I’ve been doing a good deal of traveling this summer, bouncing around. Last week consisted of sweating down the length of California during a heatwave (ensnared in mind-numbing traffic) topped off with a sugar-fueled amusement park day with my son. Finding a good place to write was challenging between the various pit stops. Yet, while I didn’t accomplish nearly as much as I’d planned, I was relatively productive when I did write.
The experience got me to thinking about where I physically sit down to write, and how much the setting may influence my work.
There was something inspiring about discovering new places to bring my laptop during these travels, as well as returning to some past favorite haunts I hadn’t been to in a while. Stops included a coffee shop in a lovely atrium and an old library from my childhood that features a reading room with a fireplace (unlit). Of course, some of my environments were comprised of generic hotel room set-ups, but overall, I felt a good “writerly-vibe” at most of these places.
So what makes for an ideal location?
Could there be something about mixing things up that can add creative spark? Or, was my recent experience a fluke—and are more familiar, habitual settings preferable for a writer’s mind as they minimize distractions? On my dog walks back home, I often pass a residence with a little detached guest house that I daydream of making into my home office one day. It seems it would bring the best of both worlds, as technically I’d be getting out of the house, at least the “main” house, to write and yet it would be a wonderfully private space also—my own to shape.
At any rate, whether a writer prefers to remain a creature of habit at home or the wandering writer-type as I found myself recently, it’s all about creating the right workspace (or spaces, plural). What makes for an ideal space (office, coffee shop, library, park) is very different for each writer—and may even need to vary based on the kind of writing they are doing. So, below are just a few thoughts for further inspiration:
Environments have an impact on well-being, or lack thereof. Everything from the colors in a room, to background noise, can influence emotions. While writing is a unique kind of undertaking, there are some interesting findings about workplaces in general that might also impact a writer’s creative hub. Christian Jarrett, a psychologist turned writer, has an interesting article on “The Perfect Workspace (According to Science)” that explores some of these notions. He points to evidence that dimly lit spaces may help with generating ideas, while brighter ones work better for analytical thinking. While his piece is not specific to writing, it got me to thinking that I might want to try dimmer lights for shaping plot ideas and early drafts, and to look for brighter spaces to tackle editing.
Jarrett’s article also explores the potential benefits of a messy desk—and in truth, I was a bit relieved at the findings. While I love the look of a clean space, I’m often surrounded by stacks of research with scribbles of various ideas running throughout different journals. Jarrett points to findings from a study at the University of Minnesota in which participants at a messy desk came up with more imaginative uses for a ping pong ball than those at a neat one. Jarrett’s piece also includes comments from consultant Craig Knight, arguing against trends towards minimalist workspaces, in which Knight observes, “We don’t understand psychologically why putting someone in an impoverished space should work, when it doesn’t work for any other animal on the planet.”
Still, it is interesting how different creative minds can be. In a post on BuzzFeed.com from the site’s Executive Creative Director Summer Anne Burton, there’s a great round-up of assorted studios belonging to some seriously creative people, among them writers Mark Twain, Roald Dahl, Susan Sontag and E.B. White. Some of the spaces made me a bit itchy to look at, crammed in with too many trinkets. Others left me feeling lonely, imagining writing in such sparse settings. Yet the post reinforced to me that there was still something undeniably interesting about all of these special places.
Stephen King has suggested that a bland setting with minimal distractions works best (especially for new writers), and J.K. Rowling has a fondness for writing in a good café. So it seems that the workspace must indeed be a reflection of the writer’s own tastes and needs—and it got me to thinking I’d like to reevaluate the coffee shops I frequent, as well as my fairly uninspiring home set-up, to see what’s working and what’s not for my own writing zones.
Blogger Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen of TheAdventurousWriter.com offers insights from various freelance writers on what kinds of places work best for them. One featured copywriter, Nicole Amsler, suggests that if a writer covers different genres, it might be a good idea to alternate spaces for various projects. Says Amsler, “The change in venue tells my brain that it is time to write something different.”
Yet the greatest takeaway for me from Kienlen’s article was a comment she highlights from author Kathleen D. Pagana. “Write in the place where you feel like a writer,” Pagana says. Her words capture the essence of what I think I’ve been trying to find, the heartbeat I now believe I was honing in on throughout my stops this summer.
And while the perfect spot—or the best places to rotate based on the project—may still elude me, the pursuit has proved a worthwhile adventure. In the meantime, I hope my quest inspires others to find their own great hubs for creating…and I’ll keep daydreaming about what that little guest house could become on my next dog walk.2