When I moved to New York, my first bedroom was, quite literally, the closet under the stairs. I had just come from a small town in Michigan, where we didn’t have a Starbucks, but we did have big bedrooms. The idea of fitting a writing space into my poor excuse for one seemed laughable. But I had three roommates, so writing in the living room wasn’t an option, either. I had to find a way to make a small space work. And I know this happens for other writers, too. Maybe your home office has become a nursery, or has to be shared with another member of the household. Maybe all you’ve got is a closet, or a corner of the living room. No matter what the size or shape, I’ve found some tips that can make a writing nook no matter how much space you have.
Five Tips For Creating a Writing Office
1) Clear Your Desk and Create Ambiance
One of the hardest parts about having a small space is having to get a tiny desk. Mine had to double as my chest of drawers, so I didn’t have any drawer space at all. But I learned that I actually didn’t need them. Most of us write on computers, and my laptop was the only necessity I had, in addition to a small jar of sharpies for revision. A smaller desk made the space seem less cluttered.
That being said, there are homey touches that can make a desk a lot nicer to sit at, and can also easily separate it from the rest of the room. I’ve found having a small candle on my desk helps me focus. It’s sort of like Pavlov’s dogs; I use the same scent, and only when I’m writing. So, once I’ve lit the candle, something clicks in my brain, telling me it’s time to get to work. A lot of writers also diffuse essential oils to help focus or stimulate creativity–writer Jodi Kendall has some great posts on which ones to use if you’re interested in learning more. Another option is a small house-plant. I personally have trouble keeping them alive, but if you’ve got a green thumb, they’ve been clinically proven to brighten your mood and improve air quality in any space. Another thing you could add is a small speaker system–I like to hook my cell phone up to one. It’s not only better sound quality, but it keeps me from checking my phone when I’m working!
2) Create Sight-Lines
A writing nook shouldn’t feel like a desk just shoved in a corner. One way to differentiate the space from other parts of the room is to use create the illusion of walls. For example, in my bedroom, I hung a curtain. It’s not an actual wall, but it creates a differentiated area. Another way to do this is with twinkle lights strung around your desk, or shelves. In my little closet-office, I used both!
3) Build Shelves
A writing office doesn’t feel quite right to me without bookshelves, but they can take up a lot of space. In my first apartment, my walls were fake, so I couldn’t build on them. I set a tiny book-shelf on my desk, with room for only three or four of my favorites. It wasn’t ideal. In my new apartment (which is still quite tiny!), I still don’t have room for a bookshelf, but I do have an actual wall. With some floating bookshelves from Ikea, I was able to use my wall space without wasting any floor space, and still have a place to set my favorite books. One trick I like to use is to arrange them with some lying flat or facing outward. You break up the pattern and can also set nick nacks you love, but don’t want cluttering your desk space.
4) Make a changeable inspiration board
I live in an apartment, so I don’t want to fill my walls with nail and tack holes, but I do want to have writing inspiration on the wall. Hanging a simple bulletin board would work to fix this problem–there are a lot of different nice ones you can buy for relatively cheap, or paint to really make them pop. I wanted something a little different. After some perusal of Pinterest, I found a solution: clipboards. These allow me to post art and quotes that inspire me, or outlines for my books without poking holes in the wall. They’re also quite cute while still making a space feel “office-y”.
5) Go Light
If painting your space is an option, I highly recommend choosing light colors, even on bookshelves. They brighten up a space, and make it feel more open and clean. Warm, rich colors can work well if you have a large area. For example, I love the photo of Tahereh Mafi and Ransom Rigg’s office, which has a dark wood desk, big, deep red rug and deep green couch. It works because the space is large and open. At work, I have a tiny office with built-in bookshelves from the eighties that were made for mass market paperbacks, in an institutional brown. I painted them white (which took a whole weekend!) but I think the result was worth it.