Yesterday, in the midst of a thousand things on my to-do list (including prepping for an important video shoot tomorrow for the Archdiocese of Atlanta) I decided to randomly fold and put away all the laundry that had been piling up in the corner of the master bedroom. Technically, that pile of clothes (okay…3 piles) have been sitting there for upwards of a month. I’ve basically just been pulling clothes out of the pile, throwing them into whatever suitcase I’m hauling with me on a particular trip, and then tossing dirty clothes in the laundry, only to have them placed back within those clean piles until the next trip. It’s been a pretty vicious cycle, and with a busy month coming up, and an even busier summer looming in the distance, I decided to put the to-do list aside for just a little while and climb laundry mountain.
And wouldn’t you know…an hour after defeating the beast, I was able to write a few hundred words on a project due to my editor that I’ve been struggling to finish.
It seems weird: fold and put away a month’s worth of laundry and then be able to write? How do clean, hung up, ordered clothes somehow inspire theological musings and produce good writing? But, while weird on the one hand, it makes a lot of sense on the other.
Ordered physical spaces make for an ordered, coherent, structured mind. Those piles of laundry were literally physical barriers to the creativity and freedom I needed to write without fear of forgetting to do something else. The mountain of clean clothes was like a flashing sign reminding me that I had a lot of stuff to do, so clearly writing needed to be ignored for just a little while because it was bottom of the list. The laundry was cluttering my space, and thus cluttering my mind, and preventing writing, whether good or bad, from happening at all.
Physical space affects us. A messy kitchen makes it far harder to cook. Cluttered counters and a filled sink don’t leave much room for prepping meals and then dining in peace. At the end of every day, I go through the house and pick up things that were left in places they don’t belong…toys go back in the bin, books are returned to shelves, remote controls are placed on the end table, chairs are pushed under the dining room table – we put the house back in order so we can begin again the next day.
The physical space we occupy affects us, in big ways. This is why we decorate our homes, landscape our yards, worship in beautiful Churches, and seek to organize even the most mundane of things (like the Tupperware that always seems to be missing a top). If physical space affects us, then it certainly influences what we create and craft. The physical environment we place ourselves in influences our thoughts, affects our mood, either keeps us focused or causes too many distractions.
Where we are has an effect on what we craft, and so identifying where we get our best writing done, and then going to that space again and again, can produce better, more coherent, fruitful, good writing.
We all have our favorite spots: comfy chairs, cluttered desks, busy coffee shops. But we have those spots – those spaces – that help us focus, get in the zone, and write as best we can.
Jared Dees loves writing on airplanes. Why? “Because there are virtually no distractions.” I’d have to agree – you can be totally surrounded by people and yet left completely alone, just you, a word doc, and a blinking cursor. Sarah Swafford also likes to be totally disconnected, and goes to her parent’s farmhouse out in the country. She’ll “take her laptop down to the pond and sit on the dock” so she can limit as many distractions as possible and just focus on her work.
Lisa Hendey’s favorite place is the beach, but with a busy travel schedule, she’ll “write anywhere” she can “find a little patch of peace and quiet.” She too loves writing in airports, but not airplanes (that’s where she gets her best napping done).
Jen Fulwiler likes to go to her office, the place where she can “focus without interruption” and Bobby Angel, author of Forever: A Catholic Devotional for Your Marriage with his wife, Jackie, likes to go to his downstairs study (with his awesome rolltop desk), where he can usually find “5 minutes of solitude” before his toddlers find him.
Joel Stepanek, author of True North and Director of Resource Development at Life Teen, writes best in coffeeshops, or really “anyplace with good coffee.” I can attest to this: the last time I saw Joel in person, he was camped out in a hotel lobby with coffee and his iPad, typing away.
Fr. John Burns, ever the priest, said his favorite place to write is “in front of the Eucharist.” I imagine because it allows him to focus on the subject at hand: Jesus himself, who inspires and guides the words.
It would be foolish to say where we write is unimportant. Obviously where we find ourselves sitting and working influences what we’re writing and creating. The place we put ourselves affects how we write, what we build, the ways we dream, and the things we craft. And so each writer, with their own unique styles and sensibilities and goals, needs to find the “place and space” that works best for them. So do an inventory of sorts. When you write, where are you? Ask yourself:
- Where do I write best? (Is it a busy coffee shop or a quiet library cubicle? Is it in the window seat of an American Airlines 747, preferabbly seat 11A (my favorite) or your home office, with a comfy chair, perfectly distanced ottoman for your feet, and light streaming through the window just above your head?)
- Do I like to write with music?
- Do I need absolute silence?
- Do I like to surround myself with all my resources or do I prefer a clean, clear, uncluttered desk?
- Do I need to be around people or totally by myself?
- If my house is messy, or my desk cluttered, does that stop me from being productive?
- What do I need to be looking at when I’m writing? What do I need to hear? What do I need to be surrounded by?
- Where do I write best?
Figure that out, go to that space, and get your thing done.