writing environment

How is your writing environment?

Please welcome guest author Ali Luke with a post on making adjustments to your physical environment to help your writing.

Do you struggle to get into writing?

Perhaps you sit down with your favorite notebook on a regular basis, but you never seem to get far.

Your kids start arguing. Or you get a backache. Or you’re distracted by that neighbor doing yet another bout of DIY. Or an urgent e-mail pops up for your attention.

External factors aren’t the only (or the biggest) distractions that affect our writing, but they make a surprising difference in our ability to be productive.

If you’re already struggling to focus, a few distractions and irritations can easily be enough to make you give up for the day.

Here are seven key factors that influence how well – or how wrong – your writing sessions go. Which of these could you tweak today?

Factor #1: Are You Likely to be Interrupted?

If you know someone’s likely to interrupt you at any minute, it’s really hard to get into the flow of writing.

For some writers, knowing that family members or housemates are home is enough to stop them from writing.

Tips to Make it Work:

  • If you can, write in a room of your own with the door closed and locked. If you don’t have a dedicated office space at home, try scheduling time to write at the library or a café.
  • Write at a time of day when your house is generally quiet. For many parents, that’s first thing in the morning before the kids get up or at night after they’re in bed.

Factor #2: What Can You Hear?

Is the TV or radio on in the next room? Is someone having a loud phone conversation a few feet away from you? Are your kids bickering with one another?

While writing in complete silence isn’t always possible (and some writers hate silence anyway), intrusive noise can be a huge distraction.

Tips to Make it Work:

  • Noise-cancelling headphones or music that you enjoy and can write to will make a huge difference. My usual choice is Metallica or Iron Maiden — definitely not everyone’s thing, but it works for me!
  • If you find music too distracting (perhaps you always want to sing along), try a site like Noisli, which provides a range of ambient sounds. I particularly like the sounds of the forest.

Factor #3: Are You Sitting Comfortably?

A couple of days ago, I was in Starbucks for a ninety-minute writing session. I got over 3,000 words written (which is a lot more than I’d usually manage, even though I type fast). However, my neck was starting to feel sore and stiff by the time I was done.

Physical comfort matters. If you’re really into your writing, you might not notice that you’re getting stiff, or that you’re hungry or thirsty. But after a while, your body’s demands are going to break into your concentration.

Important: Don’t ignore discomfort or pain. You don’t want to cause yourself an injury that holds back your writing for months or even years.

Tips to Make it Work:

  • Adjust the height of your computer screen: you want to be looking straight forward, not slightly bending your neck to look up or down.
  • Try sitting on an exercise ball instead of a chair. I was super skeptical about this at first, but tried it when I was pregnant with my daughter, Kitty.

Factor #4: How Much Clutter Can You See?

This might seem like a small thing, but the amount of clutter around you can pull your attention away from your writing. It may even stop you from easily reaching your keyboard!

If clutter gives you lots of things to fiddle with, move around, or even tidy up, it’s stopping you from getting the words down. And if it makes you feel tired or frustrated, that’s also a problem.

Make it Work:

  • Go somewhere else to write, even if it’s your kitchen table. This isn’t necessarily a good long-term solution, but it can help immediately.
  • Tidy up your desk, but not as an excuse to avoid writing. If you write first thing in the morning, try to leave things reasonably tidy the night before.

Factor #5: What’s the Mood of Your Room Like?

Although it’s taken me a while to realize it, my environment affects my writing.

Simple things like the light level can affect how you feel. Most of the time, I’d say keep it well lit, though if you’re working on a horror or dark fantasy novel, you might want to try writing in a more gloomy atmosphere.

Make it Work

  • Changing the mood of your room could be as simple as putting a few pictures or posters on the wall. Some writers like to use vision boards to represent their goals.
  • If you have a particular ritual that helps you write, indulge it! Make your favorite coffee or light scented candles. Do whatever it takes to lift your mood and make your environment more welcome and nurturing.

Factor #6: Are Your Tools Good Ones?

The tools you use to write (your computer or your notebook and pen) can affect how much you get done. Just imagine trying to write with a dried-up pen, where you have to keep stopping to go over too-faint words.

If your keyboard is fiddly to type on, if the software you’re using freezes or crashes, or if you’re struggling in some way against your tools, don’t put up with this: change it.

Make it Work:

  • Right now, make any small changes you can. That might mean something as simple as finding a better pen or a fresh notebook.
  • Plan ahead for larger (and more expensive) changes. Perhaps you’d do better with special writing software like Scrivener instead of Microsoft Word.

Factor #7: Are You Allowing Distractions In?

Finally, watch out for distractions that you’re letting into your writing environment. You may hardly be aware of them, but they can be enough to cut short a writing session.

Your phone, Skype, e-mail, and social media accounts are all prime sources of distractions. If you’re struggling with your writing and a new e-mail appears, it’s all too tempting to check it. And an ill-timed phone call could easily stop you from getting going at all.

Make it Work

  • Turn off any potential distractions you can: e-mail, social media, Skype, even your phone. Set a timer for 30 minutes – you can check them after that.
  • If you’re still finding yourself distracted, switch off your wifi. This can be surprisingly effective.

While your internal motivation matters a lot, your physical environment can lift you up or drag you down. Find two or three changes you can make today, without spending more than ten minutes on them, and let us know in the comments how you get on.

Ali LukeBio: Ali Luke’s seven-week course On Track will help you get moving again with your writing. Whether you’re working on a blog, a novel, a freelancing career, or something else entirely, On Track will give you the tools and inspiration you need. Best of all – it’s totally free, and even comes with a bonus e-book.


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