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Creativity coach, writing and creative process instructor, speaker, author of Around the Writer's Block: Using Brain Science to Write the Way You Want (Penguin/Tarcher 2012) and Dancing in the Dragon's Den (Red Wheel Weiser), Teaching Artist at the Loft Literary Center.

Do You Have the Writing Space You Need?

cluttered-desk-cluttered-mind-quote-albert-einstein-messy-deskI don’t mind my desk being messy, if it’s my mess.

Drafts with notes, books I’m reading, student drafts, client folders or process toys (thumb piano, markers, coloring books, mini jigsaw puzzles) co-mingle on my work space just fine. I bristle a little when household accounting and bills end up here (even if I put them there) and get irrationally irritable if anyone leaves something on my desk.

My office is typically in a state of creative flux (aka messy). Some might question how I can even tell that someone has touched my desk.

So it’s certainly not that I fixate on things being in a particular place. It’s pure territoriality — “this is my space, don’t leave your stuff here, growl, growl.” I know it’s petty and I’ve always tried to hide my irritation.

But now I think there might be more to it.

posture-power-body-languageResearch shows that people who have the space to assume expansive postures — head and chest up, arms stretched out, legs hip-width or wider — have greater sense of personal power than people who are cramped into spaces that push them into constrictive postures — head tucked, shoulders hunched, elbows and arms tucked close to the torso, legs crossed.

That greater sense of power can cause people to feel entitled and to act on that entitlement in negative ways — they’re more likely to cheat on tests or violate traffic laws with a sense of impunity.

But that sense of personal power can also give us permission to express ourselves creatively and to expand our intellect and imagination.

Moving Is the Way Out of Resistance

Moving our bodies moves our minds and imagination. This may be why so many writers use walking as a ritual entry-point to their writing or as a way to move through the places where they’re stuck.

Even subtle movements of the body affect our emotions, perceptions and behavior. For example, simply arranging your facial muscles in a smile will make you happier.

I don’t think it’s much of a stretch of the imagination to assume that being able to spread out your materials in your work space and to have physical space to stretch your arms will expand your perspective. Nor is it a reach to assume that feeling physically or psychologically constricted will inhibit your writing.

Stretch Out of Resistance

time to writeWriters need room to stretch out. Literally.

If you’re going to stretch yourself metaphorically to take risks, to venture into uncertainty, to feel free to explore, experiment and make the messes needed to discover new patterns in the disorder, you need to be able to stretch your body.

Own Your Writing Space

Writers need a safe place for our writing and our creative process. Do you have space in your home or office dedicated to your writing? Does your writing space double as family space? Who decides when it’s yours?

If you can’t dedicate physical space to writing, consider what Twyla Tharp says about “the box” in The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life:

“Everyone has his or her own organizational system. Mine is a box, the kind you can buy at Office Depot for transferring files. I start every dance with a box. I write the project name on the box, and as the piece progresses I fill it up with every item that went into the making of the dance. This means notebooks, news clippings, CDs, videotapes of me working alone in my studio, videos of the dancers rehearsing, books and photographs and pieces of art that may have inspired me…

“The box makes me feel organized, that I have my act together even when I don’t know where I’m going yet.

“It also represents a commitment. The simple act of writing a project name on the box means I’ve started work.

“The box makes me feel connected to a project. It is my soil. I feel this even when I’ve back-burnered a project: I may have put the box away on a shelf, but I know it’s there. The project name on the box in bold black lettering is a constant reminder that I had an idea once and may come back to it very soon.”

To make family space your writing space, you clear the desk (quickly, perhaps by sweeping everything into a different box) and open the box for your writing project. When you’re done, you put your writing back in the box. That way, no one can clutter the project with unrelated stuff, not even you.

If you write in public places like coffee shops and libraries, you bring the box. You “own” your spot when you believe that while you’re there, no one should violate your space without permission from you.

Take a good look at your writing space. Is it a place that encourages you to assume expansive body positions? Do you “own” the space? Are you entitled to growl a little, if only to yourself, if someone leaves something in your writing space?

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2 Comments on “Do You Have the Writing Space You Need?”

  1. kperrymn January 20, 2017 at 10:20 am #

    A great post! This addresses the many obstacles we face in claiming time and space for writing. I love the practical solution of the box.


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