Writing-Friendly Spaces

If you have visited this site before, you may know I’ve recently moved to the Far South Coast of New South Wales, where I’ve set up my first ever dedicated writing room. (Blog ~ Welcome To My Writing Home 13th August 2016)

This room is small, but lined with desks, bookcases and other writing paraphernalia. It is set up so I can walk in and go straight to the computer, or to the desk opposite where printouts related to my current work are laid out. On the adjacent desk are reminders of writing-related tasks awaiting my attention – a piece I’m working on for a local broadsheet, a poem that will soon be posted on Scriggler.com, my blog file and the date of my next get-together with local writers. Around the room, are inspirational messages, quotes and photographs that guide me through each day.

The printer is on a table under the window, which frames a dam in the foreground of rolling hills often dotted with cattle.

Sounds wonderful… and it is. This is my writing-friendly space, my workplace, my office – where I can retreat to focus on my current project and all other writing matters.

It has taken me decades to be in a position to create such a writing home. In the meantime, I’ve scribbled in some of the most unlikely places, including in the bath at midnight on New Year’s Eve. While waiting in the car or on railway stations, in trains and on buses have been familiar cocoons for me and my writing pads, as have the beach and the bush.

Once ‘in the zone’ I can scrawl ideas, notes, story plans and even short pieces of work regardless of where I am. But when it comes to the big stuff, I need space to spread out and come back the next day to find nothing changed. Before landing here in my haven, the less ideal spaces I had to work with were anywhere from the corner of a lounge room, standing at a bench, spreading out on the kitchen table, or sharing a desk/computer with others.

These spaces were the best I could manage, given my living arrangements. It was up to me to make the most of them. Earplugs were handy when I had to work in living areas. Picking the time to write in the kitchen was crucial – better in the early hours before anyone else was up and about, or in the evenings when others had retired… and never a good idea when a forthcoming meal was likely to topple me from my throne and scatter my books and papers.

When people ask my advice on creating a writing-friendly space, I tell them every writer’s ideal space is different… because we are individuals. How each person approaches their unique space will depend on their circumstances and resources, and what suits them.

The task is to find a way to set up a space that feels like it is yours alone when you’re in it, personalize it in some way, and make it as accessible as you can.

Make the most of whatever you have at your disposal. If at all possible, create a space that is exclusively yours for writing. Set it up so you don’t have to remove books and papers (or anything else) from around the computer each time before you start – nothing kills the creative urge quicker than a distracting delay. Surround yourself with all things writing and anything else that will put/keep you in the mood. Perhaps create small deadlines for yourself and put up inspirational quotes and affirmations.

If you have no choice but to share your space and/or the computer with others, I suggest you work out a timetable that suits all parties and negotiate options for how the partnership will work.

I once had the privilege of sitting at the desk Eleanor Dark used when she was writing. It was in the centre of a one room building in the gardens of Varuna Writers’ Centre, which was once her home. Behind the desk was the only other item of furniture; a cabinet divided into rows and rows of drawers, each one the size of a manuscript. Her husband had built it and her free-standing writing room, so she could work undisturbed.

As I sat in awe of the woman and her work, I was not only chastened but was hit by the realization that a writing-friendly (preferably writing-dedicated) space was as imperative for a writer as was a studio or attic (or similar) for an artist.


Do you have a dedicated space for your writing?

Share your thoughts in the Comments section…


Next Blog ~ Motivation

Writing Exercise #7

What Kind Of Writer Are You?

There are no right or wrong answers to the question ‘What kind of writer are you?’ However, knowing the answer yourself will help you to work with the writer in you and make the most of your attributes and skills.

Get to know the writer in you by answering the following questions – and any others you would like to add for yourself. Further questions can be asked over time if you find this helpful.

The idea is to provoke thought and to assist you to understand the way you approach your writing.

There are not always definitive answers to these questions, but asking them of yourself will remind you of your most likely way of working as a writer. There will be grey areas and your focus may shift over time.

Begin with these questions…

Are you a spontaneous writer, who writes when the mood takes you?

Or, a structured writer, who sets aside specific times for writing?

Do you write to a plan, or go with the flow of how your work evolves?

Do you take notes, or trust your memory?

Do you carry notebooks, or jot ideas on scraps of paper, old receipts or anything else you can lay your hands on in the moment?

Do you only write when you’re alone, or can you write anywhere, anytime?

Are you a night writer, or a morning writer?

Do you write one piece of work at a time, or have several projects on the go at once?

What stimulates your creative juices?

Treasures From Childhood

I emerged from childhood with four books, which still adorn my bookcase. Today, they are small contributions on a full shelf of books that I keep for children who visit my home – mostly my grandchildren and great-grandchildren. These books are small… in number that is… they are surely large in my estimation and huge in consideration of what they stand for.

These are the treasures of my beginnings as a writer. They dragged me into that dream of some day having books with my name embossed on them, which would be as precious to future generations as these and many others were to me… whether they belonged to me or somebody else.

As I grew to what Grandma called ‘A responsible age’, she gave me two books from her coveted collection. The first was Silver Brumby’s Daughter, by Australian author Elyne Mitchell and published by Hutchinson of London. Horses didn’t interest me at all, but the book did – it was mine!

The second book from Grandma was an early copy – perhaps one of the first – of Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland by Lewis Carroll, coloured and illustrated by Bessie Pease, and published by J Coker & Co Ltd, London. It is printed on paper so thick it might be called cardboard and every page has a wide border of illustrations from the story. There are also eight full-page colour plates. This book is one of my greatest treasures and having it restored is on my list of paramount intentions.

