Being a writer is the simplest thing in the world. It’s just you, your thoughts, and the blank page. But it can also be the most complicated thing in the world. How do you find the time? Where do you go to write? And then there’s that dreaded feeling of sitting down full of ideas that instantly escape as soon as that Word doc is glaring at you (that’s a blog post for another time).
As writers, the most important thing we can do for ourselves is to create space for writing—and I’m not talking about having your own office, though that might be a nice luxury. You have to tackle the metaphysical (when you sit down to write), the physical (where you sit down to write), and the mental (how you have a successful writing session).
Creating Space in Your Schedule
After a sudden and somewhat unexpected career change, I found myself in the delightful space of working from home as a writer and editor. After the honeymoon of being a Writer wore off, I was faced with the challenge of creating structure and space in a decidedly unstructured occupation.
I started by setting aside time each week to write down a work schedule in my planner. I try to write on the same days of the week and at the same time. For me, working during my girls’ nap times every other day works best for my family schedule and gives me a break so that I can come back to my writing with fresh eyes.Set aside a specific time to write each week. Repetition reinforces habit. #writingtips Click To Tweet
Repetition reinforces habit. In college, I was a classic procrastinator and only wanted to write when the muse struck me. That’s all well and good, but the muse doesn’t pay the bills now, and I’ve found that reinforcing a schedule has forced my brain to follow along. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that I now get my best ideas during my scheduled writing time.
Creating a Physical Work Space
Just as important as making time on the calendar, making a physical space to write can reinforce a consistent writing habit. Because I have small children, I had to get creative in making a writing space for myself. I set up a standing desk, which keeps me on my toes both literally and mentally. The height ensures that my inquisitive daughters can’t reach my laptop, planner, and pens. It also overlooks their play area so I can keep an ear on them and they can feel comfortable playing independently knowing I am nearby. Using a standing desk also keeps me alert enough that I can indulge in a cozy sweater without succumbing to its nap-inducing qualities.
I also find it helpful to have a window, plant, or picture nearby, something to rest my eyes on when feeling stuck or in need of a break. We’ve all done the mindless gaze at the computer screen, suddenly snapping out of it with bleary eyes and the start of a headache. My standing desk faces a window, and having a view of nature provides a nice, passive object to look at for those moments when I need to gather my thoughts or ponder a different phrasing of a tricky sentence.
A recent article in The Economist backs up the idea of attractive spaces being positive for employee productivity. And while the article does focus on those who work in a traditional office setting, the same is certainly true for those of us who work from home.
Another must-have in a work space, whether working in or out of the home, is fresh coffee (or tea) in a pretty mug. The ritual of making my afternoon coffee is another mental signal that my “work day” is starting. (I’m a “French press with lots of sweetened condensed milk” kind of writer.) And my favorite Starbucks mug featuring Washington State landmarks makes me feel closer to the Scribe team when working three time zones away in Florida.
Creating Mental Space to Develop Your Best Work
So, with a scheduled space and a lovely physical space to work from, that should be everything I need, right? Well, just like any other writer, I frequently have the experience of getting to my computer and dealing with a sudden flood of mental pop-ups for other tasks that need my attention. These are common and very disruptive for any writer, which is why creating a peaceful mental environment is the final, and perhaps most important, piece for creating writing space.Having a plant or view of nature nearby gives you a passive object to rest your eyes when you need a break from writing. #writingtips. Click To Tweet
I find that mental pop-ups fall into three categories. Here are my best tips for handling and hopefully reducing them.
- Urgent tasks: These are things that need to get done this week. I’m a big fan of writing everything down, so I have a giant planner with daily, weekly, and monthly calendars. I also have a simple color coded system for noting which tasks are personal, which are work related for my two part-time jobs, and which are kids’ events or errands. I find that both taking a few minutes each morning to review the day’s tasks and events goes a long way in reducing mental pop-ups about the coming week.
- Important tasks: These items are not time sensitive, but they still need to be remembered and completed. When these pop-ups intrude on my writing time, I give them a moment of attention and write them down right away as a future action item. This helps me let it go and get on to my writing task, knowing that I won’t forget to schedule that dentist appointment in the next six months.
- Emotional tasks: These are stressful situations or life challenges. I find it helpful to give myself a little space to journal. If nothing else, it provides an emotional release that allows me to move on to the work of writing. While it may seem ironic that writing is the solution to writing, give it a try and see how it helps free up mental and emotional space before you start your work day.
With my mental tasks taken care of, I then prepare the materials needed for what I am writing. Whether I’m working on a first draft of a new novel or an assignment for a blog article, the worst thing for a creative mind is having to jump up in the middle of a paragraph and rummage around for a source, citation, or that one notebook in which I jotted down a brilliant character description. So, before I get started, I make sure I have any notebooks, reference books, writing materials, etc. close at hand, as well as all web resources bookmarked and easy to find.Before you start writing, make sure the resources for your topic are close at hand so that you can focus on writing with minimal interruption. #writingtips Click To Tweet
Being prepared means cutting down on tasks that pull me away from the actual writing so that I can focus with minimal interruption.
Some say writing is its own reward; I hope these tips for preparing your physical, metaphysical, and mental spaces will make your writing even more rewarding.
Do you need a little “space” from your writing after a long day? Reward your hard work by letting the Scribe Source editors take the final step in polishing your article, book, or web content.
About the Author
Emily is a fundraising professional with ten years of experience in higher education and public media. She specializes in writing direct mail and email fundraising appeals, website copy, capital campaign marketing materials, copy for on-air live read and live pitching campaigns, and fundraising training manuals. She first joined the Scribe team in 2014.