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The Impact of Writing Spaces

For many writers, a writing space of your own is crucial. It's the place you go to put the words on the page (or the screen), where your brain is free to imagine and create. There are two parts to this, a mental space, and a physical space. For some writers, the mental space alone is enough, allowing their physical space to be anywhere in the world, so long as their mind can access that interior landscape they've created for themselves. And while all writers can access that mental space regardless of physical surroundings (to some degree), I don't think we should discount the affect a great (or bad) surrounding can have on us while writing.

I've written in numerous places over the years: churches, my bedroom, a tiny hidden room tucked away in the back of my college library, classrooms, open tables in libraries, coffee shops, my desk at home, a desk at a writers' retreat, hotel rooms, and the conference room at my office, among others. And while I can access that interior space from all of these locations, the result is slightly different.

The most successful, the ones I've frequented more than any others, are the coffee shops. Though there are people coming and going, and plenty of what could potentially be distracting, I find myself more immersed in the story when I write in these places. There's something about having a hot cup of coffee to sip on, with nothing but my work in front of me, that connects me deeply to the story.

I used to not be able to write at home at all. My office is also my library, and I am the proud servant of a demanding almost-9-year-old Yorkie, who insists on bringing me her toys and growling and barking when I don't pay her the proper attention. Also, I've found it's easier for my mind to wander, to think of getting up "real quick" to grab or do this or that, just for a moment. If my boyfriend is there, it becomes even worse, for though we're both writers, it's easy to feed off each other. If one of us isn't in the mood to write and suggests doing something else, more than likely the other tends to go along with it, though I like to think we're working to overcome this.

Only in the last year and a half, since I've moved over a hundred miles away and no longer have daily access to my favorite coffee shop, have I been able to learn to write at home. It's still not perfect, but more often than not I'm able to get the work done with minimal distractions.

Oddly enough, writing in libraries hasn't worked all that well for me. It tends to be hit or miss, and depends on whether or not I'm able to access a room with a door I can close, and if I'm able to purchase coffee. Since moving, I've tended to go straight home after work rather than to a coffee shop, meaning that if I write at a library, it's on my lunch break. The same goes for writing at coffee shops. And if I go to neither of those places, there's only one other option if I plan to get any writing done during the day: the conference room at my office.

It's not bad, as far as conference rooms go. There's a large table with six chairs, a smaller table with two chairs next to the window, nice paintings of interiors of houses on the walls. And a door I can close, which is important. Yet my mind can't help but rebel when I consider choosing to write there on my break. Perhaps it's the lack of coffee (which I could make if I brought my own from home). Maybe it's the fact that I'm still physically at my day job, my mind constantly watching the clock for the moment I need to go back downstairs. Or maybe it's something else entirely. After all, I don't have coffee when I write at the library, and even when I write at the coffee shop I tend to watch the clock so I can make it back on time. Maybe it's just that the space isn't particularly inspiring. I'm tempted to think that maybe it's the lack of other people around. At the coffee shops, people come and go constantly, and yet I'm able to focus in on my story. So maybe I need that. Except that I also had great success when I went to a writers' retreat back in 2014 (has it really been that long?). I had my own little apartment, with its own private office with a lovely desk and a great view. I didn't see other people unless I ran into them at dinner, which happened only twice. And I wrote 5,000+ words a day.

Because of my varying experiences, I'm forced to conclude that there's something deeper at play, something beyond the distractions, the coffee, the people, the size of my desk. Maybe it's the exact combination of all of them, or perhaps it's something I've yet to consider. The only thing I know for sure is that certain places do work better than others. Don't get me wrong, I can still manage to get some work done while at the library, or other less-than-perfect spaces. But there's more mental work involved, more obstacles to get over, when compared to the coffee shop.

One of my dreams is to build my own writing studio. I've imagined many times the way it will look, what items will (or will not) be included inside, whether or not it will be part of my home or its own separate building. And as I plan, I'll study my current writing spaces, my likes and dislikes about each one, and most importantly, what pushes me into the story, and what doesn't. Maybe, with enough luck and patience, I'll manage to get this one just right.

I'd love to hear about your own spaces, whether for writing, art, music, or some other form of creative expression. Feel free to share them in the comments below.

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