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