by One Lit Place coach & editor Ryan Orr.
Conventional writing advice tells us we should write every day. From Stephen King to Annie Lamott to your local writing workshop instructor, the idea is pretty much the same: park yourself in the chair, don’t think, treat writing like a job, and find a way to incorporate it into your life, so it becomes part of your life.
This is good advice. The process of forming a habit is crucial to a writer finding success. It’s the ultimate act of self-care, and surely the writers who are most successful have created a productive physical environment where they can do their best work.
(Anne Lamott on how to live a more creative life)
This advice that one should write every day is however mostly echoed by writers who have already achieved some level of literary or marital success such that they have the means or the support to be able to write full time.
What about the rest of us? How do we get the writing done while also working full-time (or more), caring for our aging parents, and making sure our kids have at least some clean clothes for the morning? Can we still be productive writers even if we can’t write every day?
In fact, for some, writing regularly but less often may turn out even better results since you’re not stressed about getting into the chair every day.
That said, with less time to write time, protecting the time you do have is critical. By ensuring your writing environment is comfortable, you will want to do the work and enjoy returning as often as you can.
This insurance of space-care as self-care maximizes your productivity, which is the best circle of goodness you can ask for. (And a writer who also has a job, a family, and life demands who continues to write needs as much self-care as they can get).
Ready for a Change of Space?
If you’re ready for a change of space, or if you’re trying to get a writing habit started and need the right environment to help you hit your stride, these 5 ways to tailor your writing space will help you better utilize your limited time and solidify the habit.
“Creating your workspace should be a fun endeavor.”
1. To desk or not to desk?
Do you prefer to write where you land, such as splayed on a bed like James Baldwin, at the kitchen table, or anywhere your family isn’t?
If you have a dedicated writing space, what vestiges cover the desk, so you feel at home? Computer and notebook, of course, but do you have books, plants, pictures of loved ones, or a wall of inspirational quotes or notes on your characters? Are you at a big sprawling table, or tucked into a nook? Is the space cluttered or tidy?
Your writing space will likely be a microcosm of your other environments, so let it be so. The more your space is comfortable and familiar, the more you’ll quickly find your focus when you sit down to write.
2. Concert or cacophony?
Have you ever noticed you can tune out music but not conversation? This seems to be at least one difference between those who can write in coffee shops and those who can’t. Understanding your sensitivity to, or enthusiasm for, sound can provide valuable insight into the best environment for you.
Do you write with music or in total silence? Do you wrap noise-canceling headphones around your ears to drown out your family’s incessant noise, or do you open the window to let in the birdsong or the cacophony from the street below? Modify your soundscape to find what works for you.
3. Sunlight, moonlight, er … blue light?
Like sound, the quality of light in your writing space can make a big difference in your ability to drop into your work. Personally, I try to always have my space near a window to get as much natural light as possible.
On the other hand, plenty of writers only have the hours after sunset available or prefer the soft yellow glow of a desk lamp or the bright blue burn of their computer screen.
If you prefer the dimness but must write in the morning, can you draw the curtains? Similarly, can you run a solar lamp if you have to write at night but crave sunshine?
4. What’s your cup of tea?
Most writers become very attached to having a certain beverage as they write. Coffee or tea are the obvious choice for many, especially for those who write in the morning. The warmth of a steaming cup, not to mention a jolt of caffeine, can do wonders to focus the mind.
For you, is it that smooth cup of green matcha after dinner that helps you refocus or the iced lemonade you bring out to your screened-in porch? Whatever your choice, don’t underestimate the power of a particular drink to bring depth to your ideal writing environment.
5. Pull up a chair or … don’t?
Sitting in a chair while writing works for most, but there are those (like yours truly) whose focus suffers after sitting down for too long. If this happens to you, do you have a standing desk (or arrange a series of books, boxes, and a toaster to get your keyboard to the right standing height), take turns lounging across a sofa or bed to shake up the blood attention, or do you walk like Emily St. John Mandel (author of Station Eleven) who “has a treadmill fashioned into a treadmill desk with a Crate & Barrel bar table and a crate and suitcase stacked beneath her laptop to bring the screen to eye level. Her keyboard and trackpad rest on abridged dictionaries.”
Props, Ms. Mandel. That’s taking MacGyvering to a whole new level.
Ultimately, determining what is too much or too little comfort is key to establishing an environment where you can find your writing flow.
Inspiration for revamping writing spaces to make them the most productive environment nowadays can be found everywhere, such as in Pinterest or Apartment Therapy who showcase perfectly curated (aspirational) writing desks, or these 9 desks of real working writers is a perfect example of how fellow writers have created a space that works for them.
The next time you sit down to work—even if it is a few days from now—ask yourself what’s working and what’s not in your writing space. Taking care of yourself and the time you do have is an investment in your writing you will be glad you made.
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