If you've been following this blog for a while, you may know my main writing nook is located in my laundry room off the garage in a space I've affectionately dubbed The Hollow.
Though not perfect, I've managed to make The Hollow a good setup with plenty of amenities for my writing sessions like my whiteboard wall where I jot down ideas for my WIPs and my beloved rolltop desk. One more unfavorable aspect of that space, however, is its location. Being off the garage, it can get a little chilly down there.
As much as I love snow and New England winters, a laundry room heated by a tiny faux-fireplace that can only do so much is not the ideal condition to be spending hours at a time in.
So, recently, I caved and bought a second desk to have upstairs in my bedroom where it's a little warmer. This also made for an excuse to finally get around to decorating that space since I haven't given it much attention since moving in two years ago. Before creating my secondary home office, there were plenty of boxes not yet unpacked, some going as far back as the last bit of my college dorm decor.
I put more work into decorating The Hollow, and it shows.
With this being the first post I'm officially working on at my new desk, what better to write about than setting up your writing space?
These are a few tips that have been effective for me, and you're welcome to adapt them to fit your needs.
Location Location Location
When setting up a space for writing, it's important to know where you'll be setting up shop.
The parameters of your space likely depend on a few factors, such as the layout of your home and who's in your household, as well as what you most prioritize in your ideal environment.
Although many of us might aspire to devote an entire room to our writing, that's not always achievable—at least, not right away.
The Hollow being off the garage happened because I wanted a separate space that was not in my bedroom or in the living room with distractions like the TV and video game consoles live—the latter made an even more challenging place to work when my mother shifted to working from home during the pandemic. Even though the washer and dryer and other appliances can make for some unwanted noise, I'm still glad to have my own space.
The key is to designate a specific area for your writing, even if it's not a permanent fixture.
Setting your laptop up somewhere like your dining room table until it's time to eat is often sufficient.
Consider places where you will be comfortable, but not so much so that you can't focus, and the kind of atmosphere that works best for you.
Many spaces can be adapted to fit your needs, which I'll be covering later in this post.
Know What You're Working With
When setting up a space for writing, it can be easy to let our minds wander a bit too far.
Pinterest can be great for gathering ideas and inspiration, but it can also be a pitfall.
I'm notorious for needing to be reined in when it comes to brainstorming, so keeping myself and my plans in line with what was feasible was vital.
Unfortunately, life does not resemble The Sims. We can't Motherlode our way to a million dollars, nor is it likely that we can just tack on an additional room for our writing—at least, not as easily as hopping into Build Mode.
Knowing what you've got to work with is important in creating a good space. This can mean a number of things depending on your specific situation, but for me it came down to my budget and making the space I had work.
Building On A Budget
For many, writing starts off as something that gets squeezed into our spare time between work and other responsibilities, and it's important to remember financial responsibilities when setting up a writing space.
Don't overspend on the setup! Some things are definitely worth splurging on if you can afford it, and what those things are can depend on your needs. But there are also plenty of things that can be done on the lower end of your price range.
My rolltop in The Hollow was purchased via Craigslist for $30. My first chair down there was actually the cheap one my grandfather had to help him get around his kitchen after his heart surgery, and I just ended up with it.
There are plenty of ways to create a suitable writing nook for yourself without breaking the bank. Repurposing what you already have and sprucing things up with a new coat of paint or fancy drawer knobs can be a great place to start. Thrift store runs are always exciting because you never know what you'll find.
When putting together your writing setup, consider the space.
This can mean a couple of things.
First, the space around you. What conditions are you in?
If your prospective space is notoriously chilly, can you feasibly plug in a space heater? Or, on the other hand, if it has a reputation for being hot as double-hockey-sticks, can you install an air conditioner or open a window? Is it well lit, or too bright?
Adjustments can be made, but they can sometimes be a hassle to arrange. Be aware of the space's current condition and the changes you would need for it to be more ideal.
Secondly, consider the workspace itself and how easy it is to fit your particular habits as a writer.
Are you someone who likes to spread things out? Are you often laying out several research materials at once and taking notes as you go through them? Do you rely on a computer for your first drafts or writing them on paper, or a combination of both?
Understanding the way you use your creative space helps you build it.
