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The Writing Environment: Optimizing Your Focus and Creativity

Updated on March 5, 2012
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As writers, we are most likely to have writing materials all around. They may be paper and writing utensils, a computer, and other means of recording our words. However, we rarely leave it at just that. Our environment is filled with different sounds, scenes, and items that hold some sort of significance for us. Although any environment can provide inspiration for thoughts and cause us to run and grab something, anything to record our mini-epiphanies, we need to put a little more thought into what we surround ourselves with when we need to focus and get to writing effectively. This article details some of the different aspects of the writing environment with tips and suggestions for finding which ones will help you stay focused while increasing your creativity.

Although stereo music can certainly provide positive sound, it can also be a source of noise that prevents optimal writing.
Although stereo music can certainly provide positive sound, it can also be a source of noise that prevents optimal writing. | Source

Sound vs. Noise

Technically the terms "sound" and "noise" are interchangeable. However, in the study of the effects of environment on behaviors, noise refers specifically to sounds that are stressful or cause conflict. As such, optimizing our environment begins with eliminating and reducing noise and including sounds as desired. The following points provide more details on how to do so.

  • Television: Some individuals use the sound of the TV to keep them at ease. For such individuals, having a TV on while writing may seem only natural. However, if that is the case for you, pay close attention to what you have on the TV. If it is distracting you, then change channels or turn it off. Also consider what you are writing. If you are writing about how to meditate to reduce stress, a TV program featuring explosions and gunfire is not going to help you.
  • Music: This is perhaps the most common of sounds during writing. Classical and other music genres are praised for their ability to enhance cognitive functioning and promote focused attention. Volume is going to depend upon preferences and the particular music playing. If a song is quiet and flowing, you may find that turning it up actually helps your concentration. Meanwhile, a louder, more abrupt tune may not necessarily be less helpful, but require the volume to be turned way down. If you love music and it helps you pump out your words but you cannot stop singing along to your favorite songs, consider switching to music with no lyrics.
  • Traffic, Drips, & Other Noises: Depending upon where you live, you may have to deal with outside noises on a regular basis. You may try to drown them out with music or even by turning on a fan or other noise-producing object that is less distracting. Another method is to simply become accustomed to the noises. If you write everyday under the same noise conditions, you will ultimately become conditioned to them. If you find them annoying and distracting and cannot escape them, consider changing your perspective. For example, I live near train tracks. I grew up across the street from one as a child and have learned to use those moments when they pass by now to reflect on happy moments of playing with friends (real and imagined) at the playground. Rather than an annoyance, the sound now provides a mini-break so that I can focus and be more inspired once the noise fades away.
  • Silence: Some individuals try so hard to eliminate distractions that they create an environment of silence. To many, this is the most desirable as everything you "hear" is your thoughts and inner voice. To others, silence is deafening and a far worse distraction. Try mixing it up a bit. Sometimes it helps to write with background sounds like music and then go back and edit during moments of silence and vice versa. New thoughts will emerge and you may catch more errors this way.

It's good to have something to look at, especially if it allows you to take your eyes away from your writing. Looking off into the distance in a field can help clear your mind as well as provide inspiration when you're stuck.
It's good to have something to look at, especially if it allows you to take your eyes away from your writing. Looking off into the distance in a field can help clear your mind as well as provide inspiration when you're stuck. | Source

Things to Look At

Yes, writers should absolutely want most of their time writing spent looking at the paper or screen they are writing on. That said, writers need to have other things to look at too. If for no other reason, maintaining good eyesight so you can continue writing long into the future should encourage you to be conscious of the aesthetics in your writing environment.

