually don’t use much stationery because I do so much writing by voice, but I do like Day-glo highlighter pens and mechanical pencils. I hope your new chair is good for you. I’m doing a lot more standing at the computer these days but haven’t got as far as investigating a standing desk. But a new computer is always traumatic, I find, as it usually requires navigating your way around a new operating system.
    You’re obviously warming up for the anthology of school-based flash fiction tomorrow. Look forward to reading.

    • Charli Mills

      Typically shopping in not my thing, but I did get a rush out of being in an office supply store yesterday! And, I’ve not used a single notebook since moving to Idaho. The privilege of getting to write everyday, I go straight to the computer. Although I use tons of sticky notes! Not looking forward to a new operating system and for now my laptop is hanging in there. Yes, you noticed the back to school theme! ;-D

  2. Jeanne

    Enjoyed stopping by the ranch today Charli (it’s been a while!) and really appreciated a repeat of your storyboard process…one of my favorite Carrot Ranch posts. I also resonated with your genre predicament. Since winding up my client’s memoir (to be published by Martin Sisters early next year-yay!) I have been playing with different fiction genres, in particular science fiction (including a short cli fi story). Now I am submerged in a study of the broad category of sci fi/fantasy and am veering towards an idea I have for a steampunk story. I have found myself in this wilderness before, not knowing which path to take, and have an unfinished “women’s fiction” novel and a half baked memoir sitting in a file. But cannot get geared up enough to finish either. I WANT SOMETHING NEW! Something through which I can indulge certain themes I have been deeply interested in for years. So, as for your projects, I hope you just run with Bill and Sarah here. What sweet fortune to have a series of flash fiction stories turn into a book project. In fact, you have inspired me to consider starting my flash fiction book that way, just little snippets to see where it may take me with characterization, for starters, and scene…Looking forward to seeing where it takes you. As for shopping, printer ink, folders and yes notebooks are on my list!

    • Charli Mills

      Hi Jeanne! Good to hear from you. And congratulations on completing your client project (and pending publication). That is exciting news! So many paths and we just want to travel more than one, don’t we? I have to say I was surprised to have a project grow out of the flash fiction prompts, but it has been a great way to explore the idea and it grabbed my attention! In reflection, I’d say that flash prompts can be a way to explore and draw out ideas. I’m loving the story that Geoff Le Pard is following in his writing, too. It doesn’t always mean a novel project–it would be interesting to explore short story contests of some of those ideas we have that we aren’t sure if they are a complete “something.” 🙂 I love that you are feeling invigorated to take on something new. How exciting! Definitely new notebook time!

  3. Jeanne

    Oops, I meant starting my “steampunk” novel not flash fiction book–ha! What any oxymoron that is 🙂

    • Charli Mills

      A steampunk novel jump-started by flash! 😀

  4. Irene Waters 19 Writer Memoirist

    Go where your heart leads you to go. You have the passion for Sarah and Cob. Easier to write with passion than something that you feel you should write. It’ll always be there when you are finished with your duo.

    • Charli Mills

      Thanks, Irene! That’s good advice!

  5. Lisa Reiter

    I’m late landing here – as I’ve been all at sea! – but it seems that synchronicity is playing its part again. A number of us are making some similar explorations and in the process of refining our direction of travel. Those of us who love novelty start up all sorts of stuff only to find we have to make some tough decisions about which to progress and continue and which to let go or stick on the back burner for a while. I guess that’s why I went back to basics with some self-clarification of what it’s all about and nearly some actual goals! On top of that – I really have cleared my decks, gone through every notebook seeing where I got to, collecting, filing etc. The physical act alone helped me see what I was preferring – where my energy was.

    But sounds like your trip to the stationary store was what Julia Cameron would call an ‘Artist’s Date’ and might in the long run lay some foundations for something. I don’t know what. Bargains there may have been but may be something else too?

    Much like the advice others have been offering me, and Irene here as well, I would say: do what you want and need and follow your heart rather than some abstract obligations. Use your creativity for the things you do best. In the long run I suspect that’s writing not running projects 🙂

    Lisa xx

  6. Charli Mills

    Sometimes we have to clear out the clutter. And sometimes we need to figure out how to be more efficient with our myriad of tasks. But it’s through the act of doing that we define feeds us (yes, like artist dates!) and what distracts us. Before I started the flash fiction I revised my website to reflect the literary journey I was taking. I had been a part of other groups geared more toward writing for marketing and I politely stepped out. When we close doors, others one more to our intentions open up. Yet other times we need to find ways to become more efficient. I’m still fine-tuning my own processes and trying to learn how to make it all work. But bottom line, I’m so happy to be writing what suits me best. I’m sure one day where we now stand will be clearer in hindsight and we’ll understand how it got us to where we want to go. Put your energy where your heart is!

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