If you’re a writer you already know that your writing environment figures heavily into your productivity. If where you work doesn’t matter to you and you can craft pieces that you’re proud of from any old place, then I sincerely applaud you - and I am jealous. I know someone who successfully writes while parked in her car with the radio blasting show tunes. She is currently writing under the influence of Hamilton, the play.
For me, I set up my writing space the way some people arrange their home for a special dinner date. I get a fire going if it is chilly outside. I light candles or Japanese incense. I play inspiring music. I meditate on my subject. I clean up my space, because clutter distracts me. I turn off idle diversions, like TV. I get into my comfy clothes and I seal myself in my writing space.
Sometimes, I take myself to a special ‘writing location’ that will eliminate everyday distractions. Recently, I spent four days on the Oregon Coast - where I took long, contemplative walks with my dogs and drank wine on a balcony overlooking the beach. I occasionally need to change up my environment more dramatically so that I can refresh my thoughts – and the ocean is like a Magic Eraser for my brain. I don’t have to think about the dishes in the sink. I need only think about my writing project. It’s a blessing when I can fit those getaways into my, otherwise busy, life.
Most writers have traditional jobs before, and often during, their budding writing careers take shape. Unlike Hemingway, most of us can’t just abandon everything in the name of ‘adventure’ so that our lives are rich with experiences about which we can write (although, I see my Millennial colleagues doing exactly that – and I applaud them). I write for a living, but I also work with my clients on a variety of tasks that go beyond writing, like project management and business intelligence.
Being a writer is a double-duty occupation. You need to have a firm grasp on your subject matter. That’s really your primary job. The second job is knowing how to write skillfully and credibly about the subject matter. Knowing my subject is why I have lots of books stacked up in my work space. I am always researching something. Of course, I also go online for information, but for topics I write about a lot, I tend to own books – especially if they will be used again as reference materials. My book ownership rule is if I have checked a book out from the library twice and I need to borrow it a third time, I just go ahead and buy it. Therefore, I own books on everything from a digest of chemical compounds found in beauty products to books on mobile app development. Otherwise, I keep it digital so my books can travel easily with me for those moments when I need them.
I think that owning certain books for a writer is like stocking certain paint colors for an artist. Also, as a painter, if you have a back stock of cerulean blue, you’re probably going to enjoy a “blue period.” And, as a writer, if you have a lot of books about dog breeding you’re probably going to be writing about dog breeding for a while. Writing what you know is a lot easier (and more profitable) than picking up a new topic every week.
My writing space is where I go to be inspired and work uninterrupted. If your writing space is situated in the middle of busy household activities, you’d better be someone who thrives on chaos, or who has mastered the skill of “checking out.” In general, I need quiet when I work. This is why I can’t work from a bustling coffee shop and I get most of my writing work done between 7 am and 3 pm - or after 10 pm when the house is quiet. I tried having an office for a while, when I lived in Boulder, Colorado. But living in Boulder was one big distraction for me (and my office had a great view of the Flatirons). The foothill trails were always beckoning – and it is sunny nearly every day there. Don't get me wrong. I love Boulder and I still have lots of friends there. But now that I am back in my hometown of Seattle, I get lots of gray or drizzly days that force me inside to work, and I get more writing done. Honestly, as a writer who is trying to earn a living, the fewer “fun” distractions there are, the better for me. Nowadays, when the sun comes out, I hop into my kayak and take a spin around the lake to recharge my brain.
I am grateful every day to be doing this work. I’ve invested in all the things that allow me to take my work on the road (laptop, a great backpack that accommodates my camera equipment and laptop, travel candles, corkscrew, plastic wine glasses, Bluetooth® speaker, yoga mat, flip flops). Likewise, my home work space is equally, but differently, inspiring. I am enchanted, not distracted, by the hummingbirds that visit the window in front of my desk. They remind me that even in a beautiful setting, hard work is rewarded – as they dutifully travel from flower to flower, seeking the nectar that allows them to thrive. Writing is my nectar and my writing space is the garden.