A Room of One's Own

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

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Ah, the writing life. To spend hours creating spectacular prose about interesting characters with grand adventures. To sit at a coffee shop, idly drinking your café mocha and daydreaming about your next big scene. You are completely immersed in the fictional world you have created, and nothing can take you away from it.

And then there’s writing for the rest of us, for the real world. If your life is anything like mine, you’re working a full time job, carting the kids back and forth to school and band practice and soccer, trying to figure out (at 6:30 in the evening) what to make for dinner while the washing machine is going and you’re yelling and Kaylie or Carson to pick up their rooms if they want any time to play Wii! You finally get the kiddies off to bed by 9:30 (if you’re lucky… and they really should have been in bed by 9…). Okay, you’ve got an hour, maybe an hour and a half to get some writing done if you want to get enough sleep tonight. You turn on your computer and sit and stare at a blank document, waiting for the words to come. But, for some reason, the only thing you can seem to think about is that Kaylie has a doctor’s appointment tomorrow, so there goes your lunch hour. And did you call back that client? Did you mail that letter? Did you set out the meat to thaw for tomorrow night? The next thing you know, it’s 10:30 and you haven’t written a thing. You consider, in that moment, just hanging up your dreams. Life just doesn’t have room for you to be a writer.

What you need, friends and interested parties, is head space. You need to be able to shut out the mental clatter and walk into your mental writing room, that place where you are surrounded by nothing but the landscape of your current creative pursuit. Here are some tips that have helped me.


One of the biggest challenges to concentration comes in the form of what you hear. If you are a person who needs to block out the audio world around you in order to concentrate (or even if you just need something auditory to fixate on), here are some things you can do:

1. Music – Put on some head phones or crank the stereo to the preferred volume. Listen to music that puts you in the vibe of the mental landscape you’re trying to tap into. You can create a soundtrack on your mp3 player or computer that goes with your current story or scene. At the very least, choose music that fades nicely into your mental background. Unless you don’t mind constant commercial breaks and DJ chatter, I would recommend NOT tuning in your favorite radio station. Save the talk radio for those times when you’re looking for something else to talk about, not when you’re trying to form your own words.

2. White Noise – If music is too distracting or you can’t find the right kind, there’s always white noise. Turn on a fan or set your old TV set to static. This may also be a good time to start some clothes or dishes washing – you get some chores done and the appliances create a nice soothing whir for you to create by.

3. Cut Distractions – If possible, take the phone off the hook, turn off the TV (or go into a room where other family members aren’t watching TV) and let everyone know that it is writing time now, and you need to be left alone unless someone’s bleeding or something broke. Also, log off the Internet. This is no time to be checking e-mail or looking up that little factoid. If you come across some detail you need to check, write it down on a piece of paper and do your research later. Tell yourself you are writing now, nothing else. Not writing out character sheets or researching or plotting your story. There are other times for that. Not now.


Another way to get yourself in the zone, so to speak, is to be selective with what you see. Sure, you’ve got the four walls around you and the various items around your home, but you can choose certain inspirational pieces to focus on to make going from scattered to focused much easier.

1. Put up pictures or pieces of art, cut out of magazines or where ever you find them, around your writing area. If you find an image that strikes a particular chord with your story, keep it handy, either displayed in constant view in your writing area, or taped to the cover of the notebook you're working in so you can grab it whenever you need.

2. Choose a desktop that inspires you so that you’ll see it as soon as you turn on your computer.

3. Get away for awhile – If you’re blessed to have a long enough break that you can actually have a couple of hours to yourself, a change of scenery may be just what you need. Go to your favorite coffee shop, diner or a park if it’s nice outside. Take whatever inspirational elements you need (your mp3 player, that picture of the ocean, etc.) to get you in your groove.

Brain Storming

When it’s time to write, it’s time to write, but what about the rest of the time? Learn to take advantage of the little moments to brainstorm and develop what you’re working on.

1. Keep paper and working pen on hand at all times. You never know when an idea will hit you, but if you have something to write with, you’ll be ready.

2. Write down your stressors. If your head is full of your to-do list and things you’re worried about, you won’t have the ability to think creatively. You need your head space for your creative pursuits.

3. Brain storm while you:

- Exercise
- Take a walk
- Drive your morning and evening commute to work
- Do housework
- Before you go to sleep – sometimes the mind can come up with some pretty interesting material while you dream.

Whatever you do, don’t tell yourself it’s impossible, that you’re too stressed or you’re too busy. If this is important to you, it can be done. Don’t accept any other reality.