Creating the (Physical and Mental) Space to Write

Where do you write? What devices or tools do you need at your desk? Here, four writers describe their ideal spaces to write.

Over at Discover, editor Mike Dang asked five bloggers to describe and take photographs of their writing spaces. Read their responses.

When you write, are you typing at your desktop computer in your home office? Drafting a blog post on your phone, right in the WordPress app? Or are you like Deborah, below, creating your desk for the day at your favorite coffee shop?

To write in, I like a cafe with wooden floors, high ceilings, and tables with ample space. Once committed, I make the place my own. I give myself over to a familiar wafting aroma. I order an Americano, no milk, no sugar please. I arrange my piping hot coffee and writing accoutrements on my “desk,” and then I take in the sounds around me. An espresso maker sputters and whirs to an undercurrent of percussion-driven electronic beats and the indiscernible vocalizations of a female singer. Voices murmur, mostly in French, some in English and a spattering of other languages, about travel plans, relationships in crisis, business.

Distractions, yes, but I am not compelled to do anything about them. They become a backdrop, an entryway into an ongoing narrative. I listen to the tap-tapping sounds around me of others engaged in their own interior monologues and I, finally, begin mine.

“A Café of One’s Own,” Deborah Murray

Online tools to help set the mood:

Distraction-free environments:

Notetaking tools:
Google Keep

Ambient sounds:

When we work on our blog posts, some of us prefer to type in silence and solitude, while others may need background noise or interactions with people. And then there are the necessities. A notebook and a pen to jot down ideas? Different-colored Post-its? A pot of coffee?

In one of our Blogging U. Writing 101 courses, we ask participants to describe their current writing space — or to imagine an ideal one. In the past, bloggers have written about their preferred physical environments, devices, tools, and even belongings. But one’s “space to write” goes beyond the tangible: we also need the mental space to tell our stories.

Here, four bloggers reflect on what they need to write.

In “Headspace,” Sandra at What Sandra Thinks describes her former writing space, complete with the perfect desk and chair:

I used to write sitting at a gorgeous 60-year-old mahogany desk, carefully and expertly handcrafted by my late grandfather-in-law. It was nestled in the corner of our spare room. I would type away into the night. A big cozy chair beside the desk gave me a place to write when I wanted to sit back and go old-school with pen and paper.

Then we had children.

The spare room was no longer spare. The old beautiful desk had to be relocated to the corner of the living room. The comfy chair is in my bedroom. I still went to that desk and that chair to write, but it was different. Not bad different or good different. Just different.


At Retro Girl and the Chemo Kid, Kiri honors the memory of her daughter Zoe, who died at the age of six. In one post, she beautifully reflects on finding the space to write:

The physical space I write in is nothing special — usually I just take my laptop into bed or park myself on the sofa, sometimes following the sunny spots around the house like a cat. But the mental space to write in is something else. . . .

I still need plenty of alone time to process my thoughts and feelings, but it’s less through thinking than it is through purposely not thinking. When I can empty my mind by dancing, by gardening, by focusing on physically creating something like prayer flags or button angels.

It’s in those moments, when my mind is empty of conscious thought, that an insight from those connections might percolate to the surface, that my little angel muse will pop up unexpectedly, in a fleeting thought or sudden jolt of memory and I find myself in the space to write. About her, for her, for my own healing, for however my hard won life lessons (or hers) might touch someone else.

In D.B. Hall‘s response, he describes a framed page from a medieval prayer book, the Book of Hours, on his office wall, and how it reminds him that writing takes time and effort:

This single page on the wall serves as a reminder of how precious and intentional writing once was, and the extreme amount of labor and care required to produce just one book (which was likely years). While the tools we have available today allow us to crank out lots of text in a short time, I need a reminder that my writing should demonstrate a thoughtful investment of time, self-discipline, respect for the reader, and reverence for the craft.  This wall-hanging is material evidence of a deep abiding respect for what went on the page.

Image by D.B. Hall

Image by D.B. Hall

In “Building Castles in the Sky,” Elizabeth Zertuche says that writing by hand, carrying a notebook, and being surrounded by books and other writers all encourage her creative process:

I feel the most comfortable writing with just pen and paper. I find myself doing more self-editing when I write on my laptop because the medium makes the words look more like a finished product. Writing with pen and paper makes my writing feel like a work in progress and more like a draft. Writing by hand I am less concerned with formatting and word count.

How about you? Where do you go to write? What do you need?

For more inspiration, read about other bloggers’ writing spaces on Discover.

