How to Create an Effective Writing Environment
Your writing -- or lack thereof -- is directly impacted by your surroundings. If you're constantly getting up to go get something, or if you catch yourself fiddling with random objects more than actually writing, you need to improve your writing environment. Depending on your lifestyle, this might be ridiculously easy with a few minor changes, or it might involve a major overhaul.
Have you ever tried to focus while your mind is racing through a thousand other things? It can be impossible to be productive! You might be tempted to just power through, but that's not always the best idea. If only half your mind is on your writing that means the other half is still drifting off to other things. What you need to do is clear your mind, and that can be considerably easier when your space is clear.
When your mind keeps wandering, the first thing to do can be to simply clean and organize your space. Is your desk cluttered with everything from receipts to craft supplies to random toys left by your kids? Get rid of it! If you're uncomfortable in the mess, that little nagging voice isn't going to let up until it's gone. Receipts need to go in the trash or into a folder; craft supplies should at the very least be neatly stashed off to the side, if you don't have enough space to store them away in totes; and toys should be where the kids play, not where the adults work.
Now that you've tackled the mess, you should consider what items are conducive to your writing and bring them back in an organized way. This will vary for everyone, but it can include everything from basic office supplies to inspirational pieces. A couple of notebooks are always good to keep around for those random notes you want to jot down but don't want to make a new document for; writing utensils would accompany notebooks, naturally; a garbage can to prevent clutter from building up again; and if you prefer physical copies to online versions, a dictionary and thesaurus. If you're writing a fantasy novel, maybe you want a map of your world on the wall, or some sketches of your characters. As long as you keep it minimal, relevant, and organized, it's okay to bring a few things back into your newly cleaned space.
Beyond "writer-y" things like notebooks and writing utensils, consider what you need to be comfortable. Too often we'll find little excuses to fiddle with things when we should be writing, like kids who don't want to go to bed yet and keep finding reasons to get up. Make sure that the basic, foreseeable things are taken care of in advance: adjust your chair, tweak the lighting, have some water nearby, get your slippers if your feet are cold, anything you can think of that is likely to distract you. If you're prone to dry skin, keep some lotion by the keyboard -- little things like that.
Now that you have a fresh, revamped work space, it's time to eliminate those other pesky distractions. I'm not talking about phones and Facebook (yet), I mean those distractions that we love to use as excuses: the dreaded to-do list. Before you sit down for a writing session, quiet that nagging voice by taking care of the things that need doing. Our brains love to find reasons to fidget and fuss, don't they? If you're stressing over groceries, go refill the fridge before you try to write; if laundry is weighing you down, start up the washing machine and write while it works.
Finally, it's time to disconnect. Turn off the phone and return calls later, and unplug from the internet (or at least temporarily block your trouble sites). If you're worried about missing emergency calls, some phones now come with a "priority" setting, which blocks all calls that don't come from numbers you set as priority contacts. Very useful for the worriers out there, who feel uneasy being completely unreachable on the off-chance something bad happens!
We've covered the basics -- creating a comfortable writing environment, eliminating distractions, cutting down on our list of excuses, but there's still something missing: music. Some people prefer to work in silence, but for others, a bit of mood music really seals the deal. If you like some noise, create a playlist in advance that suits what you'll be working on. If you don't quite know what to play or don't have the music on your computer, YouTube has some great pre-made playlists that are just a search away. Just type in whatever mood you're after, tack "music" on the end, and you should have some great options to choose from.
If your preferred method of writing is mobile (a laptop or good ol' pen and paper), you might consider other places that you'd like to write, especially if you don't really have an office area that you can customize. What kind of places would mimic the setting of your story? If you're writing a piece that takes place in a forest, perhaps you would benefit from finding a quiet little campsite to occupy for a few hours; or if you're writing a scene set in a city, you might like taking your writing to a coffee shop for a little while so you can people-watch.
Our surroundings affect us more than we realize -- if you're surrounded by chaos, it's hard to think straight and feel good. People need structure! We function best when our lives and surroundings are in order, and this includes our hobbies. Next time you're struggling with writer's block, take a step back and look at your writing environment. Distractions are like little roadblocks for our creativity. Remove whatever distractions you can, and soon the words will flow.