Saturday, 13 December 2014

Why The Perfect Writing Space Probably Isn't.

Imagine for a moment that you are a rich and famous author. That you've 'made it' already as a writer and you're making enough money from your work to live very comfortably indeed, thank you very much.

(And don't any of you writers out there dare tell me you've never done that, because, quite frankly, I will refuse to believe you. Every writer's done that at least once in their lives, no matter where they are on the ladder.)

Perhaps you’re fantasising about the beautiful big house you’re now living in – or maybe you swap-rent between a few swanky places to grab the best of the seasons (a pad in the Bahamas for summer, a chic beach house in Hawaii for the chilly winter months and a des res near Hollywood for the rest of the year…) Maybe you've got a flash car – heck, maybe a whole fleet of them that you've been collecting like kids collect Pokemons (are they still a ‘thing?’) Or maybe you've been out-Kardashian-ing Kim, with the plastic surgery (sorry I mean ‘all-natural’ beauty enhancements) and style choices that would’ve made Julia Roberts’ character in Pretty Woman go “hmmm, yeah, but it’s not very classy, is it?”

Whatever you’re imagining, at some point I'm willing to bet your attention turned to your Writing Space - that sacred temple where you go to Do Your Thing with the words and the pretend people and stuff. After all, this is the place that helped you get to where you (imaginarily) are right now, so giving that a major makeover as well can only send your success rate soaring even higher, yeah?

Right now, my current Writing Space can best be summed up as ‘small and cluttered.’ My desk area is just under 80cm x 80cm in size when my pull-out keyboard drawer is fully pulled out, and it’s between the doorway to the living room and the cupboard under the stairs, facing the dining room wall. Because said dining room is in the back of a house that is tiny, Victorian and terraced, it doesn't get much natural daylight even in summer; it literally has to be full-on sunshine outside before I can get away with not having some form of artificial lighting to support the glare from my computer monitor as the main source. And because the house has no internal doors on the ground floor except for the one to the downstairs bathroom, in the winter the wind whistles under the back door in the kitchen and chills my feet while I write. (On a good writing day, I only realise this when I finally get up from my desk to get lunch or something and wonder why it suddenly feels like my toes have snapped off.)

Put away those tiny violins please, this isn't my pitch for a Kickstarter appeal. My point is that, while I am perfectly able to do what I do in this space, when it comes to thinking of ways to improve it I'm not exactly short of options. Your writing space might be nicer and more comfortable than mine or it might be even less so, but either way I'm sure you also have plenty of ideas about what you could do to make yours better. Let’s look at some of the most popular fantasy must-haves:

-          Huge, stonking, mahoosive desk usually comes fairly high up the list – the kind you need a wheelie-chair for just to get from one end to the other. Preferably in some sort of posh, shiny wood for that added ‘yeah, I’m doing important shizzle here’-factor.

-          Talking of chairs… gotta look like it means business, which means it needs to be deliciously comfortable, with a good, high back and that all-important ‘twirl action.’ As a general guideline, if it’s good enough for Jean-Luc Picard of the Starship Enterprise, it’s just about serviceable for the average writer, I would say.

-          Windows! No, not the eternally-Frankensteining Microsoft ones – actual ones you can look out of with your eyes. Biiiiiig windows naturally, with the most fabulous views on the other side, so that you can gave upon the loveliness of your environment and be inspired, dahling! (Of course the only snag with this is it may involve moving house to a place that actually has said fabulous views – or if you’re really rich, perhaps you just buy the places and have them relocated to ‘outside the house I’m already living in, please.’)

-          Catering facilities! No more of that ‘toddling to the kitchen for a cup of coffee/tea’ malarkey, the multitasking writer should be able to just lean across her desk-the-size-of-Canada and grab her beverage of choice from her every own tea-and-coffee-making-thingy, right there within easy reach. And why stop there? Why not have a designated ‘snack drawer’ too? Oooh, hey – how about dispensing with that long ol’ walk to the kitchen entirely and have a mini-fridge and a microwave on hand as well? Now you see why you need that mahoosive desk..!

(Just so you know, in the process of writing the above list my eyes went all misty and Louie Armstrong’s What a Wonderful World began playing on the jukebox inside my head.)

As fantasy ‘wants’ for a writer, these are pretty darn good, yeah? But what about in real life? What if, by some miracle, all of these things were achievable for even the most cash-deprived of writers? Well, let’s see…

A mahoosive desk would require a mahoosive house to put it in, for starters. Which would mean more housework, ‘cause bigger spaces to clean and all that. How many of you writers out there love housework? (And I mean, love it when you haven’t hit a writing rough patch?) Mmmm, yeah, me neither. So maybe just ‘big enough’ then. But how do you define ‘big enough?’ I don’t know about you, but give me a space and I’ll fill it, no matter what size it is. Okay, so maybe size isn’t everything (insert your own innuendo here.)

Big windows with a gorgeous view? Sounds amazing in theory… but in practice that would probably be a very bad idea. I’m the kind of person who can be fascinated for a good twenty minutes by the pattern left in the dregs of an empty coffee cup, so add in a glorious vista to gaze upon instead of my usual magnolia-coloured dining room wall… Far from beautiful scenery being ‘inspiring,’ I’ve a feeling most of us would spend more time staring out through those giant picture windows instead, slack-jawed and glassy-eyed – and that sort of nonsense would seriously eat into writing time.

The same could be said of a luxurious chair too. Of course anything cradling your writing bum for long periods of time should be comfortable and supportive – but if it makes spinning around feel like too much fun that’s a potential time-wormhole right there. (Especially if it also generates an irresistible urge to stroke an imaginary cat and say “Mister Bond, I've been expecting you,” in a dodgy accent.)

And while having food and drink within constant easy reach might seem like a massive time-saver in the grand scheme of things… for me at least, the flipside would be ending up the size of a house, with diabetes and fingers too pudgy for my keyboard. As people whose calling in life is to sit down and make stories, opportunities to inject a little non-sedentary activity into our lives – even if it is just walking to the kitchen and back - should be embraced, not minimised.

So… the ideal writing space then? If the one you have now is kind of small, kind of basic and kind of boring… maybe it already is ideal. Maybe it shouldn't feel like a place of wonder and luxury - no matter how rich and famous you become. And maybe a ‘productive’ space is actually one that doesn't pamper you, keep you entertained or boost your ego.

What do you think?