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  1. I find it more comfortable to write in “my space”. I agree that when it comes to writing with a pen and paper it just feels more organic, “comfortable”. The thoughts are easier to get out, and then you can adjust as you go. I only like to use the computer when I am hard pressed for time.

    Liked by 19 people

      1. I often find that writing by hand helps with writer’s block as well. This how I do my mind maps while people watching. I hope that didn’t sound as creepy as I think! lolz. I get a lot of inspiration for characters when I people watch. I swear I don’t stalk!

        Liked by 7 people

  2. I’m so flattered to have my post mentioned. Thank you! And to add to the writing space question… I have found lately that whenever something inspires me, writing it immediately is essential. I’ve found myself pulled over on the side of the road, squishing my shopping cart over by the carrots, and jumping up in the middle of dinner to write something.

    Liked by 16 people

    1. I never give way to my urge to write. I make myself wait until it’s convenient. I have found that a post that was soon good in my head, fades in an hour and I can’t get it right again. Sometimes I just need to accept the inconvenience.

      Liked by 5 people

    2. I know if I don’t write an idea immediately or stop chanting it in my head until I get a moment, it’ll be gone. So important to get the ideas down, even if I never take it further than that. I feel good knowing that it’ll be there if I ever need it.

      Liked by 4 people

    3. Me too 🙂 I try to stop everything I’m doing to write the words that pop in my head that I’d love to write. Otherwise there is a good chance I’ll forget them later. I’ve started recording them onto a voice recorder (usually on the ‘voice memo’ app on my iPhone) if I don’t have the convenience to write it down at the time. It’s about finding whatever works for you.

      Liked by 4 people

  3. Sometimes I write in the silence of morning at my kitchen table, when my husband is at work and my daughter is at school. Sometimes, like now, I’m at Dunkin Donuts, sipping my coffee (medium decaf, two creams, no sugar), with the sound of the coffee grinder in the background, the radio playing from the speakers above, the chat of the patrons, the crinkle of paper bags. When I leave, the scent of coffee clings to me the rest of the day, reminding me of what I accomplished in those few hours.

    Liked by 11 people

    1. I’m a Dunkin Donuts writer too. Although I have a writing space at home, I know I won’t be tempted to get up and wash dishes or watch tv when my ideas begin to slow. I am forced to write my way through when I’m at DD.

      Liked by 5 people

  4. I jot down notes on the backs of my study books, in the notepad on my phone or sometimes just on piecea of paper. Once, I wrote down a couple lines for a poem in some blank space of my Computer Science question paper during exam. I just need to get that spark in my head, I don’t mind the space or when or where. I remember my first attempt at poetry was when I was on a walk with my mum in late evening. I wrote the first draft of the poem while walking on my phone.

    Liked by 8 people

  5. This post is wonderful… Well I think the physical space is something different for everyone… Back at home I was just sitting on he sofa, probably one of the dogs on my feet and another one with his head on my knee, typing away while listening to them snoring… Now as I moved to Latvia for studying it is so different… I don’t have a sofa yet. Or a chair. Or a desk so i sit on my windowsill, the feet on the heating, a comfy pillow behind my back, watching the people on the street going somewhere… Sometimes I listen to music, sometimes I don’t… But the two websites with the sounds are amazing… I might try them next time 😉

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    1. Make one! Move something out of a corner and replace it with a chair and table. Soft chair or hard, writing table or altar, make it your own. Add something – a rock, a candle, a jar with flowers – living or dried. Claim that space for your writing, even if all you do is think about writing. Not only does ‘form follow function,’ but function will eventually follow form. Enjoy.

      Liked by 5 people

  6. Good post. It’s nice to hear of other writers “space.” As of late, no matter the physical space, I can’t seem to write without listening to Terence Blanchard. His jazz is the perfect background noise to keep my fingers dancing on the keys.

    Liked by 5 people

  7. I have an absolutely beautiful space to write in at my home overlooking a huge roof terrace with flowers and bamboo waving in the breeze. It’s so light and sunny up there and even if I don’t feel like writing at all, it’s such a joy going up to my writing space that I end up writing anyway! I wrote almost a whole novel 75,000 in 5 weeks in that space as it was just so lovely to be there.

    Liked by 8 people

  8. On my laptop, preferably in the comfort of my bed, usually in the morning and always in silence (or what passes for it in a house with French bulldogs!). For me it is about mental ‘space’ more than physical. The silence and calm and knowing I will not be interrupted is what gets me there. Great post!

