Creating a Writing Space

It's important to have a space set aside in your home for writing. It can be a big cushion in a corner of your closet with a notebook and pen, if that's all you have room for, or perhaps the back seat of your car because that's the only place you can get some peace and quiet, but it should be all yours, waiting for you whenever it's time to write.

If, instead, you go with the more traditional desk (and I'm not knocking the cushion because, really, it's portable, and you can take it to a park or a friend's house or a garden or something and have a change of scenery, which is always good), what does this space look like? Is it covered with books or bills or plants or receipts or clothes or dishes from lunch yesterday?

Have a little respect! Move that stuff somewhere else. Get a good lamp, put a picture or quote over your desk, something you won't mind staring at a lot (there'll be a lot of staring, trust me), tape some quotes on your monitor to inspire you (but keep an eye on these. When they seem tired because you've looked at them so often, put up some new ones.) Keep the area current with things that inspire you, change things up, perhaps on a monthly basis. Here are some ideas:

How about some flowers? Or a plant?

A container of your favorite pens - perfect excuse to go to Staples and buy things you don't really need but always make you feel better having: labels, hole punch, multi-colored paper clips, blue paper, post-its shaped like flowers...I can hear those waterproof markers calling me now...

A small notebook for jottings - sometimes writing it down before it goes on the computer helps you think and write differently. Make it an attractive notebook, not a spiral with the Power Rangers on it because it was cheap. (Unless you dig the Power Rangers. Then go for it!)

A couple of books you keep going back to for inspiration - when I get stuck I grab one of a few favorite books of poetry or fiction, and look for passages I've underlined that might jump start my writing again.

A couple of placemats in a friendly color or pattern covering the desk area - these double as sponges when you scream 'eureka!' and knock over your soda in joy because you finally found the most amazing metaphor ever to describe your character's eating habits.

Have a dictionary and thesaurus nearby. Duh.

If you keep disks of old writing - what am I saying--IF? You better hold onto those fragments and scraps of 'failed' writing. Are you crazy? That's a goldmine - keep those near as well, so you can go back and look for something you might use now and don't waste time digging in the 'miscellaneous drawer' in the kitchen, a box in the basement, the trunk of your car, or your ex-boyfriend's bathroom closet. Go on, you still have the key don't you? Go get them!

Your version of worry beads - sometimes I need something for my hands to do while I'm thinking. For some reason, this smooths things out in my head. I keep shells or stones on my desk, because sometimes I find I get anxious when things are going too well, when I'm working on a piece that is zooming along and I need to slow down a bit and make sure I don't lose any of the ideas as they come pouring in. When it's all falling into place I worry I might ruin it. It helps to pick up a stone and roll it in my hands and remember to take my time, listen, and stay out of my own way. This works even if things aren't going all that well. I get great ideas when washing dishes or driving the car. Moving an object between my hands creates a soothing, repetitive motion that allows my mind to relax, consider, drift, while lightly focusing on the object. It's a sort of meditation and it really works.

One of my favorites - cut out pictures from magazines of people that best represent what your characters look like. Or a picture of their house, the town, their cat. For example: if you're writing a poem on Paris or winter or winter in Paris, cut out a picture that evokes the mood you're going for. Tape these up on your monitor. Imagine your characters talking to each other. Fighting. Kissing. Imagine them walking through the streets or staring out the window of the living room. What are they thinking about? What are you thinking about? Visual representations like these can give a huge boost to your writing.

Burning some scented candles or incense - but don't leave them to run to the store for ice cream or to put the laundry in the dryer. It would really suck if the house burned down and with it the novel you just finished, wouldn't it? Be safe.

Dress up or down - this is the perfect time to put on the pajamas with the goldfish on them your mother gave you for Christmas. You know, the ones with the matching tank top and socks. Hey, go all out. Put a bow in your hair. Wear a festive necklace. If you're a guy - time for the team jersey, those silk boxers your girlfriend gave you that you swore you'd never wear, a robe with a scarf at the neck, a tie tied around your forehead or the pajamas with the goldfish on them your mother gave you for Christmas. Be silly. Be weird. Why not? This is not the time for pride. It's time to do whatever you can to get things flowing. You want to establish a good routine, and then throw something in to shake things up a little.

Try some music to get yourself in the mood - for writing! Take a few minutes to gauge how you're feeling right now, what you might like to listen to (classical, sounds of rain or birds or the ocean, disco, rap, drumming, the original cast recording of Oklahoma!?) put the cd in and let it take you straight into your imagination.

Also, we know your tricks. Make sure you walked the dog and tivo'ed the game before you sit down. No excuses.

Now, get to it! Remember, setting the right stage for your work, using all the senses, and creating a routine for entering your space cues your brain that it's time for writing, a habit you definitely don't want to break.

Christine Stewart, M.F.A. is an artist-in-residence with Creative Alliance in Baltimore. She is the recipient of a Ruth Lilly Fellowship, a Pushcart Prize nominee, and has been published in Poetry, Ploughshares, and other literary magazines. To subscribe to her Real Writer newsletter, find information on mentoring and teaching services for writers, or purchase the upcoming e-book "The 30-Day Writing Challenge," (and receive a FREE writing evaluation!), check out her website at http://www.therealwriter.com

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