How to Create a Practical Writing Environment
Let’s be honest, the definition of a good writing environment differs according to the writer. Some people, like J.K. Rowling (apparently), can knock off a best-seller in a coffee shop. Others need more peace and quiet. There are certain elements, however, that are conducive to writing no matter what your preference. We’re going to take a look at some of the elements that appear to be the most consistent.
1) A dedicated workspace
This could be a nook in a coffee shop, or your kitchen table, or a small office in your house. The important thing is that you own it completely for the time that you’re going to be working. So, if you do have to use the kitchen table, make sure that it has everything you need and isn’t cluttered with miscellaneous items, like the salt shaker and sugar bowl.
2) A handy toolbox
We’re not talking about a literal toolbox; we just mean that you should have everything you need near at hand. Of course, if you work on a park bench or in a coffee shop then you will need a big bag or brief case that contains everything in your writing life. Your tools should include a proper dictionary; not a concise dictionary, learner’s dictionary, or any other dictionary that can be considered incomplete or abridged. A good dictionary is expensive but indispensible. On a similar vein, you need a good thesaurus. You might also like to keep a grammar book on your desk for quick reference.
You’ll need notebooks and pens so you can jot down thoughts and ideas, and you need a system to give your ideas a sense of order. Gaelen Foley says that she uses a concertina (accordion) file so that she can dedicate each slot to a key element of her book; for example, premise, plot, main characters, secondary characters, settings, and questions, etc. She also uses whiteboards to keep track of the story’s progression. Plotting your work like this also helps you spot holes and repetitions that might otherwise have gone unnoticed.
3) Stimulation – not distraction
There are going to be times when your attention will wander or when you need to lift your gaze from your screen to ponder a problem. You need something that will help you think but that won’t distract you from your work. A flickering TV in the background is probably a no-no. Instead, you can do as Anne Lyken-Garner recommends and hang relaxing or inspiring pictures on the wall. Windows are also great, provided they don’t look out over a busy street that is traffic collision central. Nothing is quite as distracting as a regular conglomeration of sirens and ambulances and police cars.
Other idea stimulators could include sound and smell. Sound doesn’t have to be music (classical, rock, teenage pop). It could be a CD of bird song, waves, or even white noise. Smell could be coffee (which is also a stimulant of a different kind), the ocean breeze, incense, or scented candles.
4) High comfort levels
The easiest way to control your comfort is to wear comfortable clothes. You can wear your pyjamas if you want to. Just try to avoid anything that is going to cut off your circulation or bunch or creep up.
You also want to sit comfortably. You may not have ergonomic desks and chairs, but you can still arrange your workspace so that you sit straight and your monitor and keyboard are at the correct height.
Remember that no matter how well you sit, you still need to get up at least once an hour (once every two hours at the longest) and walk around to get your blood flowing (a walk to the loo counts). Have a good stretch while you’re at it to release any muscle tension.
Your choice of lighting is not only important for the sake of your eyes, but also for concentration and mood. Some writers prefer to work by soft light, but that can make other writers drowsy. Light that is too bright can put just as much strain on your eyes as light that isn’t bright enough. Don’t forget to consider things like the time of day and the position of any windows, which will also affect light levels and screen glare. You may have to experiment with different setups until you find your winning combination.
You can control your environment no matter where you write. Take your phone off the hook if you write from home, and switch off your mobile phone if your write somewhere public. Use earplugs if you write where you can’t control the noise levels. Keep your space as uncluttered as possible. Don’t tempt yourself by opening your web browser. Don’t have a drawer full of tasty snacks if you know that they will keep calling your name.
Remember, the working environment that works for your favourite author might not work for you, and the environment that works for you might not work for any other writer in your weekly writers’ group. The only thing that matters is that it you find your space practical and inspirational.
Written by Sandy Cosser
Image credit: Adam Harvey (L Gnome), CC BY 2.0, via Flickr