A while ago, when I started to take my writing seriously, I decided I must first create the perfect writing space. There’s a lot of conflicting information about writing spaces. I did vast amounts of online research, and read many author’s autobiographies. I printed off pictures of famous writers’ writing spaces to inspire me. I read about feng shui, fountain pens, air quality, ergonomics, eye strain.
Hey, anything to put off the actual act of writing. ☺️
(Like many writers, I was a fierce procrastinator. I say ‘was’, because I am not anymore. But I will come to that.)
Part 1: What everyone else said I needed
So my initial research came up with the following generalisations, some of which are totally conflicting. Obviously what works well for one does not work for someone else.
1) A dedicated writing space is the ideal, although really a bit of a luxury. Many have to make do with a desk in the corner of the living room or bedroom, something that can’t be permanently set up for writing. But the ‘serious’ writer needs their own space, in their own style. Or so I read. I chose a little corner in the end of my studio, a train carriage buried in the bush. It is a fair walk from the house, down a steep driveway and set of stairs. Easy to get down to, hard to get back up. Very separate from day to day living distractions.
2) I read about ‘vistas’. Apparently, having a beautiful view from your writing desk is the ideal. This is to help you relax, refocus, and find inspiration every time you look up. I wasn’t really sold on this idea, to tell the truth. It seemed unrealistic and unattainable for most people. Some writers said they would find it distracting rather than helpful. But so many cited it as a necessity, that I put it on my list. I am surrounded by bush here, so a bush view was doable.
3) Plants. Okay, yep, plants are good. They clean the air, absorb the nasties, look pretty. Nature is inspirational. Tick, plants on the list.
4) A few of your favourite things/mementoes/family photos. Hmmm. I personally couldn’t think of anything more distracting than family photos when you’re creating an entire imaginary world full of imaginary people. I scrubbed that one.
5) Peace. This was apparently a biggie. A writer must have somewhere quiet, where they can work uninterrupted. And yet, some authors say they work better in crowds, with a plethora of ideas and physical characteristics and character traits all conveniently at hand with a simple glance up from the notepad or laptop. So which is it? I went for ‘quiet’. Living in the country, there aren’t really any cafes I can frequent without a long drive, so ‘peaceful environment’ is the default setting anyway.
6) Background music. Many writers apparently work to a musical background, be it classical, rock, heavy metal or mixes depending on scenes they are writing at the time. In theory, this seemed a good idea. So I got some new music and made some new playlists.
7) A beautiful notebook and expensive pen. This apparently helps to make one think of oneself as a dedicated, ‘proper’ writer. Inspirational? Or an excuse for some retail therapy? Either way, I put that on the list.
My idea of what constituted the perfect writing space at this point was something between Roald Dahl’s bohemian garden shed, Stephen King’s attic office and JK Rowling’s notebook in a local cafe. So I had to narrow it down to the essentials.
Part 2: What I thought I needed
My own list at the conclusion of this research came down to something like this.
1) My writing space had to have good natural light and fresh air. I know myself enough to know I get depressed working in the dark, and artificial lights can set off flares of my inflammatory arthritis.
2) I didn’t really care about the amount of space. A little nook in my studio would do. I work in a notebook, on a laptop or on an iPad, and any of these options take up very little space. Really I just needed a small table and a chair, I decided.
3) A fountain pen and beautiful notebook. Well, yeah. Why not.
4) Electricity. To run the printer, a fan in hot weather and to charge gadgets.
5) Style and character. I am really into antiques, vintage style and interior design. I wanted a writing space that reflected my style. I imagined it being photographed for a country style magazine when I was a famous author…hahaha. No really, I did. 😊
I had a Victorian dining chair and a gorgeous antique pine hall table. I bought a desk lamp. I made a handmade rag rug for underneath. I made lace curtains. I made sure the feng shui was good. I faced the door and window that opened, and had my back to a door that was bolted shut. I faced my desk toward the view. Hey, maybe there was something to the ‘vista’ thing, who knew. It was worth a try.
Then……..2 months later, with virtually no writing done, I ripped it all apart and started again. Betrayed once again by that liar called the Internet! 😡
Part 3: What I ACTUALLY needed.
Here is what turned out to be important to me.
