Time to Write: Finding Physical Space

Recently, I have not felt settled. Whether this is due to the change of seasons, going back to my classroom (this time with students) on Monday, or the planetary alignment, I have struggled mightily to find my way through my daily routine in a way that gets my many daily tasks accomplished with any fidelity. All the things I normally work on have suffered–my yoga practice, my meditation coursework, laundry, dishes, housecleaning…most of all, my writing. When I don’t feel settled, I find myself searching endlessly for something, anything to reach out and hook me to bring me back down to earth and into my cycle.

While I feel worlds away from words, the reality is that I am but a few steps away, at any moment, from being able to drop into my writing, even if only for a few moments. I carry my notebook and journal everywhere with me (yes, even in my backpack to school, though I rarely take them out, instead preferring to write snippets of story ideas and dialogue bits on sticky notes slapped onto the cover of the notebook), knowing that the mental ideal I hold of visiting my favorite cafe for several hours of uninterrupted creative time, or to sidle up to the north corner of my couch to write is tempting but entirely unrealistic–especially when I lack the pull to sit down, like now.

We often think we can work harder and search exhaustively to find the answers to our problems outside of ourselves. Yet when we take a minute to pause and ask why we’re not feeling our writing, more often than not, we already know the answers to our questions–and finding the physical space to write is no different. We just need to drop in, get quiet, and listen to find what works for us.

So in order to gain clarity, I did this exact practice. I scheduled writing time (usually chunks of 20 minutes) in my usual favorite writing spaces: two separate spots on my couch, my kitchen table, my favorite coffee shop, my home classroom desk, my meditation cushion) and made myself write at different times about the same topic: why I felt unable to settle down and write. What I discovered was not something that my logical brain hadn’t considered, but made perfect sense with the sense of being unsettled that brought me here–after being socially quarantined for a year during COVID and cooped up (meaning unable to get out to a park or open space) since late October, my practice was craving a new venue. This is easily remedied through a number of options, including moving my desk, or purchasing a new one to write in a different room, getting out to the small picnic shelter houses where I write in the late spring and summer, or even venturing, carefully masked and distanced, to a new coffee house.

As it turned out, the problem with my writing wasn’t actually my writing but my need for a change of space. It can’t be overstated that having a physical place (or places) in which to feel concurrently safe and inspired to write is critical to the creative mind. So with that realization, this week’s lesson (you can find last week’s lesson here) asks you to not only consider the spaces where you write, but to explore new ones.

If you’re just starting to write and don’t feel like you’ve found the place you want to settle down into for writing, or you’ve been writing and find yourself seeking some kind of connection, try this activity. Like Lesson 1, this lesson has two components: a journaling portion followed by action.

For the first, you’ll need your journal. Set aside time, perhaps just 10 minutes, to list out all the places you physically write. These don’t have to be only formal places. If you’re one of those people who can whip out your notebook in the doctor’s waiting room or at lunch, write that down as well. Write down all the nooks, crannies, and physical spaces where you have written in the past.

After you’ve made your list, choose a prompt from the list below, or make up your own, more meaningful prompt that you will address IN EACH SPACE you have listed in your journal. Now, obviously if you’ve got something like ‘doctor’s waiting room’, and you don’t have an appointment in the near future, you won’t be able to do that. But for the venues where you do have access, make it a point over the next few days or week to drop into those places (create a schedule if you need), with your journal and prompt, and see what comes up. Maybe you’ll find like me that it’s a change of scenery you need. Maybe it’s that you’re not spending enough time resting, or worrying about your fiction piece when you’re being called to work on your fantasy piece. You never know what will come up–but if you sit with a little silence and a probing prompt, you’re bound to come up with something.

You can also explore the feeling of these spaces and how they relate to your writing as well, especially if you’re new to writing and not sure where would be a good place. Approach it with curiosity and openness rather than judgment and see what feels right. Only you will know!

Possible prompts:

What feels good about writing in this space?

How does this space want me to use it in my creative process?

What can I write about that is calling me?

Where does my creativity want me to explore?

On which piece/story/novel/article do I want to work? Why?

What am I holding on to that is not serving my writing/creative self?

Have you found ways to recenter and refocus yourself so that you can settle into your writing spaces and routines after being away or ungrounded? I’d love to hear about it. Leave me a note in the comments, and happy writing!