by Barbara Linn Probst
There’s a special writing area I’ve created for myself. A glass-topped desk with very little to clutter the surface: laptop, coffee mug, desk lamp, and my little “owl with tiara” mascot.
The desk faces a large window that looks out on trees and distant hills. No houses, cars, or people. A black ergonomic chair.
I like having this special, dedicated place. I do other things there—emails, PayPal, cropping my photos—but mostly it’s where I write. The time of day varies, from early morning to late at night; the place, less so.
I wondered what other people did, what their writing spaces were like. So I asked.
I posted a photo of my desk on a few Facebook groups for writers and invited people to respond with their own photos or descriptions. A lively discussion ensued, with dozens of people taking part.
Here’s what I learned and what I think it means.
The cave-dwellers. In one camp were those, like me, who needed quiet and calm.
Among the cave-dwellers, some found a beautiful view helpful:
Others, in contrast, found views distracting.
The white-noisers. In another camp were the people who concentrated best in coffee shops and places filled with lots of background noise.
The anywhere-and-everywhere writers. A third group wrote wherever and whenever they could. For some, this was because it was the only realistic option. Others simply stopped and wrote when an idea struck them.
The more I thought about it, the more I realized that everyone was doing the same thing. In one way or another, they were creating a sealed-off environment where the world of the story could dominate, rather than the world of ordinary life.
They did this by entering a special place or a special time. Three hours every Monday night at Starbucks. A corner of the basement—“it’s cluttered, but it’s mine.” A special armchair or a space in an unused bedroom. During the hour-long train ride to work.
In order to enter the story world, they had to subdue or transform the sensory stimulation of the regular world.
Through silence, noise-cancelling headphones, music, or the ambient sounds of strangers, each person erected her own auditory shield—a protective ring, a barrier, that let them focus on the interior world of their imagination.
Visual stimulation seemed less problematic. Perhaps because it’s easier to stay focused on a laptop or notebook, resisting the urge to look elsewhere, than it is to block out the intrusive sounds that reach us without our choosing to attend to them.
In the old Star Trek movies, a deflector shield was raised to ward off incoming energy that was vibrating at a frequency other than that of the shield itself—in other words, to repel distractions as well as dangers.
When we’re trying to write, incoming impressions that aren’t relevant to the story world need to be repelled—so we create our personal shields. One person summed it up well: “Above all, a place where I’m alone with my thoughts. I can be in a crowded place as long as I don’t know anyone else or get distracted.”
It’s the internal place that really matters. The external place is just the container. Without that dedicated internal place—that special state of immersion in the world of our characters—the most exquisite, well-appointed office won’t necessarily help. Sometimes the external place, with its accessories and associations, does help us shift into the internal one.
At other times, when we don’t have access to the time or place where we believe we write best, we find another way. Artist Georgia O’Keeffe painted inside her car when the weather was too hot in the New Mexico desert. At a workshop I attended, renowned author Alice Hoffman told us that she often writes on her iPhone.
We write—when, where, and because we must.
Where do you write best? What are the key elements of that environment? Is there a place that’s surprisingly conducive to writing for you—a place that might seem odd to others, but works for you?
What are the essential “writing shields” you need?
Are you getting what you need, or are there small changes you can make in your writing space that would help?
* * * * * *
Barbara Linn Probst is the author of Queen of the Owls, coming in April 2020 from the visionary, award-winning She Writes Press. Queen of the Owls has been chosen by Working Mother as one of the twenty most anticipated books for 2020 and will be the May 2020 selection of the Pulpwood Queens, a network of more than 780 book clubs throughout the U.S. To pre-order or learn more, please visithttp://www.barbaralinnprobst.com/
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