All posts by: Lisa Rivero

Does your physical writing space need a makeover?

Photo by Brandt Kurowski (CC BY 2.0)

“Space is the stage on which we play out our lives.” ~ Tina Seelig, inGenius

How much thought do you give to your physical writing space?

While it is true that we sometimes need to write without excuses (see Jane Austen’s Writing Table), we also are wise to think about what specific aspects of our environment makes our writing both more productive and more enjoyable.

Tina Seelig, in her book inGenius: A Crash Course on Creativity, reminds us, “Creative spaces lead to creative work”:

“Space is a key factor in each of our habitats, because it clearly communicates what you should and shouldn’t be doing. If you live and work in an environment that is stimulating, then your mind is open to fresh, new ideas. If, however, the environment is dull and confining, then your creativity is stifled.” (inGenius, p. 102)

Here are a few questions to help you to think about your writing space(s) and some photos for inspiration.

  • Do you prefer to be surrounded by technology when you write? Nature? Art? Pets?
  • Is everything you need for your writing (laptop, paper, notecards, pens, books) easy to see and retrieve?
  • Does a colorful and varied work environment inspire or distract you?
  • What kinds of background noises are conducive to your writing? Do you prefer quiet? Music? Human voices? Bird songs?
  • Do different writing tasks (drafting, plotting, revising, proofreading) respond better to different habitats?

While most of us don’t have the resources to create a perfect writing space, we can probably all make small changes that will pay off daily. Which of these habitats do you find most inviting? (See end of post for photo credits.)

A View of Nature
My writing desk with a view for today, by Cyril Vallée

Classic Author Style
Joseph Conrad's writing desk and typewriter, by Ben Sutherland

Surrounded by Books, Open to Visitors
Library and Writing Desk

Desk 2013, by Brandt Kurowski

Simplicity Without Distractions
Writing Desk

Colorfully Creative
Spiffy Shiny New Space

Photo Credits (in order of appearance): My writing desk with a view for today, by Cyril Vallée (CC BY-SA 2.0); Joseph Conrad’s writing desk and typewriter;, by Ben Sutherland (CC BY 2.0); Library and Writing Desk, by Bruce Tuten (CC BY 2.0); Desk 2013, by Brandt Kurowski (CC BY 2.0); Writing Desk, by Seamus Holman (CC BY-SA 2.0); Spiffy Shiny New Space, by Shan Jeniah Burton (CC BY 2.0)

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Late-Blooming Writers

Are you a late bloomer? So was Winston Churchill

Winston Churchill

By British Government [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Thomas West, author of the In the Mind’s Eye: Creative Visual Thinkers, Gifted Dyslexics, and the Rise of Visual Technologies (a terrific book that I highly recommend), wrote this on his blog about Winston Churchill as a late-blooming writer:

“What, then, can be said of his education as a writer and historian? His education during his years at Harrow (where, after all, he did not do very well) would not seem sufficient to explain his great skill or depth of knowledge and understanding in later years. Nor would even his oft-repeated study of elementary English composition and grammar. His years at Sandhurst were designed for the active and practical military professional, not to provide a background in the literature of the military historian.

“Where and when had he read the great authors, to provide a base for his native writing skills? Once again, late-blooming seems the answer and seems the dominant pattern. Like Faraday, Churchill started late but he never stopped. And he followed his own program, in his own time, for his own purposes.” [emphases added] Read More

One thing I love about the practice and profession of writing is that there is no narrow window of prodigious achievement (in other words, we aren’t “washed up” if we haven’t made it by age 30), no mandatory retirement age. In fact, more life experience allows for greater and more connections, what West calls “integration of a whole life.”

See Also

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Long Live the Serious Hobby Writer

Hobbies get a bad rap, especially if one’s hobby happens to be writing.

Wait a minute, you might be thinking. Are you saying that I should think of my writing as just a hobby?

Writing Is My Hobby, by Charles J Danoff

Writing Is My Hobby, by Charles J Danoff (CC BY 2.0)

Not everyone will want to approach their writing this way, of course, but I am convinced that, for many people, writing can be an immensely satisfying hobby that can bring joy for decades.

