Your studio, office, workroom - whatever you call it - is the home of your creative activities. Is it supporting your creativity as well as it could be?
How is your workspace?
Let’s begin by taking the temperature of your workspace. (If you don’t have a dedicated workspace, think about the space that you set up to do your creative work in.) As it is right now, on a scale from YES to NO, what’s your response to these statements?
I can start work right away.
I love being in my workspace.
I have all the materials I need.
I can work uninterrupted for the amount of time I’ve decided to.
I can block off distractions (sound, other people, the internet…)
I touch base with this space every day.
I mark the space through established rituals or habits.
I can find whatever I want when I want it.
My workspace is pleasurable for my senses.
My workspace feels calm and exciting to be in.
My workspace is stable, reliable and easy to take care of.
Which of these things were ‘Hell yeah!’? Congratulations - keep hold of this.
Which of them were ‘Ummm…no.’?
If you put in some effort, you can change the ones that weren’t so great and make your workspace more awesome. And if your workspace is wonderful (not magazine-pretty but somewhere that fits you and your creative life) you will work better.
From my experience, here are some things that are worth thinking about.
Boundaries can be physical, social, or psychic…and are usually all three.
Establishing good boundaries is especially hard in shared-house and family situations, where the physical boundary involves setting interpersonal boundaries too. (If you struggle with this, remember that if you are connecting with your creativity, it will probably benefit everyone around you.)
For me, a closed door is the ultimate luxury. I used to have a sign to hang on the door that said, “Unless the house is on fire, walk away.” This succeeded because I negotiated precious time where I couldn’t be interrupted, with the promise that in other times I’d be available (and a nicer person because of it!)
As a parent, bargaining for creative time can lead to you feeling exhausted by the time you actually get there. You may benefit from scheduling a regular time with your family, and then sticking to it even on the days you’re not ‘in the mood’.
You may not be in a position to have an allocated workspace. You can generate one through habitual actions. For example, cafes are a classic temporary workspace for writers.
The kitchen table is as great a workspace as any other, but you may need a way to signal to your brain that you’re switching it over from social eating area to creative work area. This could be through a little ritual or an object like a cloth you lay out. You will need a safe place to keep your materials and strong boundaries around how others are allowed to treat them.
You can keep your workspace in a backpack and find a quiet corner in the library to work (you’ll need to adjust your mediums - librarians prefer pencils over spraypaint). It’s not perfect but if you need to make stuff to feel whole, you can’t afford to wait. Just find a way to start. Going into the creative zone will give you the motivation you need to keep looking for a better solution.
I once was living in a one-room shack (and somehow sharing it with my child’s estranged father). I set up a tent in the back yard and when my one-year old went to sleep I went out there and wrote on my typewriter (with the doors open so I could hear any cries). It was such a huge relief to have this bubble of creative zone to breathe in.
In my current opinion, mess is a matter of personal taste. I have areas of chaos that are holding an incubating idea, and other areas that I keep in pristine order at any cost (mainly my desk).
The worst mess is stuff lying around because you’ve finished the fun part of a project and the last stage is cleaning up but you’re bored already and onto the next thing. The longer you leave it, the ‘colder’ it will get and the harder it will be to get round to doing it. It can help to envisage any project as including a last phase of tidying up, recording/admin, etc. This way you’re expecting it and can use the established momentum to carry you through.
Hoarding makes it hard to get to what matters - physically and psychologically. You might find a Konmari session transformative for your studio. I’d only advise this if you’ve already done this process to other aspects of your life, making you finely tuned to what sparks joy and what you want to take with you into your future. Objects connected with your creativity may be extra emotionally volatile!
Workspaces away from home
My final reflection is on that dream so many of us have - a workspace that is somewhere far away from our ordinary lives. Be warned! It can be harder than you’d think to get there regularly. For example, collective artists’ studios are often full of spaces that aren’t being used regularly by their artists.
I’d only suggest getting a workspace away from home if you already have a strong creative practice that really needs it and is likely to survive the change of routine.
Shacks, though, are brilliant. Sheds. Garages. That weird mezzanine that nobody uses. They give that sense of moving from the ordinary into the creative space, and are away from your usual distractions, but they don’t require a lot of effort to actually get there. A shed for everyone! That’s my campaign motto.
Your needs are unique. That said, there’s one thing a lot of us share - we need to create. Creating anything today is better for you than waiting to create at some mythical future point, when you have the perfect workspace.
If these ideas are resonating with you, I invite you to take pen and paper and write and/or draw your responses to the diagnostic at the start of this blog post. Then you will be primed to take on this final question:
What can you do today to make your workspace more wonderful, so it supports your creativity better?