I’m interested in how space affects creativity. If I’m in a dark space, do I create differently than if I’m in a brightly lit space? If I’m cold, or warm, or listening to music, or in a large public space, what difference does it make?
One thing I hear from creatives these days is that they like options, they like being mobile. The idea of not being tied to any particular space seems very appealing. “I just go to a coffee shop, put in my earbuds and work away,” they tell me. “And I don’t even have to be near my home. I’m planning to drive around and work across the country.”
Imagine having a different space every day. Each time a period of finding the seat, settling down to work, creating the bubble inside which to work—the safe zone in which the daring, adventurous work of making can take place. Can it happen? Does that produce the best results?
I find that in distracted environments like a café there are certain types of work I do easily enough, but for creative work I really need a different space.
The Curse of the Perfect Space
Dr. Eric Maisel tells the story of a coaching client who was writing a book. She quit her day job, she moved into a house in the country with a great views, and she set it all up just so. Every decision was made so as to create the perfect conditions for writing. She thought that if she had the perfect space she could generate the perfect book.
But she didn’t write. She checked email, tended to other business, took a walk, had lunch…and by the afternoon, sadly, she spent more hours not writing her book. She attributed her paralysis to her upbringing, lack of confidence, and not having written a book before. Was her book uninteresting? Was her book not creative enough? She generated a long list of good reasons not to write.
This writer is making two mistakes:
- Instead of writing a book she should write a draft. At this stage, effort is more important than excellence.
- Instead of waiting until she can get the perfect space to start writing, she should just start writing and tweak her space along the way.
She ended up in the closet writing a draft and getting the book done. How about that?
You can create almost anywhere, but not every space is equally conducive to creative work. As I look back on the spaces in which I was most productive, I think of the dark, small studio room at Peabody Conservatory where my musical muse peaked at about 10 pm when the school was quiet. I think of the tiny cabin on the edge of a farm in Pennsylvania with no Internet access, forcing me to create with only what I brought with me and the ideas I heard in the silence. I think of the small desk in the college library, the large table in the computer laboratory, and the kidney-shaped purple desk in the basement of my suburban home.
A moment’s reflection reveals what my productive spaces have in common:
- distraction free (mostly)
- quiet (except my former basement—a good reason to move)
If you are serious about nurturing your creative gift, here are some things you can do.
Find a space that’s available to you right now in which you can create.
Spend a few minutes and adjust it a bit, closer to what works for you. Maybe you move a lamp, or swap a chair, or install a window covering.
If an idea comes to you for a major change to the space, write it down. Now you know where that is when you need it.
Make a draft in the space.
Since These Walls Can Speak
When you’re finished working on the draft, take a few minutes to simply be in the space. Put down the tools, take a deep breath, and listen. Listen to the space. Imagine that the walls are on your side. The room wants you to succeed. If it could speak to you, what would it say about your project, your process, your presence?
If you hear anything from the space, write this down. It may be useful later. If you don’t hear anything that’s fine too. Thank the space and come back later when it’s time to create again.
- If your space were a partner in your creative work, how would you describe its personality? How does it contribute to your success?
- You will not be in this space forever. How can you be a good steward of the space while it’s yours? What wants to be created in this space?
- What would be a good way to honor the space?
If you notice anything about how your space affects your creativity, please let me know. I’m curious about how it’s going for you.