You may have read or at least heard of Virginia Woolf ‘s 1929 extended essay, A Room of One’s Own, which examines as a whole the status of fiction written by women. Perhaps what we most remember is her call to “Give her”–the woman writer–“a room of her own […], let her speak her mind […], and she will write a better book one of these days.”
Almost a century after its initial publication, the essay’s title alone is enough to encourage all of us writers–men, women, children, adults, novices, and experts–to claim our rightful place in the literary world. Let’s start by thinking more about the idea of a “room of one’s own,” a physical space, or at the very least, a state of mind reserved only for writing.
What can you do to create and keep a space separate from the other aspects of your life, at the same time that you value and protect your writing time? Here are five strategies to get you started:
#1 – Separate yourself from distractions
The first thing you have to do is think about what kind of space will help you get in the Zone. From what I’ve observed, everyone gets distracted by different things. So we have to become aware of specific distractions and create the environment that helps us concentrate.
For example, I am able to work just fine, swimmingly in fact, with music, urban noise, or nature sounds in the background. I am NOT able to work easily when I can hear voices nearby. At the same time, I have to be able to look through a window and see trees, buildings, sunshine, cars, people walking. Ideally, the window opens and a breeze moves over me.
But dead silence? Or a room without a view? Pfft. Horrible distractions, because they feel to me like I’m being buried alive in a wooden coffin.
What about you? Do you concentrate best behind closed doors in dead silence? Or maybe you like to write near a busy intersection where traffic and bustle fade into white noise.
#2 – Adjust the settings to your liking
Over the years, I’ve worked in many a work space that could double as a torture chamber … and not because of the tasks I performed. For hours, I’ve sat under fluorescent lights, feeling them sucking out my brain juice. I’ve huddled in overly air-conditioned libraries, watching the skin under my fingernails turn blue.
And the list goes on. After years of working in environments that hindered my productivity, I’ve learned a thing or two about the kind of physical comfort I need to do my best work and want to help others do the same:
- Opt for natural lighting or a lamp with a soft white LED bulb. Get away from fluorescent lighting and protect your brain juice.
- Create the soundscape that helps you get in the Zone. Soft jazz in the background? A window open to chirping birds? Dead silence, disturbed only by taps and clicks on your keys? Experiment with different soundscapes until you find the one that works best.
- Set the thermostat to a comfy temperature when indoors. Keep your mind on your novel’s next plot move instead of your chattering teeth or the sweat dripping onto your keyboard.
- While you’re at it, invest in a comfy chair. What sort of seating will energize your spine, rather than leave you stiff and in pain?
#3 – Organize your writing equipment
Every now and then I come across articles about “how being a slob means you’re more creative,” or some such nonsense. Cue the dramatic sigh and eye roll. I don’t believe any version of the claim, “Oh, you have a bad habit? It’s because you’re secretly awesome.” What gets us the furthest is combining innate creativity with a disciplined approach to our endeavors.
I will say that creativity can be a messy, non-linear process. But we don’t need to invite more chaos into lives by letting our writing environments get out of hand. Maybe you’re like me and you find yourself creating a mess during your writing session. Not to worry. Stacks of books and piles of scribbly notepaper lying about haphazardly can help us generate ideas and make connections between even the most disparate ones. When your session is over, though, straighten up, so that you don’t lose things or confuse yourself. Despite the trending “messy is the new avant-garde” theory, you will probably find that starting a new session in a tidy space renews your creativity and focus.
What organization tactics can you try this week? Can you invest in a small shelf for books and supplies? Can you designate a drawer for keeping loose pieces of paper?
#4 – Personalize the space
In addition to being free of distractions, clutter, and physical discomfort, your writing space should reflect who you are and, I think, say a little something about your journey as a writer. The more you lay claim to a space and imbue it with your personality, the more you’ll enjoy being there for the time it takes to write a novel.
How can your space say something about you as a writer? Fill a shelf with your favorite books or magazines, hang literary-themed artwork, or any artwork for that matter, paint the walls your favorite color, and display artifacts of your writing success, like a letter from a journal accepting one of your poems.
#5 – Share your space
Once you’ve created a writing space, the final step to making it kick-A$$ is to offer it as a resource for others from time to time. This act of generosity will create new possibilities and give your space good vibes.
Is one of your projects ready for feedback? Invite your writing buddies over for a peer review session. Does your out-of-town guest need to make some important calls? Usher him/her to your desk.
What if your options are limited?
Maybe you just converted your home office into a baby room. Or maybe the thought of writing at home, where you also eat and sleep, sickens you, and you need to get the heck outta there. If creating a kick-ass writing space in your living quarters just isn’t an option, become a mobile writer. The most obvious way to do that is to pack up your most essential writing gear (laptop, pen, paper) and hunker down at a library, coffee shop, or park. As Whitney suggests, taking yourself on a writing lunch can be exactly the change of scenery you need to generate new ideas.
But before you leave home, prepare to optimize your public writing digs as much as you can:
- Dress in layers. The temperature away from home may be chillier or balmier than you prefer.
- Invest in a good set of earbuds and take your Zone-inducing soundscape with you. That way you can block out obnoxious noises, from death metal background music to a nearby conversation about the latest lunacy in D.C.
- Bring your wallet and be a good patron of the establishment hosting your mobile writing session.
What sort of writing space do you work best in? Share your ideas in the comments!