Much has been said about the importance—or rather, the need—for a writer to have a room of her own. All the better (at least, in the 21st century), if the said room comes with a door that locks from the inside and with zero Internet connection. But what if you don’t have a spare bedroom or the funds to rent extra studio space? What if you have roommates? What if alternative venues, like cafes or libraries, are not workable solutions either? How do you carve out a writing space at home?
Fortunately, there are several ways to carve out your own writing space at home, compatriot, and intrepid writer. Below are some strategies regarding your space, boundary-setting, set-up, and distraction-coping rituals to help you get started.
Hack What You Already Have to Create a Writing Space
So what if you don’t have a separate home office? Do you want to write? Are you committed to putting in the work your stories ask of you? If so, you can do this. And, you can do this under less than ideal conditions.
There are plenty of creative, budget-friendly ways to create a dedicated writing space of your very own. Move a small table into a corner of your living room or bedroom (à la Emily Dickinson) exclusively set aside for writing sessions.
Take a portable lap desk into the basement, a closet, or onto the porch.
Repurpose a familiar surface like a kitchen or coffee table by using a special placemat, lighting a designated candle, or even facing in a different direction than usual when you craft your stories.
It might feel silly at first, but if the smallest, most eccentric adjustment successfully creates a focused, productive environment you can return to over and over again, use it!
Set Boundaries—and Stick to Them!
Now, lay a few ground rules around your writing space, both for yourself and with anyone who shares your home. Block out writing sessions in your calendar as you would appointments with clients for your day job. And, in the same way, you expect your partner or children to refrain from interrupting a virtual meeting with your boss and set similar boundaries around your writing.
Remember that writing takes work. It is reasonable to treat it as such.
Are you setting boundaries when it comes to other important resources like money and energy as well? While I am not suggesting you neglect your health or family in favor of your writing, recognize that you may have to turn down some tempting opportunities in order to pursue your literary goals.
At times, saying “no” to non-writing experiences can feel like a tedious game of “Would You Rather?” Would you rather go to brunch on Sunday or use that time when your roommates are out of the house to write? Would you rather spend money on a beach trip or pay for a writing conference and workshop fees? Would you rather stay in bed another hour or get your butt in the chair and do the demanding, thankless work of rewriting the thirtieth draft of your novel?
The decision won’t always be easy, but if your writing matters to you, choosing it will be rewarding in the long run.
Whatever boundaries you establish to protect your writing practice, be sure you stick to them!
Arrange the Right Workspace
When it comes to writing, the right workspace is your stage for prime productivity and creative exploration. Be sure to furnish your writing space properly so that when your muse shows up for her aria, they can hear her in the cheap seats.
When you are just starting out, you do not have to shell out big bucks for writing software or, arguably, even a computer! Have pens, paper, post-it notes, a timer, and whatever else you need within easy reach.
Be sure to keep ergonomics in mind and adjust or rearrange your seating and set-up as necessary. Your body is an important instrument, and the potential long-term physical strain of writing on your back, joints, eyes, etc. is not to be underestimated. A sore back might be a rare nuisance now, but future you (and your future masterpieces) will thank you for addressing it before it develops into a chronic issue.
Develop Rituals that Account for Writing Space-Distractions
Some distractions are inevitable and beyond your control. Construction noise, neighbors, hunger, thirst, pets, you name it. Others are beguiling excuses to step away on days that the work is particularly hard-going and unpleasant. Vacuuming? Dishes? Netflix? Why yes, thank you for the lovely detour.
To work around noise, listen to lo-fi, classical, or ambient sounds with headphones as you write.
Plan ahead if you tend to get sidetracked by a dry mouth or growling stomach, and keep a full glass of water, mug of tea, and some snacks near your writing space.
Work regular, short, timed breaks into longer sessions, so you can stretch your legs, squeeze in some exercise, take the dog outside, and return to the page refreshed.
Also learn to recognize those moments when you are merely seeking a way out of the vulnerable, unflinchingly honest, uncomfortable place where writing can sometimes take us. Sometimes, sticking it out for just a few more minutes can uncover the exact turn of phrase or underlying truth needed to really pull off a scene.
And, for the love of all that is good and beautiful in this world, please put your phone in another room when you work.
…Or at least silence all notifications and put it face down on your desk.
Final Thoughts and a Prompt
Please remember that as with any bit of advice, take what I’ve said here with a grain of salt. What works for me or my best friend might not make any sense to you. Be bold and audacious. Tinker and experiment as you create your writing space.
A Writing Prompt for Your New Writing Space
As usual, here’s a prompt to round out today’s article on redefining familiar spaces.
Write a scene in which your character(s) are creating some sort of new boundary. Perhaps your characters are drawing lines on a map, scratching lines in the sand on a beach, building a fence, or assembling a spacesuit.
How do your characters feel about their actions? Are they aware of their own emotional responses? Why are they doing this task? Do they complete it successfully? What are the consequences of their actions?
Tell us in the comments: What do you do to carve out your own writing space?
If you’re feeling particularly audacious, share a quick excerpt of your response to the writing prompt!
The elder daughter of Korean-Canadian and Austrian immigrants, F.E. Choe currently lives in Columbia, South Carolina. When she is not at her desk trying to craft true and beautiful sentences or piecing together her latest short story, you will find her feeding the dog scraps under the table, reading, or training her backyard flock of hens to walk backward. Follow her on Instagram @f.e.choe.