As a lifelong student of storytelling, most of my posts are about how to best develop our story vision and put it on the page. But there’s an important step to writing that we need to think about before all that structure, characterization and technique stuff: Prepping our writing space to make magic.
Because that’s our job, folks…making magic.
(Seriously, we are all so lucky to do what we do!)
But what do we really need other than a keyboard or writing device? The story’s inside us, swirling around in some nebulous fold of brain matter, after all. We should be able to just grab that laptop and download our genius…right?
If only it was that easy. Unfortunately though, writing is hard. Sometimes thrust-a-screwdriver-in-my-eye hard. So thinking about how to set ourselves up for success as we sit down to write is a smart thing to do.
Let’s Talk about Where
Imagine Gordon Ramsay rustling up a 5-star meal…in your child’s bathroom. Sure, he’s got what he needs – those fresh, farm-to-table ingredients, a hot plate to cook on, his thousand-dollar knife set, and a chef-in-training to swear at.
But as he swats bath toys and action figures off the sink area to prep, and his pristine chef’s sleeve drags through a smear of stripey-fun kiddie toothpaste, how inspired do you think he’s going to be? Will this be the best meal he’s ever plated? Will he look down at it with pride? I doubt it.
Now that meal will be ten times better than anything you or I can cook, but it’s going to be missing something vital: passion.
Chef or writer, we’re all creators. And where we create impacts our mood.
Now if we all had the choice, we’d design expansive libraries, free-standing writer huts, or maybe a hidden writer’s room with its own secret entrance. But yanno, money. Family. Cats, dogs, and kids. Our lives are busy, and our homes are too, so we have to make do with what we have. But whether we have an actual writing office, a kitchen desk nook, or a closet-slash-writing cave-slash-podcasting station, there are ways to make it special, and that’s what we should do.
Let’s Talk about Why
No matter what you choose for your writing spot, it’s important to make it your own. When a space is set up the way we like it, slipping into the creative zone is so much easier…and it helps us stay there, too. So once you stake your claim, clear out the clutter as much as possible and replace it with things that inspire you. Do you like to be surrounded by your favorite books? Swap out that shelf of old work binders for your favorite paperbacks, the ones your books will sit next to one day. And if you’re published already, put those books where you can see them!
Think about what helps you slip into the story world. Do you have a collection of fantasy creatures? Posters of your favorite movies? An eclectic painting that draws your eye and soul? Bring these feel-good things into your space. (I have a rather ridiculous collection of owls –including a few undead ones– but they make me smile, and act as my book guardians. Much better than seeing nothing but stacks of paperwork and piles of laundry whenever I look up from the screen to reflect on what to write next!)
Let’s Talk about Ambiance
We’re individuals, so different things help get us into the mood to write. Sensory stimulation can be used to alter our mindsets and help us find our creative comfort zone. For example, sound. When you write, do you like music, silence, or a TV playing in the next room? How about visuals? Do you find inspiration in bright colors and fairy lights, or do you prefer muted colors and stylish organization that would be right at home in a decorator’s magazine? What else… Plants, yes or no? A scented candle? Coffee or tea? A certain snack?
Our brains are hardwired to process sensory information, remember the experience, and use it to navigate future situations. Basically we associate feeling creative, focused, and ready to write with our senses, and our brains remember. So brew the tea, light the candle, pull out your story planning book, and call up your manuscript onscreen. This pattern will signal your brain that it’s time to write!
Let’s Talk about the Tools of the Trade
Dear Gordon needs his pans, knives, and temperature-sensitive ovens to produce his best work, and writers need certain tools, too. Again, we’re all different, but here’s a list to get you thinking about what might help you create.
A good chair. Please, do yourself a solid and get something comfortable and back-friendly. You’re going to spending a ton of time plunked down in front of the screen and if you’re uncomfortable, guess what? You’ll get up and go do something easier like rebuilding your car’s engine or knitting a sweater out of cat hair. Sure, you want to get up once in a while to stretch, exercise, eat something healthy-ish and have a life, but remember, butt-in-chair = words, stories, novels.
A story portal. You know, a PC, laptop, typewriter, longhand writing pad and pen… whatever helps you get that story out of your head and onto the page. You might also find a specific writing program like Scrivener, Word, Google Docs, etc. helpful. Here’s a list.