1) Easy access to coffee. I wasn’t trudging all the way up to the house for it anymore. I got a kettle and a little plunger.
2) A comfortable chair. F*ck antiques. Seriously. After two months of a beautiful looking antique chair and an aching back and arms, I did something I never do and went to a furniture store. I purchased a hideous black gas lift office chair with plenty of back support. OMG. Bliss.
3) Space. No, a cute little writing nook will not do. For me anyway. I am kind of tall and get claustrophobic. I bang my hips and knees. And elbows. And head. Also, I now like to push back from my desk on my new super rolling chair like Michael J. Fox used to do in the opening credits of Family Ties. Best to have a little room behind you for that, or it ends badly.
4) A big desk. The theory of the laptop, iPad or notebook requiring little space seems sound, but in reality there are many scraps of paper, notebooks, chapter outlines, more than one pen, dictionary, cup of coffee, bottle of water and possibly food on the desk, all at one time. The cute little distressed pine hall table does not cut it. In the end I found an old rusty metal desk frame, dumped in the shed by previous owners. M screwed a slab of wood to the top, and that’s it. It is still as it was that first day, yet to be cleaned and repainted, so for now it languishes under a tablecloth. But it is big enough.
5) A dictionary and thesaurus. Of course these are available digitally. But you know what, the Internet is fantastic for research but can be the devil when you’re writing. So I tend to switch off both Internet and phone when writing. There’s something about the tactile beauty of a yellowed dictionary anyway…I still use my one from high school. Granted, it doesn’t have cool words like fugly or twerk, but it will do.
6) A bookcase. For all kinds of things including books. Doesn’t have to be big. Also nice to visualise your own completed published novel sitting there.
7) A book of baby names. Great for character names and general inspiration. Nothing worse than losing your train of thought mid flow because you can’t think of a good name.
8) A bin. Yes, surprisingly it took me two months to stop piling old scraps of paper next to my desk.
9) A pin board. Extremely useful when plotting, rearranging scenes etc. I also use it to keep track of characters and their relationships to each other. Handy for the odd inspirational quote too.
10) I did need natural light. Ha, I knew it. Glad I got something right.
11) A file folder. Necessary if you are like me and have 14 books or ideas for books on the go at once.
12) Pens with gel ink. I personally find that gel ink speeds writing and is so much easier on the hands. I also find there is not much difference between the cheap and expensive ones.
13) Cheap notebooks. In an ironic twist, it turns out that I actually can’t bear to use the beautiful one I bought especially for writing.
14) Quiet. Probably not important for everyone, but definitely for me.
15) One meaningful ornament. I found this metal flying pig in a homewares store in town, and for some reason it spoke to me. Pigs might fly. When I get attacked sometimes by self doubt, it helps me get back on track.
These things, when combined, created a whole new era in my writing. I knocked out a draft of a novel in 17 working days. Everything flowed.
Part 4: What I didn’t need after all.
1) A view. After creating a lovely vista from my desk, I discovered that I never even look at it with anything other than a blank stare while I am writing. When I write, I am completely in another world, usually with a glazed expression.
2) Background music. Tried it. Hated it. Very distracting.
3) The desk lamp. It is actually still on my desk. I have never used it. Not once. It isn’t even plugged in.
4) Style, beauty and character. My studio is a train carriage. Seriously, I needed to get a grip. A piece of ply on two stacks of bricks would look okay in here.
Of course, my writing space will forever be a work in progress. I love rearranging interiors and always will. I have discovered that clutter is distracting, which is unfortunate because I have a fairly cluttered, eclectic style. I keep my writing area clean and tidy though and it helps a lot. I stack things neatly at the end of a session but I don’t pack away. I write 10 000 words per week, no exceptions. That fits comfortably with my other work and interests.
Once I had the space that I needed, I made the decision to write. And in the end, the decision is really what it comes down to. It turned out that creating my writing space was in fact just a rearrangement of thoughts and beliefs I had about what it is to be an artist, a writer, a creator. What I actually had to do was get out of my own way and decide to do it. And I think that’s the key, no matter where you are, no matter what tools or time or space you have at your disposal. Once the decision is finally made, and you sit peacefully with it, comfortable and at the same time passionate about your decision, it is actually impossible for anything to stand in the way.
Because the perfect writing space is totally in your head.