Why did James Joyce prefer to lay on his stomach and write? Or why wouldn’t Truman Capote start or finish a piece of writing on a Friday? Why was Friedrich Schiller inspired by rotted apples? In this post, we’ll talk about writing spaces and writer’s block.
Let me tell you a little bit about my writing space. It’s on the second floor, in a room connected to my bedroom. It overlooks some pretty scenery and a small highway. The windows are donned with pink curtains that match the darker pink rug my sister gave me. I have an insanely heavy cherry desk that my brother-in-law nearly killed himself to bring in me for me, and a comfortable black computer chair I got from Goodwill.
The window sills are lined with crystals, and I have a crystal grid on top one of my bookshelves that is programmed just for my creativity. A salt lamp and a tiny water feature surround the crystal grid. The walls are spotted with boards for my writing and positivity pictures to remind me to keep going. I have one shelf dedicated to books on writing, spirituality, and blank journals. Another shelf is dedicated to all my other books.
I love my study, but is any of it necessary? At the moment, with the way my neural pathways are trained, yes, it is, but truly, is it necessary for the rest of my life?
What you need for a writing space is simply a place you dedicate to write. With that said, there is science behind having a place where you only write. A distraction-free zone where you visit only to work on your pieces.
I’ve done a recent clean out of my office to de-clutter it. I have fidget cubes to help me think when I’m plotting, but I found that I accumulated tons of unneeded distractions. If we’re being honest, all we need is a spot to write and the tools to do it.
How does a dedicated writing space possibly help defeat writer’s block?
We have to head back to neural pathways. Remember, neural pathways, to put it simply, are the hiking trails of the brain. Some are less used and unknown, we don’t remember they are there until we use them more often. We don’t get lost on well-used hiking trails. They are what creates habits. The routine you’ve set for yourself will help you continue to use the magic of a writing space.
Ronald T. Kellogg, a cognitive psychologist, studied how schedules, behavior, and writing environments affect the amount of time invested in trying to write and the degree to which that time is spent in creative flow.
[There is] evidence that environments, schedules, and rituals restructure the writing process and amplify performance… The principles of memory retrieval suggest that certain practices should amplify performance. These practices encourage a state of flow rather than one of anxiety or boredom. Like strategies, these other aspects of a writer’s method may alleviate the difficulty of attentional overload. The room, time of day, or ritual selected for working may enable or even induce intense concentration or a favorable motivational or emotional state. Moreover, in accordance with encoding specificity, each of these aspects of method may trigger retrieval of ideas, facts, plans, and other relevant knowledge associated with the place, time, or frame of mind selected by the writer for work.Ronald T. Kellogg, The Psychology of Writing
Take a look at the full article by Maria Popova here. It’s an excellent companion for this post.
When I first started therapy, I had a difficult time sleeping. This is normal, however annoying. My doctor recommended sleep training. I took the t.v. out of my room, and only used the room for sleeping. No reading, no writing, no school work, nothing. Pretty soon I was able to fall asleep without an issue. (Since then, I’ve moved the t.v. back in, but still have no problem falling asleep. In fact, the t.v. may be a waste because it really isn’t watched!)
This is the same thing that happens when you use a particular spot to write, or a time of day. But, at the end of that day, it comes down to classical conditioning. Pavlov taught us all about that with that horrible experiment with the dogs (I’m all about the science, but also all about animals).
You know how some smells recall certain memories? The smell of a brand of ladies perfume reminds you of your grandmother. The smell of the ocean reminds you of your last trip. Cinnamon reminds you of Christmas. This is because of neutral pathways.
Show up to your writing space and only write (or any other part of the process). Don’t use your space for anything else. You will reroute your neural pathways to invoke the need to write whenever you enter this sacred space.
It’s also important that you should ban others from entering this space. Of course, rules are made to be broken, and if you’re like me and are a single mom to a toddler, this rule isn’t always applicable. However, it’s important to stick to it as much as possible. I try to teach my son this is not a play area, but he can certainly come in if he needs me.
So, there you have it. The importance of a writing space to combat writer’s block. Do you have any routines you use to keep a writing schedule? Do you have a favorite famous author’s writing routine? Let me know in the comments!