One thing I will say about the new desk is how much I love having more space. My rolltop is on the small side, and my typical setup involves my keyboard on the writing surface and my laptop placed above it since I can't actually fit my laptop between the desk's surface and the lid. If I'm typing up handwritten drafts from a notebook, it can take a bit to get it propped up at an angle that works.
The first round of edits on any given project consists of me marking up a printout of the typed-up version, which can require a larger surface.
My habits of jotting down story ideas on any scrap of paper I can find inspired my whiteboard. Beside that, I taped up a sheet of poster board to organize the sticky notes I use in the early plotting phases.
Knowing what writing ticks you rely on and what your typical writing session looks like can give you a sense of the ideal setup.
Be Mindful of CATastrophes and Other Hazards
While I love the look of rolltop desks in general, one of the main reasons I sought one for The Hollow was my cat. Willoughby is, shall we say, an inquisitive lad who loves heights and climbing onto every surface he can and enjoys experimenting with the properties of gravity.
Considering I was planning to have fragile things like my mini Jane Austen bust on display in my writing nook, I wanted to make sure they would be protected while preventing the risk of my furry assistant getting a little too involved and scattering my pages around when I wasn't looking. Many cups of tea and coffee have been spilled in his curiosity, turning my relaxed writing session into a frantic effort to salvage my work in the wake of disaster.
Life finds a way to get in the way. Plan for that.
If you know the kind of chaos you live with, implementing strategies to avoid it where possible can be helpful in the long run.
Especially true if you live in a household with roommates, a partner, children, and frankly anyone else apart for yourself, it's easy to get distracted or pulled away from your work.
Writers are often advised to set boundaries for themselves, like an hour where you hang a Do Not Disturb sign on the door and turn off your phone to focus. It may not always be feasible (see above examples), but finding means of limiting these interruptions is worth considering for your writing space.
If you are able, establish something of an off-limits zone to minimize distractions.
This may be easier in some scenarios than others. Writers able to designate a room or convert a corner of a room can close the door, whereas kitchen-counter-authors may have a more difficult time distinguishing the parameters of their space.
In any case, I recommend doing what my fourth-grade teacher would do during assigned independent reading time and say you are "invisible" for an hour (during which she would grade papers etc). Be available for emergencies, but also give yourself that space.
Regardless of your arrangement, there are ways to minimize distractions if you cannot ditch them completely. Getting some noise-canceling headphones, for example, or creating a playlist of instrumental tracks or inspired by your WIP can help you get in the zone and stay there. I personally prefer having Bluetooth earbuds linked to my phone so I can take my music with me when I go to grab a snack or refill my coffee and not have to settle back into a groove when I return to my desk.
Make It Yours
The final tip I'll share in this post is to make your space yours. Decorate it in a way that makes it feel unique to you.
It's important to have a space you can work in comfortably, but I also think your writing space should be your happy place. Somewhere you want to be working.
The Hollow ended up taking on a sort of English cottage vibe (well before the rise of cottagecore), with a green accent wall and strands of faux ivy edging the ceiling. The curtain hung to cover the fuse box has a forest landscape, and various pieces of woodland critter decor are on display. I have an entire drawer devoted to my stash of pine and wildflower candles.
While I love the aesthetic, one of the reasons I wanted to incorporate it in my writing space was because it's one I associate with the settings of various ongoing projects.
Incorporating homages to your genre or WIPs can invite essences of yourself into the space and can foster inspiration. For me, it's just another way of getting in the right state of mind to focus.
Along with this, make note of your personal habits as a writer. If you prefer handwritten first drafts, finding a notebook with a cover matching your theme or a snazzy pencil holder might be nice to have on your desk. Accents like mousepads can also bring a little charm to your space (the one I have in The Hollow has a cute little hedgehog on it to fit the woodland tones).
I also have a bookshelf where I keep my research materials within reach.
Of course, not everything has to fit a specific theme or aesthetic. I have a bunch of crystals on my desk for no other reason other than the fact they're pretty (although I have lately been increasingly curious about the spiritual element of crystals).
If there is one theme to hone in on it's YOU.
What makes you happy. What makes you comfy. What makes you want to write.
Like the craft of writing and the stories we tell, the in which we spaces we write can change and evolve over time. Although a work-in-progress in its own right, creating your space can be a passion project of its own. Even to this day I'm adding little touches to The Hollow.
Writing spaces are where the magic happens, so don't be afraid to get creative and have some fun!