Roald Dahl had a shed at the bottom of his garden. Agatha Christie went to luxury hotels. Jack Kerouac probably sat at a bar with a bottle of scotch. Wherever it is, a writer needs a space to call their own. For many of us, that will involve repurposing part of our home, rather than a regular trip to the presidential suite of the Four Seasons.
Making the adjustment to working at home can be more challenging than many believe. Even if you’re organized, focused and motivated, there are endless distractions and challenges that can get in the way of productivity.
Writing from home is not for everyone. Sure, you get to skip lengthy morning routines and work in your bunny slippers, but that doesn’t mean that life’s going to be easy – so it’s always a good idea not to get lost in romantic notions, and know that there are other options that might work better for you.
Whatever location you choose, here are some important points on how to create a positive workspace that will help you remain a productive, organized, and happy writer.
- Create a work space. You deserve a dedicated space that is separate from your living space. It might be just a desk separated by a white Ikea unit, but this is your space to get creative. Make it clear to everyone you live with that this is your writing space. Close the door if you can; get a leave me alone sign, or install a lock inside the room. Don’t worry too much about decoration – this space just needs to be comfortable, not distracting.
- If writing at home is too distracting, find a different but regular place to go. This could be a coffee shop (of course you’ll have to buy their coffee and ask before using a power outlet), a library, or any public space that suits you. The key is it should be familiar, easy to get to, and not filled with things that will constantly snatch your attention.
- Manage your food and snacks! When you’re working from home, it’s like the fridge is calling to you with its siren song, brimming with tasty nibbles and just one more drink break. Not only can this cost you valuable time as you grab yet another bite while you think your story over, but it can also have quite the effect on your waistline if you’re grazing all day. Plan your food breaks in advance, and stick to a schedule so you’re not drawn to the cookies when hunger (or procrastination) strikes.
- Know what you’re going to write before you begin. This is in a broad sense – for example decide that you’re going to write two chapters, a specific scene, or a character breakdown. You should know the tasks that you’re aiming to complete each day. Give yourself a purpose, and your organizational efforts will pay off by supporting discipline in meeting your daily goals.
- Structure your writing time – develop routines and remember to include a break. Housework is not a break, it’s a chore (unless you really, really love it). Make sure your break time allows you to relax and refresh your mind.
- Routines don’t have to be restrictive – they’re to help you get into the mood for writing. When are you most productive? Everyone is different, so if you do your best writing between 6am and 7.30am, schedule this time exclusively to take advantage of your creativity.
- Set realistic goals – be cautious in deciding how much you will write today. The unexpected happens, and people often overestimate just how much they can get done in a day. It’s good to set a goal, and many writers say 2000 words is a good target – but everyone is different and we all have differing amounts of time to write. Don’t feel ashamed if you can’t bash out huge numbers every day – be realistic about it and you won’t stress yourself out.
- Network with writers. There’s a world filled with other creative types out there, and it’s bursting with tips and inspiration. You want to make the most of that. Be careful when doing this online, though, because if you’re like 99% of the population and find yourself easily distracted by social media or aimless internet browsing, it’s a good idea to avoid distractions by limiting your internet time.
- Recap and reflect on the past week. What went well? What could you do better next time? You’re your own boss, so be sure to give yourself some honest feedback from the perspective of a manager. Over time, you will learn what helps you write, and what slams the brakes on your creativity. This will help you decide in the future if it’s worth trying to write when your kid is ill or you have a looming deadline at the day job, for example.
- Stay healthy! Sitting for most if the day is considered as bad as enjoying a daily diet of cheeseburgers, so get out and get some exercise. Walk the dog, or borrow someone else’s. Go for a run or a brisk walk to stretch your legs and get your blood flowing. It doesn’t really matter how you choose to exercise, but it’s crucial to look after your temple.
- Stay social. Talk to people, either online or in the real world. Chatting with other writers can help you work through problems and makes for a valuable support system. You could even give your best friend or your mom a call; it’s been a while.
- Have fun. Celebrating your successes is an essential part of being happy about what you do. Without a sense of reward, most tasks feel meaningless – but the reward doesn’t have to come from a third party. Recognize a job well done and treat yourself whenever you’ve achieved a goal. You’re doing great.
Writing might not seem like a job to some people, but if you’re serious about having other people read, enjoy – and pay for – your work, then writing is indeed a job. You’re creating a world, developing characters, and threading a story to entertain and delight another person – your reader. They’re in charge now.
So it will help you if you create all the external cues that go with working, such as a home office and a schedule. These cues let you get in the mindset to write productively.
Realistically, yes it’s hard to get free time to write, and to be completely free of distractions. That’s why it’s imperative to make the most of time that you have. If you can write at home in an office space, you’ll save money on expensive coffees and time spent traveling – but if home just doesn’t work for you, try a library or other public space. If you write on a laptop or similar, you’re going to be restricted to places with a power outlet, so be sure to scout ahead and make sure your chosen location will allow you to plug in. There’s nothing worse than your laptop’s battery cutting out when you’ve finally gotten into the flow!
Alternatively, you can try writing in a notebook instead – an approach that can be great for first drafts and collating ideas.
Wherever you choose for your writing space, just make sure it’s easily accessible, familiar, predictable, and fits in with the rest of your life. When you have you and your world correctly aligned, you can’t help but shine.
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