And this is where the magic happens!
There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.Ernest Hemingway
With the prospect becoming increasingly likely that many of us will need to self-quarantine for 14 days at some not-so-distant point, let’s talk about having a good writing set-up.
Because let’s face it, when you’re actually not allowed to leave the house, it’s going to be a choice between cracking the back of your project(s) or your sanity after Netflix asks one too many times if you’re still watching…
So let’s bunker down and work on something that’ll last long after all this is over!
All a good writing set-up needs to be is productive.
That’s it. Post completed. Thank you for joining!
No really, having a space that makes it easy for you to the thing you want to do is the most important part of writing – or any work or hobby. If you don’t have the right space then even with all the passion in world, you will struggle to get anything done. By the right space I don’t mean anything in particular or fancy: all you will need is an area where you have enough space for your equipment to physically be able to perform your task and with minimal distractions.
For writing that means having something to write on, in a place where you’re not going to be disturbed.
This can be difficult, I get that, plus full disclosure: I’m writing this from the privileged standpoint of living alone in my own (rented) place. No roommates or family, and sans any crazy neighbours. In the past however I’ve lived in a few different scenarios, so this is just sharing what I’ve learned and taking a few tips from the people I know in other situations.
Now that disclaimer is out the way…
If you’re in a house share or family is constantly dropping in on you and there’s no way you can avoid these – honestly most people are open to leaving you along for a space of time if you just ask politely and tell them you’re working – then there’s a few options for writing outside the house.
Working in a coffee shop, library or park is great, just I recommend taking headphones (obvious, big, chunky ones if you can: they’re the human equivalent of wearing a do not disturb sign) to avoid inquisitive passers by and block out ambient conversations and sounds.
The benefits of a library or coffee shop over the park are you can work in them regardless of weather and have power sockets you can use for when your laptop or tablet runs low. Then again, taking a break and working outdoors (with a fully charged device!) is fabulous in summer. Like sleeping in different places, it does you good to do it every once in a while and the added vitamin D boost won’t hurt either.
Now, considering I started writing this post a few days ago before the UK closed all cafés, bars and restaurants due to the spread of Covid-19, the rest of the post will be focused on working and writing at home. I’m leaving the rest about working in cafés, etc, above as a reminder of how lucky we were to have that as an option up until yesterday night.
Good luck to everyone (shouting out to friends in hospitality!) in these manic days, and hope to see you safe and well after all this is over.
With optimism for the future, let’s jump back into tips for having a productive writing set up/working from home.
Tip #1: Don’t write in bed.
As tempting as it can be to stay snug and warm while working, separate your work and leisure spaces. Even if you only have the space in your room to fit a desk, doing something as simple as moving your desk so that your bed isn’t in line of sight as you type, will help you prepare for working and keep your mind focused on the task.
Beds are great, sure, but their cosiness is the enemy of productivity! No work can ever be done if you’re napping…
Being near a window to get natural light will help keep you alert and boost your mood too, so set up near one if you can.
Tip #2: Limit distractions.
I say limit, because it’s impossible – and unhealthy! – to be rid of them entirely. You need to take breaks from writing or work to stay productive.
Keeping your phone away from the desk you work at means you actually have to physically get up and move to check your phone for the latest updates (or memes!) so you’re going to burn less time scrolling and put more time into what you sat down to do.
Finally, bits and bobs can gather quickly, and not including anything that keeps you motivated (notes, family pictures, pictures of your cat…) to keep your desk clear of clutter too, it’s surprising how much more focused you can feel when not surrounded by knickknacks.
Tip #3: Dress to impress… yourself.
When wanting to get things done, it’s sometimes practical to wear clothes you don’t mind ruining or already look like the clothes of apocalypse movie extras. That’s 100% fine. If you’re getting things done, it matters absolutely zilch what you look like in the comfort of your own home.
Well, unless you have roommates. Put some clothes on already. Please.
This tip is the most hippie-woo of the five, so I won’t be offended if you skip to the next one. With that in mind, let’s jump in.
Generally speaking I feel at my most productive when I feel good, and it’s not vain to say looking good plays into our mental state. By looking good, this isn’t saying become some media-idealised image, but being confident with yourself enough to relax*.
Personally, just getting dressed, washing my face leisurely, instead of rushing, and putting on a little perfume is enough. Pjs are comfy, but they don’t prepare me to work. Having a habit, even if it’s just as small as getting dressed and not staying in your dressing gown, is enough to put you in the headspace ready to function.
Tip #4: Break down milestones.
Milestones and checklists are great, but they can also be something like “Publish a novel”.
Spoiler alert: that isn’t going to be ticked off for a while unfortunately. Break your big milestones down into tasks you can feel good about ticking off; that way you will find keeping motivated to achieve the bigger tasks much more manageable.
This is old news to most of you,** but always warrants mentioning.
Tip #5: Change it up.
Not to undermine the effort I put into this post, but throw all the other points out of the window. If something doesn’t work for you, don’t do it. Change around your habits and the space where you write to see what works best. How you work and get those creative juices flowing is personal to you, so only you know what’s best and what doesn’t work as well.
One word of warning: try to recognise when you’re blaming your set-up rather than your own lack of writing/working, as it can be easier to say you stopped writing because the sun gets in your eyes when you sit down, rather than to actually move your desk. I’m no saint and still do this, usually only realising when I’m reorganising everything in the house because it was “distracting” … despite being downstairs and nowhere near my set-up…
Simply put, beware the tasks that make you feel like your working even when you’re not doing the thing you set aside the time to do. That’s a wordy way of saying: you promised yourself you would write 5k words this week and instead you cleaned and organised all the kitchen cupboards. It needed doing, but not right now when you’ve only written 500 words.
Hopefully these tips will be handy in the coming months, and please share any more you have in the comments!
Due to a change in schedule and, admittedly, the goal of a post very three days being far tougher than expected, Ink smudges in the rain will be updated every Monday and Saturday starting from today.
Mondays: writing advice.
Saturdays: alternating each week between personal and creative writing posts.
This means more time can be put into each post and you know generally what the next post will be about. If a certain topic strikes you as interesting, feel free to message and ask me to cover it in a post and I’ll schedule it in.
It’s a wild and unpredictable time at present, so stay safe everyone and keep washing your hands.
*In the future, I might write a relaxed piece on confidence (body/mental/creative), so let me know if you’d be interested sooner rather than later.
**Especially to anyone who’s encountered the swarms of organisational YouTubers with bullet journals and beautiful stationary; does anyone else watch their time-lapses for the gorgeous handwriting? Anyone?