By Tex Thompson
Writing, unfortunately, is a lot like having sex. Most people have some experience with it, very few of us get to do it professionally, and it’s orders of magnitude less graceful and glamorous than the movies make it look. Moreover, while you CAN do it on the kitchen table, or the back of an ’87 Datsun, certain places lend themselves to a far more effective and enjoyable experience. So let’s talk about how you can optimize your writing space to get your creative groove on.
This is my writing space. You can tell because Facebook is open.
“Groove” is actually a good word for this subject, and not just because I have an affinity for raunchy metaphors. “Habit” or “vibe” works just as well. The short story is that your environment affects how you think and behave. It’s science! Think about someone who’s trying to quit smoking: it’s not so bad at the office, where they can’t smoke anyway – but getting in their car and NOT lighting up will be an infernal trial, if that’s what they’ve done for the last fifteen years. There’s a deep, deep brain-groove labelled “car = smoke”. The environment cues the behavior.
Especially when it’s a damned annoying behavior.
So if you’re trying to develop or improve a habit, one of the best things you can do for yourself is to create a new environment for it to happen in – one that doesn’t already have a deep association with other habits. (Back when I did SAT tutoring, we were instructed to discuss this with all our students: your bedroom is probably not a good study space, because your brain associates it with sleep, video games, etc.) Pop quiz: what do a library, a bookstore, and your local coffee shop all have in common?
Answer: your annoying cat, needy kids, TV, couch, and sink full of dirty dishes aren’t there to tempt or distract you. And that is why these places are absolutely infested with writers: they are blank slates perfect for etching in a new habit.
And this is where actual writing gets done. My muse is a coffee mural and a tray of sugar packets.
But the kids and the cat do occasionally require your presence, and being able to work from home is a huge asset. In this case, you probably need to repurpose a space you use for other things, but that’s not the end of the world – just think about ways to help your body and brain understand that it’s writing time. For example:
-Write standing up; do other computer tasks sitting down.
-Put on headphones during writing time (a helpful ‘do not disturb’ signal to housemates, too). Bonus points for white noise or other special playlist that you only use when writing.
-Consider writing first drafts in longhand – yellow legal pads are notoriously bad for checking Facebook.
-Write outside, on the porch or patio – someplace where you are easily found, but out of earshot.
-If you have multiple devices, segregate their functions as much as possible. For example: PC for job/office work, laptop for writing, tablet for fun stuff.
-Practice habit stacking: attach writing to a habit you already have. Put kids to bed –> write for 30 minutes. Write for 15 minutes –> start dinner. Etc.
Of course, a habit takes time to develop, and it helps to start small. Remember, writing is like sex: be gentle and patient, and don’t be afraid to try new things – because at the end of the day, it’s supposed to be fun!
Arianne “Tex” Thompson is home-grown Texas success story. After earning a bachelor’s degree in history and a master’s in literature, she channeled her passion for exciting, innovative, and inclusive fiction into the Children of the Drought – an internationally-published epic fantasy Western series from Solaris. Now a professional writing instructor and editor for the DFW Writers Conference, Tex is blazing a trail through conferences, workshops, and fan conventions around the country – as an endlessly energetic, relentlessly enthusiastic one-woman stampede. Find her online at www.TheTexFiles.com and on Twitter as @tex_maam!