We writers need our wild dreams and flights of fancy, our plunges into made-up worlds filled with people and places we’ve imagined into being. We also need a place where we can take those fantasies and turn them into stories to share with readers.
Reams of writing advice exist promising that the perfect writing conditions will produce the perfect story. I’m pretty sure that’s a bunch of hooey, and that there’s no such thing as “perfect writing conditions” — but I do believe that a writing environment that nurtures and delights us may nourish the creative process and foster productivity. Think of your writing space as a sort of incubator: a space designed to be personally inspiring has a good chance of luring us to our desk chair where we can release whatever story we happen to be working on.
Here’s what works for me. I hope some of it will resonate with you.
• Nature. For me, this is non-negotiable. My desk is positioned so that I can see trees, birds and squirrels. I also have a huge bunch of fabric sunflowers in one corner. Their exuberance is always a mood-lifter, even when my real garden is covered in snow. Add a Zen sand garden, a small desktop water fountain, or a plant to your writing space. Tending your plant and watching it grow can be a metaphor for the expanding word count in your latest manuscript.
• Stuff. Specifically, stuff that makes you happy. In my case, that translates to treasures and visuals that bring me comfort and connection: cards from friends, photos of loved ones, and interesting things picked up during travels that feed my sense of curiosity. Next to my keyboard is a small sundial in a steampunk-magical wooden box that I picked up on Portobello Road in London years ago, and a golden trinket dish with a lid shaped like a sleeping fox that was a gift from my sister-in-law. There’s a colorful wooden dragon flying above my desk. Many writers describe themselves as plotters, pansters, or something in-between, but I’m a nester. And in order for nesters to produce a golden egg, we need to be able to brood in solitude, and to settle into a safe and comforting space. (That said, I have a friend who writes successfully in a room that most monks would consider too austere. Whatever works for you, is what works for you.)
• Inspiration. This is also stuff, but specifically stuff that inspires you – quotes from writers you admire, images that stir your imagination, books that you’ve read a dozen times and will read again. The corkboard to the left of my screen has several quotes. One is by writer Terry Pratchett: “The first draft is just you telling yourself the story.” Are there words of wisdom or encouragement that infuse you with the desire to create something, and to send it out into the world? Print them on a lovely piece of paper in a beautiful font, and hang them where you can see them from your desk chair.
• A signal. It can be useful to have a physical act or sign that heralds the beginning and end of your writing time (think of Mr. Rogers slipping on his zippy cardigan when he arrived home in preparation for visiting the Neighborhood of Make-Believe). My job as a magazine editor means that I’m in front of my computer screen a lot. While there’s a creative component to that work, I still need to transition into book-writing mode. Years ago, my son gifted me with a beautiful porcelain bell, and I ceremoniously ring it before plunging into my novel-in-process, and then again when I’m through for the day. You don’t need a bell, of course – it can be a prayer, an invocation, or a short meditation — anything that helps to signify that creative work is commencing. Treat it as meaningful, and it will be meaningful.
• Privacy. It’s a gift to have a place to write that includes a door that can be shut. That’s especially true if you share a living space with other people, and if those other people are noisy, or, say, expect you to do things other than write (ridiculous things such as preparing food or doing laundry). A door is literally a portal — and you should be able to walk through yours into a space that’s all about your writing.
• Comfy chair. A supportive, comfortable desk chair goes without saying — but if your writing space has room for a second, cushiony chair or a small sofa, this can become the perfect spot to mull over plot points, daydream about new characters, or take a quick nap — without breaking the creative spell by leaving your writing room.
• Hydration. Deskside, I keep a glass carafe filled with water, and a beautiful glass to drink from. I found the intricately patterned crystal glass at a thrift store, and I feel like a powerful warrior writer when I sip from it. Get yourself a fancy glass, or an awesome mug. It’s hard to have a clear head when you’re dehydrated.
• One clear surface. This is where I can rest a tea tray in the afternoon. It keeps me from sitting in the kitchen and becoming distracted by all the chores I’m not doing while I’m working on my next book.
Remember: Your writing space doesn’t need to suit anyone but you. Fill it with things you love. If a team from one of those home renovation shows bursts in and tells you you’ve chosen the wrong colors and need to put all those personal things away, just show them your portal-door. And then close it. Firmly.