Work the Room—the Writing Room
I'm talking about understanding how you work as a writer—your own creative process—and how to create optimum conditions for that to occur.
Claudia Hunter Johnson wrote a book entitled Crafting Short Screenplays that Connect. Whether you're a screenplay writer or not, she has a chapter called "Connecting to Process" that every writer can learn from. It is the most informative and inspirational passage I've ever read on the work of a writer.
Tennessee Williams spoke of a place where we find "great fertility" in our writing. Moments that are hours. Words that are chapters. Pages that are books.
So how do we get there? How do we find the perfect where, when, how, when there are so many factors actively trying to distract your thoughts and quiet your muse? All writers can relate to the days where putting a single sentence together is impossible, only to pen thirty pages the next day. What dictates the outflow of your creativity?
Let's look at some factors to find the best way you work as a writer.
Location, location, location
What you're surrounded by will affect you as a writer. So, aspect numero uno will be the where of writing.
Are you a work from home type of writer? If so, have you found the place you work the best in? If you're unsettled or uninspired where you've been writing, try somewhere new. If you usually work at the kitchen table, try your bedroom. If you usually lounge on the couch, try sitting on a chair by a window.
Pinterest is flooded with awesome articles on how to make "cloffices" (offices made from closets) or turning a nook or a wall into a homey writing area. You want to love where you write, so take the time to carve out a place in your home for it.
Wherever you end up, make it a dedicated area. Protect that space and keep it set a part for your writing.
Maybe being at home doesn't work for you and you need the white noise of people. Coffee shop? Park? Library? Wherever you end up, I recommend taking one item with you to place on your café table or next to you on the bench that symbolizes your work area: a totem that you can focus on when you're being distracted. Maybe it's a tiny picture frame, a small book, a chess piece, a tiny glass figure—something that is significant to you and your writing process.
Now, maybe you're thinking, My best place for writing is the beach and I live in the desert. Or, My best place for writing is when I'm on vacation, but I can only go once a year. If there is an ideal place for you to write and you can't be there, start experimenting with places that you do have access to.
Writing only where it is optimal is not always realistic, and your muse is tempermental. She may withhold her wealth if you only let her out when the stars perfectly align. Compromise and find places that have the feel of your optimal writing locations, even if you can't be there all the time.
There can be many reasons why you might feel trapped in the place that you live, without a choice to move. But it's a great waste of time to spend your entire life in uncongenial surroundings. One of the first steps to implementing creativity at the personal level is to review your options of life contexts and then start thinking about strategies for making the best choice come true.
// Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi in Creativity //
An Object Lesson
Claudia Hunter Johnson says in Crafting Short Screenplays That Connect, "Once you've found your space, fill it—to the extent you want it to be filled—with objects that have significance for you."
Maybe you need sticky notes with penned quotes that have inspired you. Maybe you need pictures of your loved ones surrounding your desk. Maybe you need a verse written above your computer, a painting on the wall, a patch on your journal.
Have objects that reminder you why you write, inspire you when your muse is playing hard to get, and encourage you when the lies come. Those thoughts of I'm not good enough. Why am I doing this, I'm not even a writer! Everything I write is awful. Why am I wasting my time? I'll never write anything as good as so and so.
These accusations every writer hears, and being able to shut them up is imperative to being a successful writer.
Having these object reminders in your work space assists that goal.
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi also says in Creativity, "The kind of objects you fill your space with also either help or hinder the allocation of creative energies." So fill your space with objects that fuel your imagination.
What time is it, Mr. Fox?
Clear time and space for your writing. Not just any time and space—the time and space that works best for you.
// Claudia Hunter Johnson //
When have you found the greatest "fertility" in your writing? Are you a morning person? At the sun's face, inspiration floods your fingertips? Or maybe you're a night owl and it takes the moon to allure your muse. Or maybe it's the twilight of afternoon?
Whenever you've found to be best time for your writing, make an effort every day to protect that time for your writing.
Granted, if your best time is first thing in the morning and you have little ones who are up and terrorizing at the same time, you won't be able to save it for writing. But having young children is a time of life and you'll get back to that first thing in the morning "fertility" one day. Or maybe your work schedule just changed and now you have to work during your optimal writing hours.
These kinds of challenges are a part of life—writing and otherwise. Therefore, for now, at the time of life you're in, what's the best time of the day for you to write?
A Fine How Do You Do
How do you write? This is a very interesting aspect of your process to dive into. Do you work in long stretches of time or short bursts? Do you write to music or do you need complete silence? Do you binge on a project for a week straight or do you need the weekend to walk away and get perspective?
Maybe you need sunlight to feel inspired, so write near a window; maybe you need to feel like you are in a darkened dungeon, so shut the blinds (ye crazy vampire). Do you need candles burning? Coffee at arm's length? Toothpicks to nibble on?
Experiment! Find what makes words turn to pages turn to books. Whatever gets you writing, do that—and do it more.
Eliminate any distractions that keep you from your process. Some writers turn off the internet, put in ear plugs, hide their phones, lock the door—guard your time from the things that hinder your work.
Sharpest Tool in the Shed
What kinds of tools inspire you the most? Do you need the pen in your hand feeling it scribble agains the grain in the paper? Or maybe the pen and paper is too slow and you need the speed of a computer. Do you reach for your laptop or do you need to sit at a desktop? Try out all of these to see which one helps you get your ideas out the best.
Invest in a comfortable chair. Sit up straight. Ensure your keyboard's height is comfortable so you're not over-extending your back trying to reach your work. Take a break and walk around.
Is there an activity that you could do before writing to get your mind in the right space for the work at hand? Some authors burn candles, write out negative thoughts, sharpen pencils, chew gum, braid their hair, read a poem, recite an inspirational quote, pray, etc.
Getting your mind in the right place for writing could surprisingly assist your process.
That's All, Folks
Keep in mind, too, that trying to write and hitting internal and external obstacles is the dramatic paradigm... so pay attention to your own struggle. You'll be a better dramatist for it. Most of all, trust the process. Make some mistakes, take some chances.
// Claudia Hunter Johnson //
If you don't feel like you have found a way you "work" yet, experiment with some of these. Focus on the where for a week and then the how. Dab with different tools for a couple days and then try out a ritual. Find where you're writing "fertility" lies and then... and then, my dear friend, write.