Writers in the Storm

A blog about writing

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October 21, 2022

7 Ways to Increase Your Creativity Through Workspace Design

by Lynette M. Burrows

Black and white image of Earnest Hemingway at a typewriter on a small desk pushed up against a mirrored door in a hotel. Increase your creativity through workspace design

The life of a writer can be unpredictable. Family, medical issues, housing issues, and many more personal-life interruptions can disrupt the flow of words. Many of you may not have options and write when and where you can write. For example, right now I’m writing in the waiting room of a car maintenance shop. The environment here is nice, but definitely full of distractions. 

When we can choose our writing environment, it makes sense to choose a space that optimizes how we write. Keep in mind that not all of us will respond in the same way to the same physical space. In the list of elements I offer below, choose the ones that speak to you, that feel more creative to you. 

Brain Science

The theory that people are right-brained (creative, intuitive) or left-brained (logical or linear) or both is a popular myth unsupported by neuroscience. The brain’s right and left hemispheres are not separate organs. While the right-hemisphere performs more complex functions, and the left hemisphere controls most (if not all) physiological functions, the two hemispheres work together.

While the right- versus left-brain theory is a myth, it’s an easy way to understand how people think. At the extremes, a few of us are nearly 100% logical-thinkers and a few are almost 100% creative-thinkers. A few of us fall into the moves fluidly between the two. In a reality, we are all a mix of the two. Many of us continue to perceive one or the other thinking style is our primary way of perceiving the world. We’re not wrong, but it’s more complex than which hemisphere controls what. Still, we can use brain science and psychology to help us set up a work environment that supports our creativity.

Space

Environmental psychology is the study of how our physical surroundings influence us. One of the newer sciences, it came into existence in the 1970s. 

Our mental space stands in direct proportion to our perception of physical space.

Donald M. Rattner, Architect

In other words, our physical space affects us both as it actually exists and our intuitive interpretation of that space. The more we perceive a space to be open, the more we are open to new ideas. 

Height

The height of your ceilings affects your perception of openness. Tall, vaulted ceilings give us a sense of openness. Things that draw our eye to the height like pendant lamps or images enhance our sense of openness. 

Lateral Space

Most of us cannot do anything about the height of our ceilings. We can increase our perception of space by focusing on lateral space. 

Artwork of landscapes or faraway places can give us a sense of space. A window or a doorway with a view of the outside makes a space “feel” open. Furniture placement and a lack of clutter also affect our interpretation of the lateral space that surrounds us.

Some will say that they do better in cluttered spaces. That may be true for specific individuals. Maybe you would feel more creative with an uncluttered and more open environment. Try it. If it doesn’t work, clutter is easy to accumulate.

Involve Your Senses

This image shows Mark Twain sitting at a fold down writing desk adorned with flowers and Japanese style fan, pencil to paper and pensively looking up and out.

Our environment is more than a window, doors, and a desk. Sound, sight, smell, and touch can also create an environment that invites creativity. 

Sound

Sound is all around us. Certain sounds can help us concentrate or will trigger an emotional response. Know how you respond to silence, white noise, or music. When designing your workspace, consider what the ambient noise level is in your space. Use sound to give you optimal creative energy.

Sight

You may be shy of using sight because of cautions about overusing it in your writing. But there are many aspects to sight: light, color, objects, even textures. Consider all aspects of sight to create your most creative workspace.

Light

Ray Bradbury and wife in his workspace that inspires creativity through design

You know about overhead, task, and adjustable lights. Most of you have heard of the blue light emitted by computer screens and how it is detrimental to your sleep cycle. Many of you have blue light glasses to relieve eyestrain from hours of staring into computer screens. Most of you understand that the proper level of light in our workspace is crucial. You make certain you have plenty of light in your space. All good, right? 

Intensity

In 2013, psychologists Anna Steidel and Lioba Werth released the results of six studies done to evaluate the effects of light intensity on creative insight. Their findings may surprise you.

“… four studies demonstrated that both priming darkness and actual dim illumination improved creative performance… two additional studies tested the underlying mechanism and showed that darkness elicits a feeling of being free from constraints and triggers a risky, explorative processing style.”

Anna Steidel and Lioba Werth, Freedom from constraints: Darkness and dim illumination promote creativity.

The effects of darkness and dim illumination disappeared “when using a more informal indirect light instead of direct light or when evaluating ideas instead of generating creative ideas.”

The message for writers? Design your workspace with lighting that allows you to adjust the light brighter or dimmer according to your day’s work. 

Color

Research has determined that color affects our both body and brain in visual and nonvisual ways. Morning light and blue-green light stimulate the release of cortisol, which wakes us up. Late evening light, which has less blue-green color, releases melatonin, which makes us sleepy.

So what color should creative people use? There are many articles online that claim blue or blue-green are colors for creativity. I found scant evidence to support that. A 2019 article on C&P Business Media explains which colors create what emotions and physical responses. That article suggests we should select our primary color based on what our primary function is. If you write thrillers, you might want a color (red) that increases your heart rate and encourages physical activity. The author of that article claims that blue is an intellectual color and is best used in a space to promote logic and communication and focus. 

My suggestion? Choose a color that makes you feel safe, comfortable, and eager to work. 

Touch 

Another thing you “know” about your work environment is to set up your chair and workspace ergonomically. Using proper ergonomics is critical to your health. Better health means you can be more creative, longer. Need a refresher on ergonomics check out my December 2021 article, “35 Tips to a Healthier Writer You in 2022.

