In Stephen King’s book On Writing, he shares a photo of himself in his early years sitting in his laundry room writing. That was his workspace. We all need a workspace to write.
There are, however, a few tips about finding or creating your place that are important to consider. Here are a few of my best tips for finding or creating the space, and how to set it up.
The Space Itself
King’s photo demonstrates that the space need not be fancy, big, beautiful, or even have a fantastic view. No. Writers need a space with one very simple requirement — psychic privacy. You can’t be interrupted and expect to write well. The psyche needs to know that it is protected and safe for creative words to come out.
Now, this space can be achieved in any number of ways. King’s was simple — go to a place in the house no one else will go — the laundry room. It could just as easily be any room in the house, although a door to the room is usually helpful. It’s not that you need to lock it; it’s just that a closed door tells others in the house that there is work going on and interruptions will not be appreciated. Or, as a friend of mine used to say, you can hang a sign on the door: “Unless it’s puke, blood, or fire, do not interrupt!”
I have found, however, that there are other ways to create a space. One of the best is a separate building from the home. Robert Bly had such a space in nearly all of the homes he occupied throughout his life. Even in a neighborhood in Minneapolis in his later years, he had a one-room log cabin built in his backyard as a place to write. In Moose Lake, Minnesota, it was a separate cabin near the water. Neither were livable — they were just spaces. I, myself, now have a writing cabin near Cable, Wisconsin. It is small — about 500 square feet — but it is perfect for creating that safe psychic space that all writers need.
Another option for writers is with a crowd. That sounds odd, but in the right kind of coffee shop, for example, the ambient noise provides a psychic cover for what people are saying, and your anonymity leads people to leave you alone. I have often found myself very productive in coffee shops, and in fact, I wrote my book Call to Liberty almost exclusively in a coffee shop. There can be disturbances, to be sure. If the music bothers you, it won’t be a great space. Some coffee shops have the annoying habit of interrupting the music every so often with advertisements. It comes into you as if someone were standing over you and speaking right into your brain. Once I discover this about a coffee shop, I never return for writing.
An additional challenge for any public setting occurs when it becomes too familiar and you are no longer anonymous. People say hello to you, stop by to chat, or mention your name to someone nearby — all interruptions that break the psychic space. Those breaks kill your process. If a space can’t give you the cocoon you need, then finding another space is your best next move.
Organized writing times are another great way to produce this space. There are two good methods for this. One is just an organized writing group in a space and place designed to write. I used to organize these sessions at a venue I owned a few years ago. I set up dedicated writing time in an environment created to avoid interruptions and optimize writing. That is, the goal was to protect that creative psychic space we need to write. People came there to work on their own writing. We timed the writing with an alarm clock so we could take an organized break and talk with each other. This helped remove the temptation to talk separately, which would produce interruptions for other people. If you don’t have a private space like I did, many groups orient around writing together in rooms available at coffee shops or restaurants.
The second version is a creative writing class in which instructors provide prompts and exercises. Like in the first method, the writing time becomes a similar kind of protected space. Everyone is writing so there are no interruptions, and folks who are struggling to release their creativity often find these classes especially helpful. The problem, of course, is that this space usually only convenes once a week for a few hours, so it isn’t a great answer for one with bigger writing ambitions.
A Temptation You Must Avoid
Here’s a pro tip: Don’t set up your writing space in your office!
Do you know why? Most people’s offices are filled with notes, reminders, bills to pay, lists of to-do items, and so on. Every one of those slips and reminders is an interruption waiting to happen. They are distractions. Just a simple glance will interrupt your flow, change your thought pattern, and force you to start over. Creative writing does not belong in an office. It needs its own space. Give yourself that gift.
Setting Up the Space — Your Monitor
There are two things I want to recommend for your space that have made all the difference for me. First, I moved from my laptop screen to a large flat-screen monitor. They are only a few hundred dollars, and they enable me to sustain the work much longer. I plug the monitor into my laptop, which functions as my primary computer. I still always work on a laptop because that enables me to be mobile. I especially enjoy going between my writing shack and my partner’s home, and the laptop makes that super easy. But the large flat screen monitor is for my day-to-day work and helps improve my ergonomics and prevent strains and pains. Writing, Etheridge Knight used to say, is a physical thing. It is work. You need to treat your body correctly to sustain the work.
Setting Up the Space — Your Desk
The second improvement I made is very recent and it is awesome — a sit-stand desk! I cannot recommend this highly enough. Mine was only $359. This thing enables me to change positions when I am writing. You can raise or lower it to any height, and it has two memorized heights you can get to with the touch of a button. I change this at will throughout the day, and it has made a world of difference in my health. It has also expanded my endurance for writing throughout the day.
Pro Tip: If you decide to get this for yourself, set it up without the rolling casters. They add a couple of inches onto the legs and for me, that raised the lowest setting above my ideal ergonomics for sitting at the desk. I removed them to get a better position.
I also use a very reasonably priced standard desk for my journaling. A simple one from Amazon is less than $80, and it gives me a dedicated space for writing. I like it so much that I have one in each writing space, and one for my office desk. Simple, clean, and it works.
The Very Best Space
Ultimately, the best space is the one that works for you. I use these tips to optimize my writing space. I encourage you to try them if you are having trouble getting into your writing. Maybe they will help!
This post was previously published on ILLUMINATION-Curated.
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