I am probably not the first person to write about how to decorate/design/organize a space in which to write the next great American novel. I know I’m not because I’ve likely read a dozen of those articles myself. Yet, I’ve been writing regularly and somewhat seriously for 14 years and I’ve only just landed on a writing space that felt like it would work for me. In fact, I sat down at my desk this week to work on a writing project, I looked around, and I took the picture above. It was the first time I had sat down at my desk and felt like I was being myself in a place that reflected who I am.
So, I tried to figure out what it was about my current set up that made it feel so conducive to writing, and from those inklings I offer you the following advice for setting up your own writing nook:
Consider Your Visual Field
For many of my other writing nooks, I planted myself facing a shelf of books because I thought if I could look at the spines of other people who managed to get their book published then I would believe it possible that someday I would publish too. But here was the problem: looking at a shelf of books didn’t inspire me, it intimidated me. When I saw the books I loved and admired I only found myself doubting whether my own writing would ever be good enough. Comparison is poison for writers, and I didn’t realize it, but that’s exactly what I was doing every time I looked up from the screen.
In my current space, I do still have few books in view, but these are for research and so I think about them differently when I see them.
You may have read in other places that looking out a window can lead to distractions–I did, which is why I’ve avoided it for years. Now that my writing nook faces a window I’ve discovered the opposite is true. When I look out the window I see a tree (which makes me happy), and the tree inspires a little daydreaming. It’s possible that daydreaming leads to creativity (given you’re doing the right kind of daydreaming) which in my case, is more helpful than triggering low-self esteem.
Advice: Be cognizant of what you look at while you’re writing, and mindful of how it affects your thoughts.
Consider What You Find Motivating
Since looking at bookshelves full of published books wasn’t inspiring for me, it probably wasn’t motivating for me either. I don’t know about you, but I need physical representations of good advice and encouragement because I’m still working on positive self-talk. Some writers have pinned their rejection letters to the walls as motivation, but for me, that was too rejection. I just took one sentence from the best rejection letter I’ve ever received. The editor had said overall the story was great but the ending was “too pat.” It was the kind of rejection that resonated because I knew it was true. Rather than displaying the whole letter, I took that one piece of advice and turned it into my desktop wallpaper, then revised it a little bit.
“Not too pat. Perfect is boring.”
When I see that phrase I remember the editor’s advice, then look out my window to daydream a more interesting ending to my stories. So far, I think it’s working because (humble brag) I just published a story with an ending that this editor specifically said he liked.
I also found the wall decor (propped on the left side of the photo above) and knew I needed it in my writing space because for me, writing is playing, and I’m a work-first-play-later kind of person. I need a physical reminder that it’s okay to play first. When I realized that in the bottom corner of the canvas it says “imperfect dust,” I was over the moon. It made me look at my Tinkerbell statue in a whole new way, too.
Advice: You know you’ll find something that motivates you when you feel positive, hopeful, and proactive about your writing.
Consider What Makes You Feel Safe
It wasn’t until recently that I discovered I feel very self-conscious when anyone happens upon me while I’m writing. It’s as if I not only need the privacy of a first draft but the privacy of working on a draft at all. I think this started to happen to me after people started asking, “What are you working on?” For me it led to feelings of expectation and guilt. I didn’t have the confidence to say, “Nothing,” if that were the case, and when I talk about works in progress, sometimes I lose perspective. Or, whoever I’m talking to will throw out what they think is a harmless suggestion but for me, it throws off my brainstorming. I need to feel like I’m writing in secret for the story to not be scared away. I think of my writing practice a little bit like the cat that hides under the bed when company comes over.
When I sit at my desk, I’m surrounded on three sides. The close quarters feel like a weighted blanket or like I’m hiding in closet the way Stephen King talks about writing first drafts in his memoir On Writing. And of course, I shut the door.
Advice: Utilizing methods for privacy while you are writing is as important as not sharing a first draft until it’s ready.
Consider Practical Additions to Support Your Writing
Of course you’ll need a comfortable chair, sufficient lighting, a power source, snacks, etc. but there are other practical things to consider. In making my space feel safe, I had to break a common rule of Feng Shui. My back is to the door. For a long time, I made sure that I was at a 90 degree angle to the door so I was always aware if someone was coming in my office–and that’s exactly what was creating my discomfort. I was thinking more about what was going on outside of the door than the story in front of me. With the door to my back it’s now out of sight, out of mind. My options are write the story or daydream and look out the window.
But what’s even more practical is this: I don’t have one space for writing. I’m writing this blog post on my couch in my living room. With the exception of the books to my back, this writing space contradicts just about everything I’ve said above.
It’s possible that writing nook articles never spoke to me because the reality is that writers who are doing the work do it everywhere all the time. I write on airplanes and in my bath tub and at coffee shops and in hotel lobbies. It is a luxury and a privilege to have a dedicated writing space, and it’s also reasonable to need a change of scenery from time to time.
Advice: You might need different spaces for different kinds of writings.
What things do you need or love in your writing space? Let me know in the comments.