Your Writing Environment (#1 of 6 Tools to Write)

Revisiting this list of 6 tools to get you writing instead of whimpering in the fetal position on the closet floor.

The first, because it is largest, most evident, and the most mechanical (which means the easiest to think about and implement) is your environment.

The pervasive image of the starving artist huddled, shivering in their garret leads us, perhaps unconsciously, to believe that art is immune to environment, or even that art is created by pain and suffering.

Your rational brain knows that this is nonsense.

“Even the most abstract mind is affected by the surroundings of the body. No one is immune to the impressions that impinge on the senses from the outside. Creative individuals may seem to disregard their environment and work happily in even the most dismal surroundings . . . in reality, the spatiotemporal context in which creative persons live has consequences that often go unnoticed. The right milieu is important in more ways than one.”—Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention, p. 126

A proper environment, as Csikszentmihalyi points out, adds enormously to our ability to create.

photo by kslyesmith

Here are a few things you should carefully inspect to ensure that they are the best you can arrange for your writing environment. Some will have a large effect. Some will have a small effect. But all will affect the comfort and ease of your creative abilities.

  • Light: Good lightning is essential for nearly all human activities. Straining to see your paper or keyboard or notes or the inspiring art on your walls tires you mentally and diminishes your artistic capabilities. There is a reason artists prefer north facing windows (or, if in the southern hemisphere, south facing windows). Diffused, natural sunlight is beautiful for a working environment. Arrange it if you possibly can. But have plenty of light for your work.
  • Seating: Mark Twain said that sitting next to a pretty girl for an hour felt like one minute while sitting on a hot stove for one minute felt like an hour. Sitting in an uncomfortable chair isn’t as bad as a hot stove. But it certainly isn’t as good as a pretty girl. If you think about your chair while you are writing it is not comfortable enough. A $700 Herman Miller chair is not a requirement; though if you can get one, you should. Good writing sessions have us immobile for 90 minutes or more. Physical and mental health require proper support and comfort for periods of immobility that long.
  • Tools: If you write with a pen, own a nice one. And use good quality paper, not the cheapest notebooks you can afford. If you write on a keyboard, spend the money for a quality keyboard. Don’t just rely on the one that happened to come with your computer. One thing Apple users are addicted to is the beautiful feel of an Apple keyboard. For $80 you can have an Apple keyboard and a Bluetooth connector to use this tactile work of art with any modern computer. This is the single greatest lack in my working environment. Donations welcome.
  • Sound: If you thrive on the hum of activity, work where activity hums. If you are like me, and need to annihilate distractions, either work where there are no distractions or get some quality Sennheiser noise reduction over the ear headphones and play music you can write to, white noise, ocean waves, or whatever works for you. While we can focus our eyes on our work and become blind to all else, ears are always on and your reticular activating system is by nature on the alert for sounds which might be interesting. You cannot shut it off. You can be snapped from flow in a heartbeat by a sound which, while interesting, is not urgent. Prevent audio interruptions.
  • Physical needs: food, clothing, temperature. Your writing space should have a Goldilocks temperature. This will require endless adjustments and negotiations with the other human beings who share your space. They live with a writer. They’re probably used to it. Closely related is the clothing you wear. It should be supremely comfortable. Like your chair, if you think about your clothing while you’re writing, pants too tight, shoes too loose, shirt sleeves too long or short or tight, it’s not the right clothing. Never try to create when you are hungry or thirsty. Be sure you’ve had a healthy snack and a drink of water (and if necessary, a trip to the restroom) before your writing session begins.

Look around at your environment. Where is it lacking? How is it lacking? Tell me about your challenges.

I’d like to help.

Continued tomorrow.

6 thoughts on “Your Writing Environment (#1 of 6 Tools to Write)

  1. Great information and beyond the creative and comfort benefits, a good environment contributes to the well being of your body. I experienced problems with my knees and visited an astute chiropractor who gave me some great advice about setting up my work area. Improving the relationship between the chair, keyboard, and monitor made a world of difference in a short time. And, it certainly facilitates getting lost in your work for long periods.

    As the IT Manager for a large hotel I deal with over 100 computer users on our network and often have to spend time at their workstation. Many, if not most, are totally uncomfortable and difficult to use even for a few minutes. The work being done at these workstations may not be creative but it is definitely complex and requires concentration. It’s have to imagine spending 90 minutes at these workstations, much less a full day.


    1. I was in IT for years and saw the same thing: people will sit, hunched and twisted, because that’s how it was set up when they arrived, and besides, this is work, it’s not supposed to feel good.

      Last place I worked, they took ergonomics seriously. They worked with health insurance companies and were part of the Pacific Business Group on Health, operated by some people who really care. It was great to have full support in providing comfortable workspace for folks.

      This follows the 80/20 rule, too. Find one thing you can change about each of those aspects, and you’ll earn 80% of the benefits you’re going to get. Simple, but the trick is to stop and do it.

  2. Great post, as always. I do follow your recommended tools, with the exception of seating, (I really need a new chair) and sound. I need music playing in the background, as this unique sound brings about, a relaxing atmosphere.
    Speaking of Ergonomics, Insurance companies hired my services, as we set up comfortable work stations for injured workers. It was a very humbling, but gratifying experience. Blessings.

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