 Go beyond ergonomics. Consider physical touch. What textures does your workspace offer? Does it matter?

In May 2022, Claire Heeryung Kim, Kelly B. Herd, and H. Shanker Krishnan published “The creative touch: the influence of haptics on creativity” Their study focused on the “creation of new product ideas” such as a new Christmas ornament. They found that “participants who actively touch objects during the ideation process experience more positive moods than those who do not touch the objects and that this increase in mood leads to more creative new product ideas.” (Haptics is a science concerned with the sense of touch

How does this apply to writers? The surface of your desk is (most likely) smooth. Computer keyboards offer a little in the feel of pressing the keys. Think about varying textures of other objects in your office from coarse to fine. Objects you can handle, you can meditate on, you can sense through your fingertips. Especially consider textures you might describe in your fiction. 

Smell

There is limited research on how scents influence creativity. Yet, scent is a powerful tool in eliciting memories of past events and emotions. For me, scent also can be a powerful trigger of creative ideas. Scented candles, essential oils, aromatic herbs and flowers are all tools I use when writing. If you’ve never used scent to enhance your creativity, take a day to experiment. Gather at least three distinct scents. Sniff them one at a time. Write about whatever memory or thought that scent triggers for the next ten to fifteen minutes.

Your Workspace Design

Titled Make it your creative space this image shows a small, plain table with desktop computer and a molded plastic chair next to an ornate office with heavy executive desk, oak library paneling and leather chairs.

All of this goes to say, be deliberate. Think about how your environment helps or hinders your creativity. Experiment. Try one thing at a time. Choose or create the space that increases your creativity.

Need more inspiration on how to make your workspace increase your creativity? Read Kris Maze’s article “13 Ways Your Writing Inspiration Surrounds You” and learn how Feng Shui can help you in Ellen Buikema’s article, “Does Your Workspace Affect Your Writing?”

How does your workspace inspire your creativity? Is there an element you will change to increase your creativity?

* * * * * *

Lynette M. Burrows is a blogger, Yorkie Wrangler, sometime stained glass technician, and writes thrilling science fiction with heart.

Her Fellowship Dystopia series, Fellowship, My Soul to Keep and, If I Should Die, are available everywhere you can buy books online.

Lynette lives in the land of Oz. When she’s not procrastinating by avoiding housework and playing with her dogs, she’s blogging or writing or researching her next book. You can find Lynette online on her website, Facebook, or on Twitter @LynetteMBurrows. 

Image Credits

Top: Ernest Hemingway in London at Dorchester Hotel 1944, National Archives and Records Administration, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons 

Second Image: Mark Twain at his desk, marktwainhouse.blogspot.com, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Third Image: Ray Bradbury and his wife, Maggie, in his office., Los Angeles Times, CC BY 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

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10 comments on “7 Ways to Increase Your Creativity Through Workspace Design”

  1. Oh, I loved this, but then I've always loved anything to do with the psychology of space. In college, I especially loved that aspect of all the communications classes I took. Twenty years ago, when I was still working, I volunteered to be on the ergonomics committee.

    I'm a nester so when I write I want my nest, my comfortable space with all my stuff. I live alone and have subdivided a room to make it smaller, the divider a turquoise curtain, sheer. It allows light, but helps create the nest and is a pleasing color. My lighting is all indirect, but I have lamps all around me so I can spotlight what I'm referring to, if needed. There are shelves of books behind me and artwork on the walls to either side. It's a bit cluttered (I really need to get rid of a lot of junk), but it's that nest, that safe place feeling, that makes me productive.

    Given I otherworld historical fantasy, I have a lot of reference materials. Most are on my computer, but not all. Thus, there are always papers, folders, and notebooks scattered around me. Many change depending on the book I'm working on, including maps. Of course, there are the usual stationary items and lots of sticky notes. There's also Youba, my stuffed owl with the oversized eyes. He keeps me on task.

    What I lack is a window, but it wasn't possible to include it (not that I have much of a view, anyway … maybe after I relocate). Again, I need to simplify more, which will happen whether I want it to or not next year.

    1. How wonderful that you are aware of being a nester and needing that nest. Your curtain is a color that helps give the impression of water and space, no matter how small the actual space. Thanks for reading and good luck with the decluttering!

  2. I am absolutely hosed when it comes to space. My writing space is my laptop and I move it everywhere, looking for inspiration - the couch, the armchair, the kitchen table, the dining room table, Starbucks, local bars.

    I miss having my own office, but we just don't have room for that at this point. There is an office that my husband and I share, but we can't work there at the same time so I move around.

    I've learned that noise-canceling headphones are the key to my creative happiness. 🙂

    1. I get it. My first "office" was a table at the back of the dining room facing a room air conditioner. All I had to do was face the chair the other direction and I was ready for dinner. lol Not exactly ideal. Laptops are a boon for many of us. And noise cancelling headphones is a great solution.

  3. Excellent information, Lynette. I just reached up and flipped off the bright overhead light. LOL

    My office is a tiny space away from the rest of the house. I love it because it is quiet and I'm separated from most of the distractions.

    1. Lisa, I'm glad you found this helpful--and that you switched off that bright overhead. lol. It's wonderful that you love your work area. I think it's important that we love the space where we do our creative work.

  4. I'm ready to reclaim the space I lost before everyone came home for the pandemic. Husband will be at work away from home more days now, so that will help with me getting space and no interruptions.

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