Every writer deserves “a room of one’s own,” as Virginia Woolf famously put it. If space is at a premium in your life, though, it can be tough to claim your territory where you can explore your ideas and block out distractions. But with a few simple, inexpensive tricks, you can turn any area—no matter how small, and even if you write in a coffee shop or other public place—into a crucible for creativity.
This guest post is by Kendra Levin. Levin helps writers and other creative artists meet their goals and connect more deeply with their work and themselves. She is a certified life coach, as well as a senior editor at penguin, teacher, and author of The Hero Is You.
Enclose your space.
If you have a full room, that’s easy—shut the door. If your writing area is just a corner of a room or a desk, hang curtains around it, build walls out of your books or a bookcase, or in some other way separate it from the rest of the room. Or do it with lighting—have a lamp you turn on when you’re writing that illuminates only your creative zone. If you work in public, “enclose” your space by having a garment—like a sweater, hoodie, or hat—that you only wear when you write.
Another way to virtually enclose your space if you’re working on-the-go is by creating a desktop on your laptop that’s dedicated to writing. Nearly all operating systems allow you to create separate desktops, so make one that only includes programs you use for writing and research.
Bring nature into your view.
Studies have shown that having a view of nature stimulates creativity in the brain. If you have the option, choose a spot that faces a window overlooking some natural element; even an ivy vine climbing the wall of the building across the street or an overgrown vacant lot full of weeds will do. Get a plant; perhaps something low-maintenance like bamboo, succulents, cactus, or an air plant. Even having the color green in your field of vision when you’re at work has been proven to subliminally stimulate creativity.
If the place where you write doesn’t have a view of nature, buy a water bottle or reusable coffee mug with a picture of plants on it. Make your computer’s wallpaper a photo of a jungle or forest. Or paint your fingernails green!
Support your spine.
Sit in a comfortable chair, or get a pillow or cushion you can place under your lower back. Writing for extended periods of time can be rough on the body, so make sure you’re sitting in a way that prevents back pain. Get a cushion you can bring with you to make any location ergonomically friendly.
Keep your favorite resources in arm’s reach.
Thanks to the Internet’s wealth of information, you don’t need to have a huge library of reference material in your writing area, but it’s nice to have a few favorites close at hand. Keep your most dog-eared helpers—your dictionary or thesaurus, your favorite books on craft, or your most beloved classics—in your creative space. Even when you’re not thumbing through them, they can be visual touchstones to remind you that this place is dedicated to writing. If you work in a coffee shop, keep shortcut links to your favorite web resources on your desktop.
Pick an icon.
Who inspires you most? It might be your favorite author, but it could be anybody you admire, living or dead, a famous person or someone you know personally, or even a fictional character. Whoever is your spirit animal, your patron saint, identify them and put a picture of this person in your space to inspire you. If you work on-the-go, bring your icon with you—make a sticker to put on your laptop or beverage container, or get a tote bag with an image of your icon on it—for inspiration anywhere.
Above all, remember that the most important space for writing is the one you create in your psyche. When you set aside time, put aside distractions, and do the work, you’ll forget all about your surroundings and immerse yourself in the world you’re creating on the page. And that’s a space that can never be taken away from you.
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Brian A. Klems is the editor of this blog, online editor of Writer’s Digest and author of the popular gift book Oh Boy, You’re Having a Girl: A Dad’s Survival Guide to Raising Daughters.