Every writer needs a dedicated space for writing. I have an author friend who converted her walk-in closet to a writing space. Another one partitioned off the corner of her bedroom. Some writers build free-standing offices in their back yards. Writing spaces can be, and are, as individual as the artist in residence. So, what are the mandatory elements of a good writing space?
At its most basic, your office must have a door, adequate heating/cooling/ventilation, and electricity. Everything else is negotiable. I can hear your wheels turning. “The heating/cooling/ventilation and electricity are pretty self-explanatory,” you might say. “But why a door?”
A door is non-negotiable because it can be used to stop future negotiations before they start, hence freeing up writing time. A closed door should indicate to others in the household that work is being conducted and the author should not be interrupted for anything short of an emergency. A door provides a visible, physical boundary that, when closed, signals your need for solitude without you having to say it. Doors also block auditory and visual distractions far better than say, a curtain, or a Chinese folding screen. Such items will do in a pinch, but they don’t provide the level of barrier that a closed door affords.
So, we’ve covered the non-negotiables. What are the “it would really help a LOT but I won’t die if I don’t have it. Probably,” items?
A desk that is only used for writing and writing-related business.
It is all too easy, especially in a busy family, for the author’s desk to become the catch-all for everything the author does on a daily basis. Bill paying, list making, calendar filling, mail receiving… the possible additions are endless. And not only do these things take up physical space, they absorb one’s time and attention as well. Their presence in your writing space is a major distraction.
Delete the distraction by separating your writing space from your personal space. I know this may sound counter-intuitive, given the intimate nature of writing. But if you see writing as a business rather than a hobby, it becomes easier to draw that line. As much as possible, keep your writing space exclusive to writing, and you will find it easier to drop into “the zone,” when you sit down there.
It is true that many people write out their first drafts longhand. No worries there. But unless you are willing to pay for transcription, you’ll need to type up your work at some point. Most, if not all, editors and agents require electronic files rather than printed manuscripts these days. Indie authors use electronic files to send to beta readers, formatters, and to upload to their distribution channels.
Internet access that can be blocked at will.
Research is made easy by Google and other online search engines and resources. Advertising and other online activities can provide a big boost to your sales. But the internet also houses that nefarious beast, Social Media.
This includes platforms such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, which many writer’s use for their business, but these outlets also possess the power to consume mass quantities of time without one being aware of its passing. “I’m just going to answer this one post,” you might say, and three hours later you look up with your coffee cold and the light gone, and your spouse tapping at the door saying it’s dinner time. And don’t get me started on online games.
There are a number of apps and programs out there that will cheerfully block your access to online distractions for set periods of time. I don’t use any of them, and so I won’t try to recommend any to you. I simply turn off my internet when I don’t want to be disturbed and then turn it back on again when I need it. It’s a cumbersome process but it works for me.
A comfortable chair.
Writing is a sedentary activity. My best advice is to take frequent stretch breaks and vary your posture regularly. You can encourage yourself in this habit with a walking or standing desk, but this is only a partial solution since standing all the time is just as exhausting as sitting all the time. Mixing it up by allowing for both options is a good practice for anyone who spends a lot of time behind a desk.
However, for the time that you do spend sitting, it really helps to have a chair that doesn’t contribute to the problem by being uncomfortable or ergonomically untenable. Get a chair that is comfortably padded and built with proper posture in mind, and save yourself the aching back, shoulders and hips.
Records need to be kept. Supplies need to be stocked. Coffee needs to be brewed. All of this requires storage space. Only you can decide what level of storage is needed for your office, but it is important to have the things you use most close at hand. Having to leave your workspace to acquire paper or printer ink or – heaven help us all – coffee, is distracting and quickly becomes annoying.
These are the five things that leaped to mind when I thought about must-haves for my office. But everyone is different. Did I leave anything out? Are any of the five something you could totally do without? Let me know in the comments.