Creating Your Writing Space

Guest post by Michael Hemmingson

Smith-Corona

Writers differ in their needs and preferences for space in which they create. If you’re fortunate enough to have a writing room in your house, or have an office away from home, then you’re one of the envious few. Writers must be able to create their own writing space, and it’s as much psychological as it is physical.

Powers of Concentration

It’s said that Louis L’Amour, the legendary Western storyteller could write anywhere, on the back of a horse or on the median in Times Square in New York City. He had incredible powers of concentration and once he was in the zone, nothing could distract him.

Harlan Ellison is known to have half-dozen typewriters around his house, where he has a different work (screenplay, story, column, book review) in each machine; this way he can move about his house, going from one to another. I employ a similar technique—I have four computers in my apartment; one in the bedroom, two in the living room, and one in the “dining area.” Each has a different work (novel, screenplay, essay) associated with it.

For instance, I can only write screenplays on a certain old Compaq that I carry around with me when I travel, and I print the scripts out on a different laptop. I write short fiction on my ancient Macintosh desktop; on another laptop, I write essays and work for newspapers and magazines.

I am single so this is easy to do. My roommates are two cats who don’t mind that our home has become an office.

Writing Tools

One factor that influences when and where you write is what tool you use to write. If you compose drafts in pen or pencil, on a laptop or PDA (the “cell phone” novel is a current literary craze in Japan), then the world is your writing space. If you use a desktop computer or typewriter, you are going to be restricted to a room somewhere.

Best Practices

What approach should you take to creating the right writing space for you? Here are some suggestions:

  • Find what works for you best and stick to it. Like they say in the country, “If it ain’t broke, it don’t need a-fixin’.” If a writer you admire does things a certain way with her or her writing space but it does not quite suit you, don’t feel there is something “wrong” with your way. I have been down this road, attempting to emulate the writing space and practices of Kurt Vonnegut and Raymond Carver. As they say in the city, “Trust the process.”
  • If you’re the kind of writer who is a “pack-rat” or “messy and unorganized” but it’s a situation where you do your best work, don’t listen to criticism that you have to do things some other way. If the husband or wife wants you to be “neat and tidy” but you’re not that person, it may be time to say, “But you knew I was like this when we first met….”
  • Every writer’s space needs and surroundings differ as much as there are different people, and there is no rule of a “one way.” Just because Hemingway wrote standing up with an old 1900 Corona typewriter doesn’t mean doing the same will produce great literature—I once tried that, even found the 1900 Corona in an antique store, but then found it easier to sit on the floor, cross-legged, with a Mac G3.

Some writers require consistency and order, writing during same block of times in the day (recommended), keeping their writing spaces neat and tidy. A lot of this may have to do with time constraints—the writer’s day job, obligations to a spouse and children, set hours for exercise, dinner, or favorite television shows. Other writers, like myself, thrive in chaos, with papers and books scattered everywhere, and no set schedule. I may write 12-14 hours one day, one hour the next, ten hour the following day, and none for several days. That doesn’t work for most people, but it works for me.

I would never advise anyone to do things the way I do; what works for me works just fine for me, but would not for others. You must experiment to discover the physical, emotional and spiritual creative zone works best for you.

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