Pens, pens, pens. Need I say more? Choose ones that flow well and feel great in your hand. Gel pens, colored ink, whatever blows your hair back.
Notebooks. Again, like I even need to list this one. You hoard them, I know. Use them to plan, play with scenes, capture your character details or plot points. Draw in them if you like or make a map. Notebooks make us feel good because we can do whatever we want and no one is judging what we write. (Plus, the covers can be so pretty! They can’t help but inspire us and remind us of the magic we’re trying to create.)
Research Bookmarks. As you let ideas soak and plan your story, chances are you’ll be prancing merrily around the internet looking up interesting bits and bobs for your story. Like a list of mythical creatures. Or how to dissolve a dead body with water and lye, you know, for story research. (Hey, I’m not here to judge.) My point is, save those links in a collection using Evernote, Pocket, Mix, a Pinterest Board, or within a specific folder under your system’s bookmarks. When you need inspiration, browse those bookmarks!
Story Creation Tools. There are plenty of great tools out there to help you plan, write, and revise a novel. If you want to build characters, plan worlds, outline your plot, manage timelines, etc. all in one place Becca and I created the One Stop for Writers library. Other tools I recommend looking into are Trello (great for organizing ideas), ProWritingAid (clean up your writing so it’s as strong as can be), and Fictionary (double-check your story structure & more to see if you’re on the right track). Also to avoid distraction, try Freedom and if you want to get in the mood to write each scene you can find music for every mood (be it suspenseful, happy, mysterious, creepy, etc.) here (<– so cool).
Your Reference Books. We all have books we like to have on hand – they might be fiction, or craft books. If you find yourself using certain books over and over, have them within reach as you write.
The Essentials. Yes, that’s right…snacks. Have something nearby so you don’t use a trip to the fridge as an excuse to procrastinate. Don’t forget something to drink, too. (Pour yourself a glass of water now and then instead of pop or coffee. It won’t kill you, I promise.)
Remember, Your Mindset Is the Key to Writing Success.
Whether you write at home, at a coffee shop, or somewhere else, think about how you can tailor your space to you. Decorate your laptop with writerly stickers. Choose a screensaver that evokes your imagination. Big or small, making your writing environment more inspiring will help you focus and bring your creative A-game to the page.
TIP: For more Creativity & Mindset help (including how to kick Writer’s Block and Procrastination to the curb) swing by this resource page.
Have any other essentials you’d add to this list? Let me know in the comments!
Angela is a writing coach, international speaker, and bestselling author who loves to travel, teach, empower writers, and pay-it-forward. She also is a founder of One Stop For Writers, a portal to powerful, innovative tools to help writers elevate their storytelling.
Jeremiah W Thomas says
I liked this article! I wrote something similar on my blog about setting up your writing space. Mine is not ideal as of right now, but I am hoping to move soon. Funny that you mentioned the chair. Many underestimate the importance of a good desk chair. It can actually make or break your want to sit down and write. My chair is in serious need of an upgrade!
ANGELA ACKERMAN says
I don’t know a single writer who doesn’t struggle with back issues, so yes, definitely investing in a chair and making rool for exercise and stretching is really important. Time to buy yourself a gift, I think!
Jaq D Hawkins says
Actually, make yourself get up to get those snacks. The number of times I’ve walked to the kitchen and suddenly the next few paragraphs start flowing… rather like my blood circulation.
Kathleen Burkinshaw says
Thank you Angela! I tend to forget that ambiance even if its in a corner of a room matters and can inspire 😊 You also reminded me,I need a new notebook and a spare purple ink pen!
Erin McKnight says
These are all fantastic ideas. I might also suggest making sure any furbabies are taken care of before you start. My cat has a knack for deciding it’s time to play when I’m trying to work. So I make sure she has some toys set up that she can play with without me before I start.
Maria Tatham says
Angela, love this! Truly helpful.
Deborah Makarios says
My favourite writing tools are fountain pens (clear-bodied so I can see the project’s themed ink colour), hardback notebooks, and LyX (a program that goes from first draft word-processing right through to the typeset pdf ready for the printers).
And of course a steaming brew in the great silver teapot Parsifal.
Diane Martin says
Awesome post and 100% accurate. Unfortunately, the notebook paragraph sent me down a Happy Planner rabbit hole for almost an hour. Procrastination at its finest! 🙂
ANGELA ACKERMAN says
hahahaha! So true. But we do love our notebooks!