Figuring out your ideal writing space: an excuse to go for a ramble

Tuesday, October 4, 2016
by Ryan Patrick Welch

Following up from last week’s blog that dealt with procrastination and getting started, it seems intuitive to consider one of the (potentially) underrated parts of the writing process: finding your ideal writing space. Sometimes, I find that people identify their favourite writing space with a binary. They either like total silence and undisturbed time, or they need some kind of background noise and a bit of chaos to get motivated. However, this self-identified requirement for a writing space can get us into tricky situations. How so?

Riffing off last week (heh), the problem with this binary approach to writing spaces is how it confines you to overly-specific criteria to make you feel comfortable writing. In some extreme cases, having a pre-defined writing environment can also harm your confidence. For example, if you only believe you can write in particular situations — like when your house is empty…after 5 p.m.…during a waxing moon…on a Tuesday…with a southwesterly breeze blowing — you’re going to paint yourself into a writing-corner. It can even get to the point where you tell yourself “It’s impossible for me to write anything useful without these (possibly) arbitrary conditions.” Although this is an exaggerated hypothetical, it may be a good way to emphasize just how ridiculous these self-prescribed rules can be. At the very least, it highlights the type of mental gymnastics we are willing to perform to rationalize procrastination. It’s kind of like inception, but without the eerie soundtrack or looming existential crisis. Well, mostly without the looming existential crisis.

Inception meme with text reading:

I’m obviously over-simplifying how most of you approach finding a writing space that fits your needs. And if you’re an upper-year undergrad or grad student, you’ve probably figured out how to integrate a range of environmental factors into your writing process. However, I think the main thing to take away is how essential it is to always self-reflect and evaluate all parts of your writing process; your writing space is no exception to this rule. It’s also worth noting that new writing tasks or unfamiliar genres are going to challenge you in different ways. These new writing tasks necessitate a certain level of dexterity with your approach. If you find yourself at a loss, it’s worthwhile to think about the external forces which may be shaping how you approach a problem.

Once again, the best way to deal with finding your ideal writing space involves a degree of experimentation and an appreciation for circumstance. Basically, you have to accept that you will occasionally write in sub-optimal conditions. We’re not talking about scribing your philosophical inquiries while serving for the Austro-Hungarian Army in WWI (looking at you, Wittgenstein). Rather, there will be times where you write under the pressure of multiple approaching deadlines, or your computer decides to explode and you need to use one at the library. You may even just have a hard time getting motivated. It happens to all of us.

Motivational anchorman meme reading

Along with being open to experimentation, it’s also useful to consider a variety of writing spaces depending on the writing stage you’re currently in. Maybe you need to isolate yourself when you’re in the brainstorming or planning phase, but when you finally know how you’re going to proceed, spend a couple hours at the café with a couple of friends and plug away at your work. Or maybe you need to wander around town aimlessly listening to podcasts just to get your head in a creative space. Remember, the writing space that we’re talking about here isn’t purely physical; there’s an interplay between the external world and how your thoughts may internally respond to certain stimuli.

The beauty of diversifying your writing space lies in how — after a while— you’ll find yourself thinking critically and creatively in totally mundane situations. You won’t need to be tied to a set of rules that govern when and where you can think and write. Instead, it’ll become part of the way you understand the world around you.

This is not to say that you shouldn’t look for a degree of consistency with your writing process, because everybody still tends to gravitate towards one “thing” that scaffolds their overall working style. Having this core habit is still at the heart of any writing process. Hemingway allegedly remained standing the entire time at his typewriter, while Aaron Sorkin broke his nose acting out his dialogue. I’m a relatively simple guy; at this point, multiple pots of black coffee do the trick for me regardless of where I am. The point is that to figure out what kind of writing space is best for you — and when is the best time to occupy it — requires a bit of trial-and-error.

Go forth! Scribble on sticky notes in the bustling cafés, trace your ideas on the dusty rear window of your car, or take solitude in your room and compose. Whatever works for you is cool, but don’t forget that you can always try a little bit of each.