Thursday, August 04, 2005

Creative Spaces

I actually have two essays I want to write today, and I had a hard time choosing which one I wanted to write first. At some point, I'll probably run out of useful things to write about, but so far that's not been a problem! Since it's very likely that no one actually reads these musings, that's probably okay! :)

Last night I read my copy of Writer's Digest, one of the three writing magazines I subscribe to (the others are Locus and The Writer, for the curious*). This month's issue had an interesting article on the writing studios of four different professional authors. Setting up a creative space has been on my mind recently, as I ponder taking up fiction and freelance writing full-time. Psychologically, space is very powerful, as any architect will tell you. Certain states of mind are associated with certain types of spaces naturally as a result of our life experiences. For me, walking (not sitting) on the beach watching the ocean at sunset and just after dark has always put me in a very special meditative frame of mind. Similarly, looking out my window at the wind blowing the trees on a warm clear day puts me in a very restful, happy, and creative mood. Not everyone reacts the same way to these stimuli, however. For example, while many people like to watch the surf, I know many people who need to sit down and watch -- walking distracts them to the point where they aren't as aware of their surroundings. While I enjoy the view and the natural lighting out of a large window, many people find that distracting as well. In fact, a significant number of people here at the Mars Space Flight Facility work in total darkness, with their offices lit only by their computer screen or a small desk lamp. I would be miserable in a setting like that -- it's too cave-like for me. These people say they are much more productive that way, however. It just shows that it's not the space itself, but instead is the psychological association you have with that space that matters. That association will be different for everyone, since we have all been influenced by different experiences.

What many people don't consider, however, is that you can put this psychological effect to good use and actually program your brain to respond in a certain way. For example, if you choose one area of your house to be used only for work, your brain will eventually go into "work mode" just by entering that space. By the same token, you may have a hard time relaxing in a space that your brain has designated as a "work zone." One of the authors interviewed by Writer's Digest does this very thing. She has a small studio behind her home that is used exclusively for writing. When she enters the room, she's not bothered by the outside world -- all that exists is the writing. Another author, on the other hand, does most of her work in the library, because she finds if she's at home, she spends too much time online (hmm, that sounds familiar, come to think of it...) She uses a laptop to write at the library then comes home to edit. Even though on the surface it seems she has a very mobile concept of creative space, she mentions that the librarians have given her a small conference room for her use, so she's actually returning to the same space each time. The other two authors have similar spaces, although their take on distractions are quite different (one author choose her space specifically because it gives her ready access to the kitchen and her children).

As I mentioned in my entry on laptops and the advantages thereof, I think its important that writers take the time to observe the world around them. Doing so breathes life into our stories. I'm also attracted by the idea that as a freelance writer I can work anywhere. I relish the thought of being able to breathe in a variety of surroundings. This is at total odds, however, with the idea of "programming a creative space." The psychological theory would argue that I will get less creative work done if I write in a variety of places than I would if I had one designated spot. The experiences of a fair number of writers I've talked to seem to support this. I can definitely say, however, that I feel stifled having to work in the same office day after day. I'm excited by the prospect of being able to break out of the bonds of working in an office (yes, I know, at least I have an office to myself and not a cubicle -- that would be even worse). So, if/when I do decide to strike out on my own, I'm going to give "mobile writing" a try. It may very well be that the psychologists are right, and I finally have to designate a "writing space" to get anything done. Time will tell. It should be a very interesting experiment. I'd be very curious to know what (if any) sorts of "creative spaces" you have set up for yourselves.

*I currently subscribe to three flying magazines as well, but that's going to get reduced to one. I was able to get a cut rate subscription on all three, which allowed me to try them out and choose the one I wanted to stay with. Magazines -- on any topic -- are nice because they are a quick read and they expose you to ideas that you probably wouldn't have explicitly sought out on your own.

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