Think about it: We can start writing without any special equipment. We learn the basic skills in childhood. We can continue to learn and to get better for our entire lives. We can pursue our hobby any place, any time, in nearly any circumstances.

For the serious hobby writer, professional status is not at all the point. And for many people who do get paid for at least some of their writing—yours truly included—writing doesn’t feel like a job. Psychologist Joyce E. A. Russell reminds us that hobbies are things we do because we want to rather than because we have to. She explains why hobbies are important:

“Research has shown that people who have hobbies are generally healthier, and have a lower risk of depression and dementia. Many executives that I have coached say a sport or physical fitness routine as a hobby keeps their blood pressure down, enables them to manage their anger and daily frustrations, and puts them in a much better frame of mind. Consequently, this impacts their quality of life, work and family time. Michael Brickey, author of ‘Defy Aging,’ says that an ideal hobby would be one that serves three purposes: a diversion (escape from daily life), a passion (engage in something you love) and a creation of a sense of purpose.” Read more

If the joy of writing eludes you—if you aren’t writing as much as you would like to, if goals fall by the wayside, if you no longer enjoy an activity that at one time brought you pleasure—try reframing your writing as an intense hobby rather than something you feel you should do. If your writing is a lifelong, serious hobby, there is less pressure to be perfect today or to fulfill imagined expectations, and more room to experiment and get better and discover your own voice. In time, serious hobby writing can develop into an occupation, but even if it doesn’t, we will not have spent our time in vain.

Hobbies are their own reward, and therein lies their power.

We invest ourselves, time, and resources into our hobbies on a regular basis not for outside approval or financial gain (even if it comes) but for what they give back to us. Hobbies can sustain us and give us a reason to look forward to the day when the rest of life falls flat. There is no “just” about it.

Do you think of your writing as a hobby… or something else?

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Get Serious About Your Writing: Blog Series Catch-up Day

It’s time for another blog series catch-up day! Below are the posts in this series so far. Please let me know what else you would like to see covered in the remaining 12 days.

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Sometimes We Have To Make a Choice

“[W]hen you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.” ~ Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist

Paulo Coelho

PaulocoelhoABL“. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Yesterday, driving from my family’s farm in south-central South Dakota to the Sioux Falls airport, I turned on the car radio and  found myself listening to Brazilian author Paulo Coelho being interviewed by Krista Tippett on NPR’s “On Being” program.

Coelho was describing the circuitous journey he took to realizing his writing life. His parents disapproved of his talk of being a writer (and even institutionalized him), as did his teachers, leading Coelho to enroll in (then drop out of) law school, international travel, songwriting, being arrested for subversion, and the theater before finally coming back to what he always wanted to do in the first place: Write.

He describes a turning point when he embarked on a pilgrimage on the famed Santiago de Compostela or Way of St. James (on a related note, if you haven’t yet seen the movie The Way, which helps to explain the pilgrimage through the story of a father and son—played by real life father and son Martin Sheen and Emilio Estevez—I highly recommend it):

“When I arrived at Santiago de Compostela, I understood, finally that I had to make a choice in my life. And the choice would be, I have to fulfill my dream, or I have to forget my dream forever. My dream was to be a writer. I was 40 years old, probably too old to change my path. But I said, ‘No. I’m going to change. I’m going to leave everything behind. I’m going to burn my bridges. I’m going to follow my heart from now on, even if I have a price to pay.’ Of course, I was supported by my family, my wife. She said, ‘Yes, let’s do it. Even if everybody tells us that nobody can make a living out of writing. But let’s take this risk, because otherwise you can have everything, but you’ll be unhappy.’ And so I started by writing my first book, that is The Pilgrimage.” ~ Paulo Coelho [emphases added]

The interview is thought-provoking for anyone who feels eluded by a life-long dream, regardless of whether we ever want to quit our day jobs. After The Pilgrimage, Coelho went on to write The Alchemist, which was dropped by its first publisher after a print run of 900 copies and sold only about 10,000 copies in its first three years. He says of his choice to seek another publisher rather than give up, “I had no choice. Either I move forward or I die. I die. I die. Not physically probably, but spiritually, I would die.”

The Alchemist has since become one of the best selling and most translated titles of all time, with sales of 65 million copies.

What price are we willing to pay to follow our heart?

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