By Patrice Sarath
There are two rules to creating a writing workspace:
1) The smaller and more uncomfortable, the better.
2) You have to create a mental workspace.
The two are more related that you might think.
Forget all of the dreams you may have of a magnificent desk, with an expanse to lay out your notes and your outlines and your research books. Forget the window that overlooks a lovely vista. A workspace needs to promote productivity, and so it must be small, tight, cramped, uncomfortable, and boring. You have to put yourself into this space every day (not just for November!) and write your way out of it. There is no time to daydream in a productive workspace. Your reward for your word count is your escape.
I wrote four novels and a couple dozen short stories in my tiny pantry/laundry room. Terribly hot and uncomfortable in the summer but nice and cozy in the winter, when I ran the clothes dryer. To this day I will always associate the smell of warm bath towels with writing Gordath Wood.
I’m not the only one. A friend put his desk in a hall closet and sat with his chair out in the room. Perfect! He literally faced into the darkness and pecked out his words.
So why does this work? Well, it’s related to rule 2: you have to create a space of zero to low distractions. When you are in a small space, your attention is constrained because your focus is constrained. Writers daydream — it’s part of the process. We also procrastinate, because writing is hard and often emotionally draining. When my son was in second grade, his very smart teacher had the kids set up trifold boards around their desks if they were getting too distracted by the other kids. The genius of this approach was that each squirmy seven-year-old got to identify their own distraction level and choose when to set up the focus board. As you can imagine, it was a comforting option.
Create your own trifold board. Tune out the world. Regain your focus.
So what is creating a mental workspace? A mental workspace is getting on the right mindset that will allow you to sit down and get your words down. There are many ways to get into the right mindset. I am a big believer in ritual — if I am writing after dinner, washing up the dishes is a ritual that lets me create a mental workspace; hands in warm water, repetitive movement, daydreaming, etc. Other writers have different methods and rituals. What’s the difference between ritual and procrastination? It’s a fine line, but roughly, if you write at the end of the ritual, it’s ritual. If your ritual is twenty hands of solitaire and then a heaping of self-loathing, yeah, not so much.
Another way to create that mental workspace is to think about or write down or otherwise note what you plan to write about. If, like many writers, you have school or work, then writing has to wait. Use anticipation throughout the day (I can’t wait to get to that scene!) to create the mental workspace.
But what if your home space isn’t conducive to writing? Families can, wittingly or unwittingly, sabotage a writer’s writing time and space. Pets, household demands, chores, it can all be too overwhelming.
If you have the right mindset and have created the mental workspace, you can be productive even if writing in public. A lot of people doing NaNoWriMo write in public spaces. With a good set of earbuds or headphones, you can find the focus to keep up your word count even in a noisy coffee shop.
I find the ambient noise of a public writing space kind of conducive to word count, actually. One of my favorite places to write is the upstairs cafe at my local grocery store. Plenty of ambient noise, none of which I have to pay any attention to. It becomes a kind of white noise.
So what’s your writing workspace? And how do you create a mental workspace for your work?
Patrice Sarath is an author and editor living in Austin, Texas. Her novels include the fantasy series, Books of the Gordath (Gordath Wood, Red Gold Bridge, and The Crow God’s Girl) and the romance The Unexpected Miss Bennet.
She is the author of numerous short stories that have appeared in several magazines and anthologies, including Weird Tales, Black Gate, Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, Realms of Fantasy, and many others. Her short story “A Prayer for Captain La Hire” was included in Year’s Best Fantasy. Her story “Pigs and Feaches,” originally published in Apex Digest, was reprinted in 2013 in Best Tales of the Apocalypse by Permuted Press.
Patrice is an avid horsewoman. She also enjoys bike-riding, rollerblading, and hiking the woods and trails outside Austin.