    Liked by 5 people

  9. I usually just write wherever (sofa, bed, at my study desk), but it’s usually done as soon as that idea/inspiration hits. If I don’t start writing then and there or at least jot down my ideas, every thing gets lost in the bustle of my day. Mentally, my mind just has to be in the moment; it doesn’t bother me if music or the TV is playing in the background once my mind is on the post ahead. Great read tho! Inspiration for an ideal writing space posts in the future.

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  10. Oh I love DB Hall’s observations. I recently read yet another piece of writing about writing where the writer said you should publish every day. Personally I think you could write every day, but have enough respect for your audience to publish only once you think what you’ve written is worthy of their time.
    Thanks for including my piece in here 🙂

    Liked by 6 people

  11. What a lovely and insightful post. I found it very inspirational, I felt a kinship with those who are compelled to write and their process. I don’t have a particular routine or space. I find I need to write in the moment, usually in a quiet space. This could be in the form of fragmented ideas on a phone or something more developed on my laptop.

    Liked by 4 people

  12. I write when I can. Nothing special necessary, the only tools I need are fingers on keyboard. Much respect for you who can create longhand; my words fly so fast there’s hardly time to type them, even at a respectable 110wpm. The book I once thought of crafting on a manual typewriter, so that the words are more carefully selected. Perhaps the second draft will allow that luxury. A few ideas come to me while driving a bus, so I jot them down and commit them to memory where they mix into the rest of what lurks there. Oh yeah, the place: my living room corner, at Great Aunt’s stately 90-year-old oak desk. (With or without a shot of my favorite single malt scotch; any less and a block develops, any more and the art becomes slurred.)

    Liked by 3 people

  13. I need to write outside, or if it’s too cold facing a large window where I almost feel like I’m outside. I dream of one day having a desk facing out a window that looks into a mountain valley.

    Liked by 3 people

  14. Most of the time, I write wherever my laptop and I are comfortable at the moment. Lately, though, my favorite space is my potting bench. I live in south Florida and write a gardening blog, so sitting at the bench, surrounded by clay pots and tools, soil and plants allows me to get inside my head and heart.

    Liked by 4 people

  15. Early morning where the soft sounds of nocturnal animals are the only ones you hear.. It gives me a lot of mental space where great ideas just flow in my head. Physical space just varies for me depending on my mood. What’s important is that you capture the idea once it cross your mind.

    Liked by 3 people

  16. I write my blog posts on my computer … and on some occasions, I plan my blog posts ahead of time. I write down some of my blog posts on a piece of paper … and I try to write them down in a quiet place. This way, I won’t have too many distractions whenever I write down my blog posts.

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  17. Cheri, I am so glad you continued the conversation on the physical and mental space needed to write. I am especially humbled to be part of the conversation. Since writing my original post, I have found I not only enjoy the fluidity of writing longhand, but also need and appreciate a quiet space, limiting background noise helps me focus on what I am writing. Otherwise, I can find myself distracted and unable to focus on the purpose, feeling and details of what I am writing.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Interesting. I HATE long-hand haha. Well, it’s funny. I have good and bad long-hand days, and the “quality” of the writing tool affects this too. My penmanship tends to be horrible, and it clouds my brain with negative vibes when I have to look at it. I have grown to love “making music” with my keyboard! 🙂

      Liked by 3 people

  18. My ideal writing “space” has gone through some changes and had to be adaptable in some cases, but I have learned that I definitely DO NOT perform well as a writer in coffee house environments. I have wasted lots of time attempting to produce material in Starbucks and other coffee houses.

    I long to be a “minimalist” and I envy those that can size-down their environments to achieve that type of work/witing environment, but sadly, I can’t quite reduce my clutter to acceptable minimalist levels, but I do enjoy obsessively compulsive cleaning at least 2-3x week to keep my space organized. In the end, I am happy to have a stack of “reference” books or collection of office supplies, close at hand, within my “space”. Oh, and 90.1 NPR Dallas playing in the background is a must. It just is.

    Liked by 3 people

  19. I always write best when I’m on my own and I’ve looked at everything I feel I need to on the internet to minimise distractions. Oddly enough I always put on music from my favourite games and it put me in a complete writing zone.

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  20. I hurriedly type notes if I feel inspired. I type those notes in my iPhone. And attempt to decipher them later. I sometimes prefer writing on my phone. Sometimes paper and pencil. I am all over the place, and so is my writing. It’s so hard to reign myself in.

    Liked by 2 people

  21. Love this post. Its amazing to see how people write because you come to realise that no way of writing is the wrong way. I like to write with a cacophony of background little cafe or just sitting with my housemates in the living room of an evening. For some reason my creative juices flow better when i’ve got people close by 🙂

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