I had a brief discussion with a fellow writer recently and during the course of our grumbling he revealed that he loves to write on trains. He went on to tell me how he often catches the slow train from Dublin to Belfast and writes for the entire journey plus the return.
This brought me to thinking about workspace and how it might affect out writing. I wondered if any other writers had favourite places to write.
My own little office is an add-on to the side of my house that catches sun for much of the day and has ample wall space for post-it notes and a white board for scribbled ideas. I find it a creative space and have no complaints.
In a house with a hyperactive five year old and a noisy teenager, a closed door communicates that Daddy is working and so long as I remember to emerge regularly, they are good enough to respect the sanctity of my work office.
Workspace is important but a study of the domains of famous authors reveal a contrast in their chosen writing space that defies the definition of what is the ideal writing lair.
It’s no secret that J.K. Rowling used to write in cafés all over Edinburgh when she moved back from teaching in Portugal. The Elephant House and Nicholson’s are establishments Rowling frequented in her early writing career. She finished the last of the Harry Potter books in The Balmoral Hotel proving that success as a writer may define our choice of writing space.
Stephen King’s office isn’t where I picture the horrors of Carrie and The Shining to be created. King is pictured here in his writing space. A cluttered desk, a typewriter, a notebook, and his dog, Marlowe. This is where Stephen King creates.
Roald Dahl wrote in a detached shed for four hours a day (two in the morning, two in the afternoon). He shut himself away in his favourite space to write, with only that which inspired him for company (pictures of his family and fan letters tacked to the walls, a vial of pencil shavings on the coffee table, etc.). Dahl is known to have favoured writing in pencil over use of a typewriter or computer
George Bernard Shaw inhabited Perhaps one of the most understated of workspaces. Shaw wrote with very little other than a desk and a typewriter. Simplicity allowed Shaw a hideaway, which is really all he asked for in order to write. Shaw was well known to value privacy while he worked.
Ideas on Creating an ideal writing space
Whether you have a large home and you have a separate room to write in with a door, or you’ve set up your computer in a nook underneath the stairs just off the kitchen, these tips for setting up a writing space at home will make your space more enticing.
Is your chair comfortable? Do you have fresh air flowing around your desk? Is the lighting strong enough, or is it too bright? Can you position your writing space in such a way that you can use natural light for most of the day? Having a healthy, fresh workspace will keep your energy levels up and encourage you to write more frequently and with greater enthusiasm.
Working under natural daylight is better than working under bright office lights. Make sure that you also have good lighting for when you are working in the evening or on dark, gray winter days.
Keep It Clean
Finding a calm, inviting, and inspiring workspace doesn’t mean that you have to have a fancy desk or a pretty view of the ocean. Your writing space doesn’t need to be big, just big enough to hold your favorite writing tools, books, and mementos. If you have a small space, especially a small space in your home, guard it carefully. Keep non-writing clutter at bay. Don’t let your workspace become a catch-all dumping ground for things that don't serve your writing practice.
Even if your writing space is a table pushed up against a wall, or tucked into a corner, keeping it clean and tidy will make the space feel less cramped and more spacious.
Choose a place to write that helps you to stay focused on your work for reasonable amounts of time. Keep non-work gadgets at a safe distance away from your writing space. TVs, video games and other electronic appliances including vacuums, dishwashers, and washing machines, can distract you from your writing projects. Soon that pile of laundry you stopped to do will divert you to the dishwasher that needs to be loaded, and then “Oh, the floor needs sweeping!” Before you know it, your house is clean, but you've fallen behind on your writing project deadline.
A woman must have money and room of her own if she is to write fiction.
— Virginia Woolf
This is your home office and you don't have to ask your boss for permission to modify your workstation: you are the boss! Here are some things that you can do in your home office that you probably can't do at work:
- Choose your paint colors. No more boring corporate beige! Paint the wall above your desk a color that makes you feel creative and full of positive energy.
- Create your own playlist and crank it up to whatever volume you like! Do some of your favorite songs contain NSFW lyrics? No problem! If you like to listen to music when you you write then set up a good quality sounds system whether it's just your iPhone with earbuds or a surround sound system hooked up to your desktop computer.
- Sitting for too long is now recognized by many health professionals as a serious concern. Unfortunately, not all office managers and bosses agree and many people who work outside of the home have to sit all day. But when you work from home, you get to decide how long you sit and stand each day. You could consider designing a writing space that has multiple surfaces of varying heights and then move your laptop or keyboard to sitting and standing heights throughout the day.
- Use feng shui or an interior designer if it helps you to choose the best place to position your desk. Position your desk so you are facing or can see the door and anyone who enters your room. There is nothing worse that being caught up in your writing, head down, eyes glued to your screen and having someone walk up behind you and scare the living daylights out of you.
If you are lucky enough to have your own writing space, or if you have a favourite place to write, we would love to hear about it in the comments.