Sep 032014
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What kind of working space does a writer need?

Does the physical space in which you work make a difference to the quality of the work or how you feel about it? It’s possible writers and artists ponder the condition of their work spaces more than others because they continually search for the perfect environment to inspire creativity. Moving house and setting up a new work space has certainly caused me to think about it.

Writers may be considered lucky because, in theory, we can work anywhere. We just need a place to set down our pads of paper or laptops. But there is theory and there is practice. Ian Rankin, at a book signing I attended, said he never wrote on the road, only in his office at home. Of course, it’s possible that has more to do with his busy schedule of appearances and book signings than the space itself.

There is the romantic image of a writer working in a coffee house, preferably a cafe in Paris. My one time experience writing in a coffee house was less than successful. Perhaps a small Starbucks outlet in a busy mall where I kept an eye out for my daughter and niece to return from shopping was not the best choice. I was cramped and felt pressured to move on.

J.K. Rowlings wrote much of Harry Potter in coffee houses. Some writers claim coffee houses offer an environment free of distractions. You can’t get up and do the laundry. That may be true, but these days, unless you leave the cell phone at home, don’t connect to the coffee shop wifi, and ignore the people around you, a writer can find plenty of distractions in a coffee shop.

Virginia Woolf claimed a woman writer needed a “room of her own”. I’ve been fortunate to have a room of my own for several years. I now share office space with my husband. We’ve done that before. I think it will work.

I’ve spent the last two winters in rented houses in a warmer climate. The first winter I changed the location and set-up of my writing space several times, never finding one I was completely comfortable with. A desk in the second home we rented worked very well for me, although it was not in a “room of my own”.

A writer doesn’t necessarily need a lot of space, unlike other artists who may need to lay out large canvases, set up a darkroom or kiln, or work around a sculpture. Stephen King wrote Carrie on a child’s desk in the laundry room of a rented house trailer. Marjorie Celona wrote Y propped up in bed. 

For a glimpse at the work spaces of 40 famous artists, check out this Buzzfeed article.

I have a comfortable work space with a new desk and lots of light, but it is always good to be reminded of this quote from E.B. White:

A writer who waits for the ideal conditions under which to work will die without putting a word on paper.

What kind of creative space do you need?

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  36 Responses to “The Write Space”

  1. I’m definitely “a room of one’s own” type of writing. Moving three times in three years knocked the wind out of my writing sails more than once. Both my husband and I have separate offices now, but we’ve also shared an office, which works so long as the room is big enough for both desks. I know for sure I’m not much on writing in places like Starbucks, but many of my writer friends relish that aspect. I do my best with all distractions gone, and have considered going to the library to write at times when my cat won’t leave me alone! If I close the office door, then I have to deal with paws at the door and under the door 😉

    • Fortunately, the office I now share with my husband is a good size – plenty of room for 2 desks (and a couple of bookshelves). And when we push our chairs back from the desks they don’t bump into each other (as was the case with one office we shared). I have no cat and my dog is old and sleeps most of the day, but I, too, have considered spending time at the library to write.

  2. I don’t exactly need a room of my own but most definitely need a space of my own. It can be anywhere. What I have found is that I must be able to sink into the story and be free of distraction. I can do that on a busy street or a noisy train; all that matters is that I am able to tune out whatever is not relevant to what I am writing about. Get it down on paper and revisit again in a few days. It will always need refining.

  3. Hi Donna – In my big old farmhouse it’s not difficult to find a room of my own but that is less important than having a window to look out of – I’m on the second floor with a large maple tree right outside the window and it’s common to see birds watching me – love that. The other thing I must have is organized space – I make a mess when I’m working, papers all over the place, but it needs to be organized when I start. Other than that, I have few demands. Coffee shops, no thanks.

  4. Prefer to write without being surrounded by people. Having said that when I work out of the open office of our local university I write great letters and emails:-)

  5. A room of my own is essential! I live alone…LOL…so this is never an issue for me:) I deplore writing in coffee houses… too many distractions. But then I need to be able to focus on my work, and having a bunch of people around completely negates that. I do them for people watching, however:)

  6. I don’t really need any particular type of space but for me to write it is essential that I be alone. I wrote a blog post the other night with my son sitting on the floor next to me watching something on his iPad and while he did nothing to interrupt me I felt it took twice as long to write as it normally does. I have found a few rare coffee shops that were unusually spacious and comfortable and that I thought I could work there, but normally I can’t concentrate in them. On the other hand, I’m sure I’d be a much more prolific writer if I had a typewriter like the one in your picture sitting next to me.

