When I first started writing, I could write anywhere. I wrote on the bus, in bed, at school, at home, on vacation, anywhere and everywhere I could. I find though as I get older that it’s harder and harder for me to find the right spot to really let my inspiration flow. I’ll have a hot moment in a coffee shop where I can pound out ten thousand words in a day, or I can sit in that same spot all day and only write less than a hundred. The same goes for my couch, my bed, my back porch. What once was a quick and easy process has become something I could only do when the stars aligned and it was incredibly frustrating.
Finally, last year, I decided that the only way I could get my writing goal in was to write through the frustration and get myself on a routine. This meant writing at the same time everyday and more importantly writing in the same place everyday. Now, my husband and I have a small renovated home from the 1920s. It’s not made for an office space, but I knew I had to make space for my writing if I wanted to make a career of it. So, I found the tiniest desk I could on Amazon, cleared out some clutter we’d stacked up in a corner and made an office out of a 3 foot by 3 foot space in out living room. It wasn’t necessarily easy making the most of this small space but I found that a great office really only needed five essential things:
Window Space (Or Light At The Very Least)
I was lucky that my little corner had a window because there is no way I can write without a window or at least a little bit of natural light. I enjoy having the light to help me warm up a bit, lift my spirits when I get in a rut, and to look at longingly when I need a moment of inspiration. My ideal office space is surrounded by windows, with great views and light all day, but you have to work with what you have. So make sure when you set up your writing space that you have a window to look out like a sappy 90’s movie when it rains. You’ll thank me later!
It’s so important to have space to really see your goals visually. I have a cork board where I keep a checklist for revision I got during a graduate workshop and look over when I’m having a hard time editing on my own. I also have a dry-erase board that I track my current goal. Say I want to write 15 pages a week. At the beginning of the week, I’ll write out what my goal is and then every time I stop working, I chart how much closer I am to my goal for the week. It’s a great way to reward yourself for accomplishments and remind yourself to keep working.
This is pretty much a no-brainer. You need room for whatever books are helping you with your writing, plus a hard copy of your manuscript if you’re editing, pens, pencils, and, of course, that huge stack of unused journals that you know you have. In my little office, I have a couple of fabric drawers where I keep a bunch of miscellaneous stuff that don’t fit in my desk organizer. I also always keep a copy of Milk and Honey because I find that reading poetry is a nice break when I get stuck on a scene, particularly with description. I have a shelf for all those journals and a large accordion organizer that has hard copies of every version of my manuscript with notes and corrections. The important thing with your storage is that you have everything you need to write within reaching distance so you don’t get up, walk around and get distracted.
People always get defensive when I say every writer should own a printer. They try to say that they do everything paperless. That they can do all their writing and editing on the computer. But the truth of the matter is that you need hard copies of your manuscript. Personally, I can’t edit my work without a printed copy with me to read out loud and make corrections on. There’s just no way I could get good revision work done without it. Maybe your editing process is different, but at the end of the day, a lot of agents and publishing houses will require you to send them hard copies at some point in the process. Invest in a printer now so you don’t have to scramble when you really need it.
Absolutely Nothing Else!
Seriously. Nothing else should go in your writing space. Sure, you can decorate the space to your taste and make it your own. I, for example, have a ceramic hedgehog planter that I have fake succulents in, because it makes me happy and I can’t keep real plants alive. My point is though, that this is your space for writing and for writing only. It’s not another table in your house or apartment to collect clutter. It’s not somewhere your kids or husband can do their own work. It isn’t somewhere you can sit down and pay your bills. This is your dedicated writing space, a place you can go anytime you need to write and get the work done without distraction or delay. Don’t make it an all-purpose space that you sometimes write in.
Obviously everyone’s writing needs and preferences differ, but if you are stuck in a situation like I was, having trouble writing consistently, then at least try an office space out. It can be anything you like: a desk and chair, a great arm chair, a comfy spot in the floor, whatever works best for you. Think of it like self-care. Your creative health is a part of you that you need to nurture and care for, just like your mental or physical health. Make time and space for it to grow and you’ll feel the difference!
Sarah Foil is a writer, editor, and media manager based out of North Carolina. She has an MFA in Fiction from the Mountainview MFA program and focuses on YA Fantasy. While her current passion project is her YA Fantasy trilogy, which is currently seeking representation, she spends much of time running and managing Sarahfoil.com, a resource for writers and readers of all kinds. She loves encouraging writers to continue to improve through her editing services and sharing her personal writing journey through blog posts and on Facebook and Twitter. If you have any questions about her services, please reach out via sarahfoil.com/contact .