June Theme: Creating a Writing Space (by Stephanie Burgis)

Here's what used to be my fantasy of the ideal writing space, which I would surely have by the time I was a professional author:

Imagine a room filled with books and gorgeous artwork. There's a big comfy armchair in one corner. There are shelves of research books (since I write historical novels) helpfully close to the beautiful antique desk. There are flowers blooming in the corner. There is an atmosphere of absolute peace.


Ahem. Excuse me.

Now here's my actual writing space, as an officially professional author:

Anywhere I can prop my laptop. Which usually means on my knees.

I don't have a desk, much less a "writing room". I write while either lying on the couch, or lying on my bed propped up on the pillows. My toddler son's toys are stacked around me in either place. Every time I look away from my laptop screen, I'm reminded of all the household (or business) chores that I've left undone, all the burning issues that I desperately need to handle...just as soon as I can finish my scene.

Here's how I focus anyway:

1. Desperation: I only have a limited amount of time and energy for writing, so I need to buckle down and use it, no matter what!

2. Music: I keep a playlist on iTunes for each writing project. I never listen to those playlists except when I'm writing. That means that from the moment I put on my headphones and hear the first song, I'm already in the mood and headspace for that project (especially since each song on the playlist has been picked for its resonance with at least one of my characters.) No matter how much clutter might be stacked around me, how many chores might be begging to be done, once my soundspace is full of inspiration, I can focus on my laptop screen and be swept away to 1803 England (or anywhere else in time and space).

3. Bribery: My favorite kind of tea is Earl Grey. My favorite kind of chocolate is dark and gourmet. Guess how I start every writing session? With a cup of hot tea and four squares of delicious dark chocolate. It's a perfect bribe to start writing, and it's also become a ritual - and every ritual helps!

Yup. Desperation, Music, and Bribery: my top three tips for creating a writing space. They may not sound romantic...but they really, really work!

What about you guys? What do you do to help yourself feel creative no matter what your physical environment might be?


  1. I use the music, too. Luckily I do have a room, but sound does filter in and the playlist both blocks the noise and puts me in the right mental space. I have also learned to ignore clutter--like everyone else I live with. I don't seem to need bribery, though. For whatever reason the story drives me and I get antsy if I am away from it for too long. (Maybe I'm addicted?)

  2. I love the loft where I write. It's all mine. It's full of books and paper and researchy-stuff. There's an antique dough table (full of old manuscripts, not dough rising) and a futon where my cats like to nap in the sunshine. It's a bit of organized chaos, but I love it. It's cozy. BUT--it's part of the house at large. No door to close. Overlooks the greatroom and kitchen where everyone gathers. During school sessions, it's peaceful--ahhh! But winter and summer breaks? Yikes. That's why I invested in a pair of Bose noise-reducing headphones. I couldn't do noise-canceling--I do have to hear if someone is killing someone else, but the reduction is enough to keep my mind on my words, not on conversations or TV coming from below.

  3. Bribery is my favorite tool, only I reward myself after a certain number of words or certain amount of time spent writing. I might just start doing it before, like you, as well--more chocolate that way!

  4. Wordsrmylife: playlists are fabulous tools, aren't they? :)

    Bogwitch64: I love your description of that loft. It sounds so cozy and perfect! And the noise-reducng headphones sound like a brilliant idea.

    Tracy: The more bribery the better, as far as I'm concerned! ;)

  5. what was supposed to be my writing room has become a dumping ground for my clothes, books, papers, albums, cds, stacks of board games and so much other stuff that actually writing in it is difficult. there's also this annoying distraction of the interwebs that make not writing so much easier to do.

    i find my best writing environment takes place with my older mac laptop, the one with very limited wifi reception. it also has a limited selection of music, including acoustic guitar/piano tunes and several hours worth of rainshower/white noise tracks. (while i like certain 'mood musics' when i write, if the tv is on or other music is playing anywhere in the house, i need to turn the rainshowers on loud so they cut out the competing sounds)

    -- Tom

  6. Can I just say, I know how crazy it is trying to write in the middle of chaos (especially toddler chaos) and you are such a star!

    At this particular juncture I am blessed with an actual writing office, but sometimes it's too intimidating to do Work in there. Lately I've become addicted to the huge beanbags I bought because we couldn't afford a new sofa. I get my drink, my chocolate, put my feet up on one beanbag and lounge in the other with the laptop. Headphones on. And I point myself so that I CAN'T SEE ANY OF THE MESS.

    Desperation is like rocket fuel--I hope it's a temporary condition, though. If not a 'perfect writing room' maybe you'll get a bit more breathing space soon. Huge kudos for finding the energy to blog about this on top of everything else.

  7. Tom: you are sooooo right about the interwebs. That's the one reason I'm really grateful that most British caf├ęs don't have free wi-fi - it means that when my willpower is weakest, I can always pull up stakes and camp out in a coffeeshop to escape the temptation of the internet!

    Trish: *HUGS* And those headphones sound like total comfort (inside and out).

  8. Ha, I hear you. (I have a desk, but I seldom use it). Music is a great way to get ambiance fast for me (I second Tricia's appreciation for headphones, which are suprisingly effective at cutting you off from whatever might be happening in the house); and I *always* brew some tea before starting to write.
    I'm experimenting with a policy of turning off the internet and rewarding myself with 10 minutes of internet time for 1 hour of writing--hope it works, because I have severe addiction problems right now.

  9. Aliette, I am right there with you on the internet addiction! Patrick and I actually have to police each other with that - we turn off the internet for our writing sessions and provide the peer pressure to make sure neither of us succumbs to the temptation of turning it back on! Neither of us is capable of sustained writing with the internet available. Sigh. I do love so many things about the internet, but...

  10. Ack, and trish - I meant to say "those beanbags", not "those headphones" - there's the problem of typing replies just before bed! Oops.

  11. I love your idea of a dedicated playlist! Very clever.


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