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A Writer’s Room is More Than a Place


By Deborah Brewer

I have enjoyed visiting a few writers’ home museums on my travels. Samuel Clemens’ (Mark Twain) study, in Hartford, Connecticut, sports a billiard table. One does need some non-writing time to think. Ernest Hemmingway’s study in Key West, Florida, feels like a tree house. An elevated gangway connects it with the main house over the expanse of the backyard—a backyard enjoyed by numerous six-toed cats. Without traveling at all, one can get a glimpse of these places and more in J. D. McClatchy’s American Writers at Home.

Twain and Hemmingway had wealthy wives and servants to take care of their daily needs while they devoted themselves to writing. Virginia Woolf knew from experience that women of her era were less likely to be as blessed. She wrote in 1929, about the need for aspiring women writers to have rooms of their own, along with the freedom from household and caregiving duties to use them. One hundred years later, many would-be-prolific writers still struggle to find free time and a quiet place to do their writing. Like writers before us, we also need uncluttered headspace to get our writing done.

Schedule Writing Time

I generally prefer to write new material in the afternoons. Partly, it’s that I’m a little tired and that helps suppress the self-editing in my head. But more, it’s that I’ve been checking off items from my to-do list all morning and no longer “hear” the list nagging me. If necessary, items of lesser priority are occasionally put off for another day. For many, finding writing time means scheduling it, and then setting and guarding chosen boundaries. Eventually, everyone involved, including the dog, will accept your writing time as a normal part of life.

A Safe and Comfortable Place

When we are in writing flow our bodies are comfortably seated in one world, while our minds are running amuck in another. For our bodies to be unguarded in this way is not ideal for personal security reasons. Your subconscious will do everything it can to keep you alert to physical dangers. We all have different levels of nervousness and distraction, chose a place that is best suited to your success.

If it’s the virtual world that breaches your privacy, there are ways to turn off notifications. That failing, you might accidentally turn off your phone or leave it in another room. Unless you’re the parent of a minor child, whoever it is can probably wait to speak with you until you’re free or find another hero to call.

Earplugs to the Rescue

Even if your space is safe and comfortable, the noise from the other side of the door may still be hard to ignore. Our minds are on constant alert for “emergencies,” whether it’s traffic noise, the dog barking at the mailman, or your family merely living their lives. These distractions pull us out of our creative flow.

For the days you can’t ignore the noise, consider a set of ear plugs or noise reduction mufflers, the kind you wear for using loud machines like vacuum cleaners, electric saws, and TVs. It may sound silly, but mufflers were one of the best additions to my writing space. When I put them on the sounds of life don’t entirely go away but they are satisfactorily diminished. If someone were hollering for help, I would hear it, but I can’t hear every sigh or giggle, every foray into the pantry or refrigerator, every flush of the plumbing or buzz of the phone.

The Voices in Our Heads

Headspace—that respite from the nagging, chattering thoughts that plague us. Useless warnings left over from childhood ring out from our subconscious with I’m-only-trying-to-protect-you-from-pain self- doubts. If you work with a writing coach, these types of thoughts will likely be a focus of your earliest sessions. We have to learn to ignore all the “service announcements” playing in our heads—You aren’t smart. You’re poorly educated. Your time could be put to better use. No matter how hard you try
someone else will always do it better.

Take a look at some of these self-evident “truths,” that you quite possibly acquired before you reached the age of reason. You are now much smarter and more educated than you were in grade school. Unlike children, adults get to decide their priorities and values. And while there will always be better writers, no one can write your story better than you. Thank your subconscious for its caring concern, but firmly, kindly, let it know also these messages are unhelpful. When it accepts that you don’t need the announcements anymore, it will stop with the noise and spend its energy on more useful information, like perhaps, a great plot twist or an interesting detail. There may come a day when you do decide to set writing aside to pursue other goals, but that is a decision to consider during goal-setting sessions, not while you write. How will you discover whether you can learn to write well if you don’t give yourself the mental space to try?

Using Mental Cues

A writing coach once recommended that I signal to my subconscious that it’s time to write by setting out a meaningful object. Since I struggle to write about stronger emotions, I decided on a small reproduction of Turner’s “Vesuvius in Eruption,” for drafting fiction. I also have certain instrumental albums I like to play, one for creative writing and one for editing, and a meditation I wrote for those days when I struggle to quiet my mind. If you are philosophically minded, you might enjoy author Steven Pressfield’s story, in his book, The War of Art, of how he came to write an invocation to summon his muse. When I’m in a period of writing flow, I find don’t need focus aids, but they stand ready for me on those occasions when life is messy and I can’t find the way to that sheltered, creative place in my head.

Here in Colorado, it’s time to make like squirrels and fluff our cozy writing nests in anticipation of winter’s snow. Schedule some time, choose a comfortable place, and clear your mind of clutter. Find a meaningful object or music that inspires you—and write.

For Further Reading:

American Writers at Home, J. D. McClatchy (2004)
The War of Art, Stephen Pressfield (2002)


Deborah Brewer, HeadshotDeborah L. Brewer joined Pikes Peak Writers a decade ago, seeking help with a cozy mystery. When the novel was completed, she stayed for the camaraderie. Now she’s writing short stories. An editor for the PPW 2022 anthology,  Dream, Deborah contributes to Writing from the Peak to help fellow PPW members write better with more enjoyment, and ultimately, achieve their writing dreams.



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