How to Create the Mental Space to Write

Author Julia Kelly explains why it's important to cultivate internal space to write and gives you tips for how to do so.
Publish date:

Virginia Wolfe may have written that every woman must have “a room of her own if she is to write fiction,” but that isn’t always a luxury afforded to every author—regardless of their gender. Many of us find ourselves fighting to find the space to write in family-filled houses, shared apartments, or even cramped studios. But it’s the demands on our time and energy that can be even more difficult to fit our writing into. That’s why creating the mental space to write is vital, no matter what stage you’re at in your writing career.

(Julia Kelly: Determining a Book's Personality)

Your brain is the hub of all of your activity. It processes everything from the functions that keep you alive to the reminder that on Tuesdays you need to take out the garbage for collection. It’s an incredible organ that allows you to make your way through a complex life with demands on your time and energy, but it’s that complexity that can sometimes sabotage even the best of intentions when it comes to writing. Anyone who has sat down in front of their computer at the end of a long day of work and stared blankly at their screen will be familiar with this feeling.

How to Create the Mental Space to Write

Creating Mental Space to Write

Creating mental space for your writing to thrive is about giving your mind the chance to clear and reset, while also letting your subconscious get to work in the background. For me, that can mean a few different things, but the most reliable is running.

When I started running, I didn’t think it would have any effect on my writing. I was grumpily focused on putting one foot in front of the other, letting my mind go blank as I built up to longer and faster runs. It wasn’t until months later that I realized that those moments that are empty of thoughts are actually important for my writing.

The Last Garden in England

The Last Garden in England by Julia Kelly

IndieBound | Bookshop | Amazon
[WD uses affiliate links.]

My subconscious kicks in and, while it feels as though I’m thinking of nothing, I’m actually giving myself the space to work through plot holes and character arc issues. Fixes will often come to me out of nowhere on or just after a run because I’ve allowed myself to divert my focus from the problem.

Finding Activities for a Mental Reset

The same principle applies when I cook. Even before the pandemic made it necessary to cook every meal at home, I enjoyed making dinner because it provided a natural break between my day job and my writing job. The act of making food is a welcome departure from another hour of my laptop. I can listen to music, pour a glass of wine, and give myself a break. That mental reset often sets me up for a more successful night of writing than diving right into my manuscript.

(Top 10 Essentials to a Writer's Life)

Of course, running and cooking aren’t the only activities that you might find give you mental space. Sports, crafting, even cleaning can occupy you in a way that takes you away from your manuscript. The key is to find something that takes your mind off of your work in progress so you can give your work in progress a better chance to grow.

Almost immediately after the release of my recent book The Last Garden in England, I moved into a home that has a garden—my first. Now, as I plan for my next book, I’ve daydreamed of summer morning spent working in the garden, ideas for my latest manuscript percolating in my subconscious while my focus is fixed firmly on flowers.

Fitting Writing Into Your Life with Terri Valentine

Finding the time, energy, and motivation to get the writing done—day after day—stumps even the most seasoned writer on occasion. Life as a writer can be difficult to sustain, especially if you don’t have the direction, organization, and support you need. Get a glimpse into the life of a professional writer and set realistic writing goals for yourself with this online workshop.

Click to continue.

Plot Twist Story Prompts: Set a Trap

Plot Twist Story Prompts: Set a Trap

Every good story needs a nice (or not so nice) turn or two to keep it interesting. This week, it's time to set a trap.

5 Ways to Add a Refrain to Your Picture Books (and Why You Should)

5 Ways to Add a Refrain to Your Picture Books (and Why You Should)

Children's author Christine Evans shares how repetition is good for growing readers and gives you the tools to write your story's perfect refrain.

From Our Readers

Describe the First Time a Book Transported You to Another/Magical World: From Our Readers (Comment for a Chance at Publication)

This post announces our latest From Our Readers ask: Describe the First Time a Book Transported You to Another/Magical World. Comment for a chance at publication in a future issue of Writer's Digest.

About Us: How to Handle Your Story That Involves Other People

About Us: How to Handle Your Story That Involves Other People

Your story belongs to you but will involve other people. Where do your rights end and theirs begin?

Identifying Your Book's Target Audience

Identifying Your Book's Target Audience

Editor-in-chief Amy Jones navigates how to know your target audience, and how knowing will make your writing stronger.

Poetry Prompt

Wednesday Poetry Prompts: 575

Every Wednesday, Robert Lee Brewer shares a prompt and an example poem to get things started on the Poetic Asides blog. This week, write a safe poem.


I Spy

Every writer needs a little inspiration once and a while. For today's prompt, someone is watching your narrator ... but there's a twist.

Brian Freeman: On "Rebooting" Another Writer's Legacy

Brian Freeman: On "Rebooting" Another Writer's Legacy

In this article, Brian Freeman, author of Robert Ludlum’s The Bourne Treachery, discusses how he took up the mantle of a great series and made it his own.

Sole vs. Soul (Grammar Rules)

Sole vs. Soul (Grammar Rules)

Learn how to distinguish the sole from the soul with Grammar Rules from the Writer's Digest editors, including a few examples of correct usages.