    • Although I think I will be able to write sharing office space with my husband, I can relate to your need not to have other people around. Sometimes it feels as if they are crowding one’s thoughts even when they’re ignoring you. It’s worse if they want to see what you’re doing!

  7. Hello Donna – The typewriter in picture reminds me of my father’s typewrite during our childhood. When my father was all the time typing letters for other workers across Kashmir. His typing speed was like……. WOW and he typed so much that the fingerprints of his few fingers are gone for ever :).
    Regarding my writing… :'( Sadly I am not a writer but sometimes I try to write blog. I live with a three years old kid who is always around me and what I do, she will participate. What ever I write I am always distracted many time by her.. sometimes I forget what I was writing and sometimes make so much mistakes. I try my best to remove mistakes but Alas at that time still I have her around me… So when you come across any mistake in my post.. really big one you must understand the reason… ( Apart from my grammar which is very poor actually… that is my fault). You will not believe I am typing this comment by holding her hands in my hands and m doing my typing with her fingers.. this is want she likes most and we do this a lot.

  8. I think we all have our different styles. I like the idea o a room of ones own, but I also like to mix up where I work to see what effect it has. The most important thing is to not let it effect you if the ideal spot isn’t there. Timely post for me. Thanks Donna.

  9. I am not a writer.I love to create where I can scatter my stuff on a table in my home. To write the blog posts, I need my computer and chair and some quiet time. M camera is essential too. Without pictures, how can I write a post about mixed media project?

  10. It’s interesting what works for different writers. I definitely prefer my own space in my home. It sounds like you now have a very nice one.

  11. I have a hard time writing anywhere but in my office. My desk faces a window with no view but plenty of sunlight, and I turn my back to the whole house and put it behind me. Otherwise I’m constantly distracted by everything going on around me. I like to do some of my social media in coffee shops, but not writing. It seems when it comes to writing, I’d rather do anything else that comes up! Kind of makes me wonder why I became a writer…

  12. Donna I write everywhere, at home, in the car at an event at the office. I do not wait because I can lose the essence of what I want to say. So once I feel it, I pen it down right there where I am. My phone has become very hand for this. I find different places speak differently to my writing.

  13. I had to really stop and think about how to answer this…I love having my own space. A dedicated desk and lamp and chair is great…although I don’t really have that right now in this California rental. I don’t have too many distractions though so I tend to write my blog posts either at the kitchen table, in my recliner, or before it got crazy hot, outside on the patio. I *can* tune people out if I’m in a public place and want to write whether that’s planned or just spur of the moment inspiration. But most of my posts get written at home where the only distraction is my darn cat who just wants to lie on the keyboard of my laptop. 😉

  14. Writing when it’s quiet is all I need, usually, although I can write when others are around, too. I’m versatile! I prefer having my own space but it is not a necessity. I like things to be orderly, too, but that also doesn’t always happen. LOL

  15. I think it is important just to have a place that makes you feel calm when you write. I know my house is hectic, even though I live alone. So I write a chapter or two on my breaks at work. I think what ever works for you, is the best.

  16. A large desk, a chair or stool, and bookcases make it happen. The desk needs to be uncluttered for me to start. Dining rooms have served as offices in my homes for years now. The dining room set always fits in the living room.

  17. I do need a quiet space away from all the potential distractions that can keep me from accomplishing what it is I’m trying to do. I realize that isn’t always possible. When that’s the case, if I can zone out the outside world, I can get stuff done. Alas, my curiosity will often get the best of me and I will be off exploring the new “metaphorical shinny” thing… LOL.

  18. Hello; I agree with e b white. If you have a story to tell that comes from deep down inside you you can write that story anywhere. I’m reminded of an episode of the dick van dike show where he tried so many different places to write his great american novel. he finally gave up telling his tv wife mary tyler moore that when he is ready to write he would be able to do it on a crowded new york subway. when i first started working on my website i was doing it from the road. traveling with a carnival sometimes you didn’t have power, water, or sewer for part of the week. even with a data card there were some towns where you had no access to internet. and not being able to drive myself it wasn’t like i could jump in a truck and go find a diner or library with wifi. but i managed editing pages waiting for a signal to upload changes or answer emails. so glad I’m at home with 3g internet that is almost always on. 🙂 Wishing you all the best with your new writing digs, Max

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