Friday, March 1, 2013

Make Your Writing Space Work For You

by Scott Rhoades

There are enough obstacles to writing that it sometimes seems like a miracle that we can get anything done. Time, family, jobs, church, and other obligations, combined with personal issues like confidence, laziness, and a myriad of other mental obstructions, all work together to stifle the muse.

Many people can add the lack of a comfortable workspace to the list. Ideally, we have a quiet personal space that we can set up in a way that helps us overcome some of those obstacles. We can decorate in a way that relaxes or inspires us, and have a place where we enjoy spending hours of our time.

Not everyone has that. An extra room we can call our own is not always realistic. But it doesn't have to be an entire room. It can be a converted closet, or even a small desk in a (hopefully) relatively quiet part of the house. For me, it helps to have a place that is all mine, where nobody moves things or leaves things on my desk, with a computer that nobody else uses. Not everybody has those space issues, but I do, and it makes a difference for me.

Many people cannot afford a computer of their own. Even if you have your own computer, chances are it's not used solely for writing. But there are things you can do to create a writing space of your own on your computer, even if you share it with other family members (or even just with yourself).

They key, of course, is creating a comfortable workspace that you enjoy using and that minimizes distractions. I'm going to give you some tips that apply to a Windows 7 computer, but you can do most of these things on a Mac, and you can do many of them better on a Linux computer.

Let's start with your desktop. You use your computer for a lot of things, so there are many icons and other things that have nothing to do with writing. Getting rid of all that stuff is not realistic. Your computer is not likely to ever be the dedicated writing space you want, even if that's what you envisioned when you bought it. But there are free programs that can help you create a dedicated space by creating a virtual desktop, a desktop you set up for only one purpose. I use Dexpot, a Windows-only virtual desktop utility that allows more customization that other free alternatives. With Dexpot, you can set up multiple desktops, each with its own wallpaper, icons, and screensaver (which of course you won't need, because you'll be too busy writing for the screensaver to start). If you want to keep people out of your writing space, you can even protect it with a password. Max OS X 10.5 and later allows you to do this with Spaces. I don't think you can customize your space as much in Spaces as in Dexpot, but I can't test it myself. However, Spaces has a cool feature that lets you assign certain apps to a space to help keep your workspace tidy.

Once you have your desktop set up, you want to make it easy to use by putting your most used programs within easy access. You have your word processing program, maybe another app where you keep notes, possibly one of those fancy writing programs where you can create characters, plot scenes, and outline your story. You probably want a link to your submission tracking tool, whether it's in Excel or a program dedicated for that purpose. Maybe you have a link to a favorite online dictionary and thesaurus. You might even use one of those writing tools that blocks out all the distractions on your computer. You want all of those within easy reach. If you tend to open multiple programs at once when you write, you can make opening them easier with an app like 7APL, which lets you set up your computer to launch multiple programs at once with a single keystroke. Some of those launchers can even open folders and websites when opening your other programs, so everything you need is right there and you don't have to spend your time going through the routine of opening all of the same stuff separately. If you have a Mac, you probably have Automator, which can do the same thing.

Whatever you can do to make your writing space more comfortable, more personal, and more enjoyable will help you want to spend your time there. Whether your space is a separate building, a room, a converted closet, a small desk, or just a workspace on a shared computer, you can make that space work for you by customizing it so that the tools you need are handy and distractions are minimized.

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