  • Near and far: No matter what you keep in your environment, be sure there are things to look at near you (besides the paper/screen) and something at least a few feet (preferably further) away. Every now and again, you want to take your eyes off your writing and look at objects far from you and near you for a few minutes each. It helps avoid eyestrain and promotes eye health.
  • Colors: Anyone who has ever looked into the effects different colors have on mood or even just Feng Shui will know how beneficial colors are. Ideally, the colors you surround yourself should be ones you like. However, try to avoid having only one color around you. For example, I absolutely love the color purple and would love to have it all around me at all times. That said, how stimulated is my mind going to be with only purple objects in my environment? If you want to increase creativity, you need variety.
  • Inspiration: More important than colors and proximity in terms of the writing environment, you need to have things around you that inspire you. The "Hang In There!" kitty poster is a classic of something to look at every now and again when you find yourself stumbling. What inspires you to keep going? Keep one or more mementos around that symbolize your goals. I find having crystals and a candle that I have dedicated as aides to my writing remind me of what I am going through. I light the candle and say a small prayer that my writing flow so that I may inspire others and make the world better one word at a time. I may not write a masterpiece every time, but looking to the candle during a writing session reminds me of my ultimate goals.

Some smells can help keep the writing environment calm and creative whereas others can be a huge distraction.
Some smells can help keep the writing environment calm and creative whereas others can be a huge distraction. | Source

Aroma

No matter one's take on aromatherapy, the basic concept of it cannot be denied. Different scents affect us in different ways. The smell of fresh flowers may be soothing to some, while the scent makes others want to go outside and play, walk, or go for a run. The smell of a home cooked meal may make one feel safe and at ease, whereas another may focus on the eating of that meal. You may find that looking up suggested aromas for writing, focusing one's attention, and increasing creativity has different effects on you, but that does not mean you should not give the scents in your environment attention.

  • Bad smells: Years ago I lived not far from the local water treatment facility. For the most part it was not a problem, but on occasion the wind would shift just right so that stepping out into the fresh, open air smelled more like an outhouse. Even from inside, an open window to bring in a warm, summer breeze became like a vent to force in gag-worthy air. Such an environment was bound to turn an afternoon set aside for writing into a completely unproductive day as the aroma was incredibly distracting. Ridding your environment of such smells is a must. When that is not possible, knowing your environment well enough will help you to adjust to make your writing time pleasant and odor free. Light scented candles, close that window, bake some cookies or cook a nice stew during your writing time, and other acts will save your writing environment.
  • Invigorating scents: When you want to spark some creativity, you want smells that are going to bring your sense to life in a good way. Cinnamon and other pleasant spices are great for waking your body (and mind!) up and keeping it alert for writing. What scents help you stay active? Wear a perfume or invest in an oil diffuser to help spread those smells all around your writing environment.
  • Soothing aromas: Sometimes the lack of a spark is not the problem so much as too much spark. If you find that your writing is suffering because you have too much anxiety or your mind is racing too fast for your hands to keep up with, you need a less energizing stimulus in your environment. For writing, you may not want scents like lavender and chamomile which may soothe you right into a nap, but something soft and subtle can help calm your nerves. Perhaps the smell of a fresh baked apple pie will remind you of a dear loved one who always made you feel comfortable and at home. Think about the environments and activities that soothe you while still being alert and focused. Now think about the scents associated with those and you will find the aromas right for you.

Do you put thought into the environment around you when you sit down to write?

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Hub #5/30 for March Challenge.

© 2012 Evylyn Rose

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      Akinola 2 years ago

      Very interesting to know, eslceialpy since I assumed that Hubpages was going down the proverbial plughole after Panda.I haven't really written there, although I have been a member for a couple of years. Maybe it's time to diversify, and if I don't earn a lot there, I ought to at least be able to write something that will help give me extra traffic on my Squidoo lenses.

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      Sibel 2 years ago

      Basically to follow up on the up-date of this topic on your webstie and would wish to let you know how much I prized the time you took to generate this helpful post. Within the post, you spoke on how to actually handle this issue with all comfort. It would be my personal pleasure to get together some more ideas from your blog and come as much as offer others what I have benefited from you. Many thanks for your usual great effort.

    • Evylyn Rose profile image
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      Evylyn Rose 5 years ago from Colorado, USA

      Turtlewoman, thanks for the comment and compliment. :) I think having even a little variety can help when it comes to creative ventures like writing. Glad you know what works best for you!

