Optimizing Your Writing Space

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As a creative writer, there are many layers to your work. There’s the actual writing process, and there’s your writing place.  Today, I’m going to talk about how I optimize my writing space and give you ideas on how you can optimize your own.

Where do you like to write, and how do you optimize your space?

My Creative Space

I like to go to a coffee shop on Sunday afternoons to work on my classes.  It feels good to get out.  On my walk there, I can think about whatever comes to mind.  I like the coffee there, they have free wifi, they have outlets so I can plug in my computer, and they have treats if I get hungry.  Oh yeah, this place is Starbucks.  Because while I enjoy supporting my local independent shops, this is just the best place in the area to work.

The one thing I can’t stand at this Starbucks is the music that they blast LOUDLY in the store. It’s mostly awful with an ok song thrown in once in a while.

So, I have a Spotify account, and comfortable headphones, and I write/work to loud 80’s music and sometimes hip-hop or rap.  This puts me in a good place where I can mentally focus and enjoy the process.  There may be some secret dancing thrown in for good measure.

Now that I’ve learned that I like to have headphones on while writing, I’m transferring this trick to my work at home.  When it’s Tuesday night and I’m grading papers, I can pour a glass of wine or pop up a cold club soda, put on my headphones, and get engaged in a really good grading zone, where I’m enjoying learning from my students and giving them quality feedback.

Creative Writing Teachers

Creative writing teachers, what can you take from this for your students?  I know that I have some students who are barely comfortable doing an in-class brainstorming exercise, but that they’ll do it if they know that they don’t have to share.  How can you encourage your students to find a comfortable writing place in class or out of class?

Your Optimal Writing Space

What’s your preferred writing environment?  If you don’t have one yet, I think you should try a few different ones.  Try different seats (couch, bed, desk chair?), different places (living room, office, coffee shop), different types of music or none at all.  Think about how you feel in each space, how much you enjoy or dislike the writing process in the different spaces, and look for the common denominators.

Journal about what you currently do that works or journal about your discovery process.

A Caveat

Don’t let the “lack” of the “perfect” writing space stop you from writing. Your writing has value, and you can write from almost anywhere.  You don’t need the perfect song or the ultimate desk–those are just tools to help you.

Psychological Safety and Creativity

Mom and son at La Jolla Shores
Mom and son playing on the beach at La Jolla Shores: trust and fun.

This morning, I was reading a study published in Harvard Business Review about how high performing teams need psychological safety to perform at their best.

This made me think about creative people: I think a majority of creators need psychological safety to perform AT ALL and certainly to perform at their best.

What is Psychological Safety?

The article defines psychological safety as the belief that you won’t be punished if you make a mistake.  I liked these quotes from the article:

Studies show that psychological safety allows for moderate risk-taking, speaking your mind, creativity, and sticking your neck out without fear of having it cut off .”

“Barbara Fredrickson at the University of North Carolina has found that positive emotions like trust, curiosity, confidence, and inspiration broaden the mind and help us build psychological, social, and physical resources. We become more open-minded, resilient, motivated, and persistent when we feel safe. Humor increases, as does solution-finding and divergent thinking — the cognitive process underlying creativity.

Psychological Safety in the Classroom

As a creative person and a creative writing instructor, these quotes make me think about the importance of safety for creative writers.  I think it’s important to create an atmosphere where students can take risks with their writing without fear of embarrassment or humiliation, but still benefit from valuable feedback to help them continue to grow as writers.

So, what is the sweet spot and the most effective way to give feedback while preserving creativity?

I think the answer is in the second quote above: building a classroom setting that prioritizes trust, curiosity, confidence, and inspiration so that students feel safe first…and then work towards resiliency, motivation, and persistence, all important attributes for published writers.

I’ll keep working on a way to put this thought into practice and will share in a future post.

Journal, if you wish:

How do you create your own inner atmosphere that allows you to feel good about creating? What elements are part of your own safety zone?

Write about a time when a teacher helped you feel safe about creating.  Why did you feel that way and how could you replicate it?