In high school, I was awarded Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott for first in the class in two subjects – Needlework and Home Science. I would like to be able to say it was the prize for excellence in English, but it wasn’t.

Later, my sister’s friend handed on a book to me because the main character was my namesake. There are two stories within the confines of the cover – What Katy Did and What Katy Did At School by Susan Coolidge, published in England by Rylee Classics.

This book felt like it had my name on the cover, and took me a little closer to the dream.

My will to write was always strong.

At the end of each school break, we were set the task of writing about the wonderful holidays we’d had. Most of the kids wrote about holidays at the beach, visiting grandparents interstate, or trips to Sydney and places like Taronga Park Zoo. Because we didn’t have such holidays, I often caused a stir by writing about the pattern on the bottom of the swimming pool, how long I could hold my breath under water, or simply spending the day making mud pies with my younger siblings.

Then, when I was eight, there was that first little book I wrote about the pup and his friends getting into mischief. Read more about this in my Blog ~ Welcome To My Writing Home

Next came a short story called The Wonder Boy Of Two Hundred Years Ago about a boy frozen after his death, to be brought back after two centuries. I was twelve at the time and had not heard of cryonics.

In the second year of high school, I approached the principal about starting a school magazine. She told me I could do it, but no one on the teaching staff would have time to help me and I couldn’t use school resources. I gathered ‘news’ and wrote some ‘articles’, but had no idea how to get them from individual pieces into an interesting paper.

The idea was dropped in favour of my copious notebooks of teenage poetry.

The foundations were laid for my future as a writer.


What literary treasures accompanied you from childhood to adulthood?

Share your thoughts in the Comments section…


Next Blog ~ Writer-friendly Spaces

Writing Exercise #6

Finding The Writer In You

Part A:

Take a piece of paper and brainstorm your history as a writer – regardless of how small you think that history is. We all had experiences of words and writing at school – spelling, reading, compositions, school magazines and so on. For various reasons, some of us struggled more than others with these, but we all have our own story to tell (see my recent blog posts on my childhood experiences – here).

Begin by listing your school experiences, then add other writing endeavours… letters (to family, friends, pen-friends…), poetry, stories, university essays, work reports, letters to the editor, competitions… whatever it is for you. Keep digging deeper and deeper – you may be surprised what you remember.

Part B:

Read through your list and then set it aside.

Part C:

Write the words, ‘I know I am a writer because…’ and then keep writing without censoring what flows onto the paper. Continue until you feel you’ve exhausted the subject.

You may end up with a dot-point paragraph, a page, or several pages. Everyone’s result will be different, but this doesn’t matter – what you are looking for, and what you will find, is your own unique experience.

This is the foundation on which to build your writing future.

School Frustrations And Triumphs

In primary school, I devoured the School Readers and repeatedly asked if I could borrow from the school library. But alas! This room was only for high school students – that is, until I reached high school. Then it was apparently only for the use of the boarders, who couldn’t ‘get to the town library’.

I was frustrated by the assumption that anyone not cosseted at the school was free to go where they wanted, and could therefore get their own books. This was definitely not the case in my family.

Further frustration crowded my high school days when I realised our English teacher was never going to be available. She was the principal and therefore very busy.

Every English lesson for four years went like this…

We settled in class, the principal came into the room and said, ‘Open your Using English books on Page 38 and do Unit 13 and Unit 14′ (for instance). She put some folders on the teacher’s desk and left the room. Many students wrote notes to each other, whispered, or drew pictures in their exercise books. Very few even opened Using English, let alone attempt the work, because Sister never took the time to check what we’d done – unless there was too much noise and she had to drag herself away from her office to calm us.

I often did some of the work, not because I was a goody-goody (I was far from that!) but because I liked English. Sometimes I wrote poetry – especially as I got older and had a boyfriend. There is nothing like first love to get the poetry pen flowing.

At the end of class, the principal returned, collected her folders from the desk and said, ‘Finish the unit you’re working on for homework’. Then she was gone, and so were we.

We were deprived of discussions about the classics, and my memory is that Charles Dickens’ A Tale Of Two Cities, set in London and Paris before and during the French Revolution, was the set text for four years in a row.

We found our own way through the subject and either passed or failed on our own merit. I was lucky that my mother’s teaching persona meant she spoke well and I seemed to automatically pick up the rules of English which got me a reasonable pass. Some others were not so lucky.

In my last year of school, a group of us wanted to learn to type and I volunteered to convince the principal that the school was responsible for offering such a course. She eventually agreed to us using the library for one hour after school each afternoon. It would be up to us, she said in no uncertain terms, to make the most of the time. All she could do was sell us the necessary books and set us up with metal shields to cover our hands so we couldn’t see the typewriter keys.

We took the opportunity seriously. To this day, I am grateful for those dreaded keyboard covers, the teacher’s understanding and my friends’ commitment, all of which contributed to a lifetime of touch-typing.

My three friends and I spent many hours typing aaaa bbbb cccc and so on, and completed all the tasks in the text books while seated at the long wooden tables in the mysterious library. But we never held or read one book from the shelves of the cabinets. They were locked behind glass doors and there were no keys to be found.


What role did your teachers play in your development as a writer?

Share your thoughts in the Comments section…


Next Blog ~ Childhood Treasures