      Michael, we generally focus so much on writing that we forget how important it is to take care of our eyes too. As far as a landscape, though, I find being able to look out into the distance (especially if I'm somewhere I can see the mountains) helps refuel my mind when I get stuck in the middle of a thought. It has the opposite effect we expect it to. ^_^ Thanks for commenting!

      rambansal, thanks for the comment. That's a great way to handle a noisy environment when you don't have another option! Thanks for sharing. :) Glad I could help.

      lilMissScrittore, I hope you have a writing room all your own in the very near future! In the meantime, make the most of it and it will show in your writing. :) Thanks for the compliments and comment.

    • profile image

      lilMissScrittore 5 years ago

      Evylyn, Great post, beautifully written. I have a tiny apartment right now so my writing space is small and not completely what I would like it to be, BUT some day I hope to have a whole room for a writing space and can do all sorts of neat things with the senses as you described above.

    • rambansal profile image

      Ram Bansal 5 years ago from India

      Since, there is a lot of noise all around me, I can't avoid it. Instead, I try to find some sounds in between noise and make use of those for my writings.

      Thanks for your sharing the wisdom, opening new vistas for me.

    • Michael J Rapp profile image

      Michael J Rapp 5 years ago from United States

      Very interesting. Reading your comment on near and far things to look at made me open the blinds behind my computer so I can see the landscape out the window. I never really thought about it, and always figured it would just distract me.

    • Turtlewoman profile image

      Kim Lam 5 years ago from California

      What a wonderful hub Evylyn! I was just thinking about this topic and was wondering how writers get inspired to write. I didn't know that a specific scent could be helpful. I've realized that a beautiful sight and complete silence helps me concentrate better, although sometimes listening to Enya works too.

      Voted up!! :-)

    • Evylyn Rose profile image
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      Evylyn Rose 5 years ago from Colorado, USA

      Cosmic Bus, thanks for the comment and vote!

      DFiduccia, that sounds like a terrific writing environment! I'm envious. ;) Thanks for the comment and vote.

      Enigmatic, I am much the same way. I can write just about anywhere, but I find that the environment shapes how or what I write. For example, when I wrote my novel, Hela's Story, last November, I wrote in all kinds of places. Even when at home, I never seemed to write under the same conditions twice. When I finally sat down, focused, and put a little thought into the environment for the editing process in January, I could tell where I was writing which portion of the novel just by the way it was written. I could look at one chapter and know that I was at Panera Bread taking little breaks to chat with fellow Nanowrimos, or having a moment of forced writing at Starbucks, or a moment of great inspiration (possibly even channeling) while seated at my couch. Every environment comes with different inspirations and levels of concentration. There is no wrong or right!

    • Enigmatic Me profile image

      5 years ago from East Coast Canada

      Interesting. I've written in quiet coffee shops, on napkins in crazy busy restaurants, on the bus, on a bench in a park, in the quiet of my own home. Music is something that I enjoy while I write, but its nature and human nature that spurns the writer within, dares me to put words to what I see and feel. It is within me to get it out.

    • DFiduccia profile image

      DFiduccia 5 years ago from Las Vegas

      When I write, I need a quiet and pleasant environment. I’m at my best, when I’m at my place in Mexico, which has an ocean view. My desk sits in front of an eight ft. window with a view of the Todos Santos Bay. Smell is only a factor to me if it is noxious.

      Thanks for a great and informative hub—voted up.

    • Cosmic Bus profile image

      Cosmic Bus 5 years ago from Maryland

      Great job! I love to have a very neat, private working space, with no clutter and a fan sound in the background. Voted up!

    • Evylyn Rose profile image
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      Evylyn Rose 5 years ago from Colorado, USA

      I find that what I need as far as sound and aroma goes will depend entirely upon the mood I'm in (or was in before I sat down to write) and what kind of day I'm having. Sometimes a set way of doing things doesn't always work out the same every time. That's why I think it's so important to consider our environment whenever we sit down to write. :) Thanks for the comment and share!

    • AEvans profile image

      Julianna 5 years ago from SomeWhere Out There

      With me the smell of lavender and quite is the best way for me to write. When my world is busy then I become distracted and irritated. I end up taking longer to write then normal. Thumbs up and shared! :)