The True Value of a Dedicated Writing Space

Photo by Amy Velazquez on Unsplash

I often ask my writing students where they write — if they have their own space. By this I mean a room, or a desk in a corner, or even a table at their local café. It always amazes me how many tell me they write sitting on their bed, laptop on their knees, because that’s the only place they have. Often they’re sharing a room with a sibling; often they have no space for even a small desk.

I know of other writers who write on the train to and from work, in the library at odd hours, or under their desk when the boss isn’t watching. A friend told me recently about writing in doctors’ waiting rooms when she had four small kids, and in brief snatches at the kitchen table while they were having a nap. If we want to write, we make it happen!

But a dedicated writing space can make much more happen than word-grabs at odd times. It may not be in your home, but it helps to make the work real. For J.K. Rowling it was a table in a particular café. I imagine for her it felt like a commitment, a ‘going to work’ thing that kept her focused and forging on.

In the same way, a personal appointment in your diary — a certain time in a certain place, perhaps your local library’s silent-study room — can help you to keep working on your novel or memoir, no matter what.

It also can work like a ritual. Some writers begin every writing session by making coffee, or lighting a candle, or writing in a journal to free their mind of daily trivia. The ritual of packing your bag and heading for your writing place can put your mind in the right headspace for writing. ‘Here I go — I’m getting ready to write, no matter what.’

If you are able to write at home, that can work for good or bad. It only needs one other person in the house (or demanding pets) to distract you and unfocus your mind. Physical separation is the key. If you have a room of your own to write in, shut the door. Shut it firmly. Put a notice outside to make it clear. Keep that room for writing. Don’t let craft work or ironing or other people’s junk take over your space.

Being able to shut the door takes strength! Even animals get offended at being shut out. If you don’t have a room, consider how else to create your own dedicated space. I know of one writer who created their space in a closet; another writer created theirs in the laundry room.

If your space is a desk in a room shared with others, plan how to keep it as yours, how to stop encroachment. Perhaps you can build a fence around it, a fence of bookcases? Or a screen?

One of Beatrix Potter’s desks. © Sherryl Clark

Because once it truly is your dedicated writing space, you can begin to surround yourself with your story. Pin or tape notes, ideas, maps, plot diagrams and images to the walls. Stick motivational messages around your computer monitor. Keep your research books and resources close to hand.

Lay out your manuscript pages and know they won’t be disturbed before you next sit down to write. Leave your story in the middle of a sentence and know you can come back tomorrow and immediately pick it up again and keep going.

I recently visited Beatrix Potter’s house in the Lake District. While other people were looking at pictures on the walls and fireplaces and samples of her drawings, I noticed that she’d had a writing desk in every room — in one room she had two! I imagined her wandering around, pen and paper in hand, and sitting at the nearest desk whenever she wanted to write.

William Wordsworth’s writing chair. © Sherryl Clark

Whereas William Wordsworth seemed to have no desk at all, just a single special chair with broad arms that he wrote in (although the guide said he often escaped from everyone into the garden).

Wherever you write, it’s as much a mental space as a physical one. The more you can make it your dedicated place, the more committed and productive you will become.

Sherryl Clark - writer, editor, poet.

Writer, editor, book lover — I've published many children's books and three crime novels for adults so far. I edit other people's fiction and poetry.