Image: Matthew Loffhagen
Challenges to a consistent writing practice abound. There’s not enough time, you’ve hit writer’s block, your to-do list keeps getting filled with last-minute items; the list goes on and on. One of the most common challenges writers face is not having a dedicated writing space. Trying to fit writing in whenever you can, wherever you can isn’t the ideal arrangement for most writers. There’s something about routine that fuels consistent and productive writing, and having one or several set spaces in which to work is a central key to maintaining a thriving practice.
That being the case, how can you find the right writing space for you and ensure it remains a productive space? Well, I’m glad you asked…
Defining a ‘dedicated writing space’
What is a dedicated writing space? It’s not just the place you write, but a place you set aside for consistent, productive work. Writing on the train to work, or at the desk where you do your finances and plan the week’s meals, is a great way to fit writing in, but unless those spaces further a feeling of dedication and creativity, they’re not dedicated writing spaces, just spaces that allow writing.
In a less literal sense, a dedicated writing space is a strange, magical area in which you feel particularly able to commune with your muse. Maybe it’s something about the space, the smell, the view, the ambiance, but it lets you write.A dedicated writing space is somewhere your muse knows how to find you. Click To Tweet
For some authors, this might just be a clean desk, but others find their space in odder surrounding. Author Roald Dahl (who created Matilda and The BFG) famously wrote in a shed at the bottom of his garden, barring anyone from entering. It may sound strange, but much of the effectiveness of a writing space tends to be in imbuing it with deliberate purpose. Entering that space becomes part of a ritual that prepares your brain for creative work – a bit of Pavlovian conditioning to get you working faster and better. A dedicated writing space can unlock a dedicated writing headspace, and for many authors, that can be incredibly valuable.
The minute I walk into this room of my own, I swear I become a different person. The wife, the mother, the granny, the cook, the cleaner – all vanish. For two or three hours only the writer is left.
– Margaret Forster, ‘Writer’s rooms: Margaret Forster’, The Guardian
For you, this might mean finding a place in your house where you don’t usually work. It might mean driving to the coffee shop and setting up your stuff. Vitally, it might even mean approaching a familiar space in a new way – even reconfiguring your desk for its ‘writing setting’ can help create the right mindset.
Finding this space is a matter of will and experimentation. If you don’t know where your most productive writing time takes place, try out different spaces during the regular routine of your week. Finding this space is about creating a practice that fits successfully into your daily life. Wallace Stevens, author of ‘Anecdote of the Jar’ and ‘Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird’, composed poetry while walking to work, while John le Carré (author of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy) wrote on the train. Experiment with several different places and decide on one that seems like the best fit.
This space should be a place that’s relatively easy to get to, that’s free from distractions, and that encourages your creative energy. Beyond that, the criteria are completely up to you!
Tips for creating a productive space
So you found the right space to claim as your own. Now what?
- Remove all distractions. This is the most important key to your productivity. Don’t let distractions stifle your momentum and derail your focus. You can even use software to block off certain sites or internet access – this way, time of day can become a huge factor in using your writing space. Your desk at midday, with social media blocked and a distraction-reducing piece of writing software on the screen, can be very different to your desk in the evening.
- Now fill this space with items, quotes, photographs – anything that inspires you and fuels your creativity. Or do the opposite and remove everything that isn’t about writing. Pile files at the opposite side of the room, if you have to. Maya Angelou, author of I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, is said to strip hotel rooms of all decoration and bring in the bare essential of writing. If the space feels different, it’ll be different.
- Get comfortable. Make sure the furniture is conducive to writing. A cushy chair might sound nice, but if it makes you want a nap after ten minutes, you won’t be getting much done.
- Guard it with your life. It’s easy to let distractions, clutter, and other roadblocks to writing creep into this space. Periodically check in with yourself and ensure this is still a productive space. When it stops working for you, switch it up. Revamp that space. Just be intentional about keeping this space right for your writing. If you think they’ll be supportive, try to explain to your partner how you view this space, and recruit them to either keeping it productive, or else making it as easy as possible to modify when you need it.
Those are the tips that work for everyone, but there are a few more suggestions that might work for you. Many writers swear by plant life in their writing space, with some saying it helps to be oxygenated, and others citing being surrounded by life as a way to captivate the muse. Others suggest that color can influence mindset, and that having green around you when you work will make you more creative. You might find another color works for you, but it’s something to consider when decorating.
Surrounding yourself with plants and eyes might just create the ideal writing space.Click To Tweet
Finally, and this is a weird one, there’s evidence to suggest that images of eyes subconsciously influence us to behave ‘better’ and more honestly. I’m not saying you should cut thousands of peepers out of the newspaper and stick them on the wall, but an image of a face hanging nearby might just be the cue to upping your word count and sticking to your goals (if you were going to hang a quote anyway, consider including an image of the originator).
Finding your writing space
Creating a dedicated writing space is a very personal and individual process. It will, of course, look different for every writer. So find a space that works for you, that spurs you on to a more consistent and productive writing practice. I hope you’ll take the time to create your own space and reap the rewards.
What other tips can you offer fellow writers about creating an inspiring writing space? Do you have a story about an unlikely writing space? Tell me about it in the comments. Or, for more great advice on this topic, check out There Are Wolves In You! Now, How Can They Help You Write? and How To Carve Out Time For Writing Without Losing Sleep.