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Brian J. W. Lee is a writer. When he's not writing, he's plotting to plunge the world in a deep chasm of terror, darkness and screams. Sorry, did I get carried away?

Tuesday, 4 October 2016

5 Things That Will Improve Your Writing Space

I don't know about you guys, but whenever I finally sit down after a long day to write my story, I want my writing space to be just perfect. It never totally is, but I'm always striving to please my animal body so my mind could transcend the physical plane and travel across dimensions.

It's not easy. Our bodies are fragile creatures, and any slight deviation from a tightrope-area of one given property of our environment will illicit a response, a distraction, and soon, the magic is broken.

No matter how much I conditioned myself to less-than-ideal environments, I know I would eventually break. That's when I realised: Training is only half the battle. The other half is your environment. Put a whale on land, and all that muscle and resistance to asphyxiation goes down the drain. Put a fully trained cop behind a desk for 8 hours a day and a few years, feed him loads of donuts, and he won't look like a cop anymore.

It's the same with writers. As much as some misguided laymen think we're some kind of magical creatures, we're absolutely not. We're just like anybody else. If you're going to write your story in a dingy, moist toilet that smells like decayed shit all day and every day, you're only going to get crappy work.

So, to avoid that, here are five things that will improve your writing environment - Just don't put them all in your toilet and expect them to work like a charm.

5) Night Light (5
Your sole source of light for a life of darkness.

It's one of those little lamps you can plug directly into your wall sockets, and BOOM! No, it doesn't explode (unless you put gunpowder in the lamp), but it's instant campfire for you to tell your story to... Well, your future audience.

To blast your room with your super-bright fluorescent ceiling lamp might seem common sense, but I challenge you to rethink that if you have an office job in a super-bright office where you stare at a computer screen 8 to 9 hours a day. Even if you don't, having bright light is straining on the eyes, especially in the morning or night, which happens to be the period many of us write.

Go easy on the eyes, pal. If you can't see, you can't write. If your eyes feel like going 'pop!', all you'd think of doing is lying down - And soon you'd be asleep, I say that from experience. There was this once, after a long day of work with very little sleep that I thought I was going blind. It didn't help that I've switched all the lights on as if there are creatures in the dark out to get me.

So, a night light is in order. It blocks out unwanted visual imagery, and lets you concentrate on you, your laptop, and your story.

4) Air Conditioner (4
For that soft, smooth skin.

Or a radiator, depending on where on Earth you are.

Would you feel like working on your Shakespearean masterpiece if you're panting and sweating in the park? I highly doubt it. It's the same anywhere else, including your bedroom. As human beings, our body is actually pretty poor at handling temperature.

We can, no doubt, survive in a huge range of temperature, but there's a reason why most members of the human race aren't free to weave tales out of thin air until recently, and temperature is one of them. Too high, and we're all clammy and sweaty. Too low, and our fingers would be shaking too much. Way too low, and you won't have fingers for long to write your epic saga.

So, an air conditioner is indispensable. Find your sweet spot on the temperature readout, and BAM! Another part of the environment you won't need to worry about anymore.

This is one thing I can't seem to get right though, as I tend to set the temperature too low. As a result, it'd put me to sleep after, like, half an hour of work. To be fair to myself, I was pooped after work. Don't make the same mistakes as me - Set your temperature right!

3) Radio (3
Non-standard, but it sings all the same.

And finally we come to something that isn't quite so basic! Up till today, there's just something about the radio that's so arcane. Television sets? Pfffff! Common stuff. But a radio! Boy, a radio!

Not too long ago, I decided to turn my gaming laptop into a poor man's radio by logging in to a radio streaming site whenever I wrote. My writing experience has since become better.

My guess is that, us being sensory creatures, we need all of our senses stimulated in order to work properly. Back to the basics - our ancestors rely on sounds to understand their environment, and in a way, so do we. When crossing the road, for example, I know exactly what I'd hate to hear: The screeching of tires, a car horn blaring. That would mean my life will be over in seconds. There's a reason why sensory deprivation is torture!

But I believe it's not just about placating a primitive part of us. What do we get from radios? Music and a DJ. It's not noise, not like your neighbour upstairs, or that damned motorcycle in some street next to your house. It drowns out noise, and it's soothing. It's ethereal art, coming from an arcane box.

Through the radio, we connect with our fellow artists. Musicians, singers, songwriters, DJs, sometimes even storytellers - Just that they manipulate sounds, and like us writers, words. It's inspiration.

2) Couch + Foldable Table (2
Don't! It'll swallow you whole!

Have you ever had one of those times when you sat for hours until your butt became sore? Or when you decided to lie down in bed to write, but hours passed instantly into daylight?

Even the simple act of sitting down for the express purpose of writing needs more scrutiny than some people realise. I've had both experiences, sometimes in a single day.

Bottom line is, you need something that's a cross between a hard chair and a bed to work. I discovered that a couch works pretty well. You're not lying down vertically, so you won't feel the need to close your eyes and time-travel to the next day. The soft cushioning will minimise tissue-damage from hard surfaces. Perfect!

But then you'd discover - If you haven't already - that a couch presents its own conundrum. See, that desk you used to use when you're on a chair? It doesn't work with your couch. Neither is it going to be healthy for you to put your computer on your lap, no matter how much your laptop is telling you to.

Enter the foldable table. You can get either a cheap wooden/plastic one for maybe $50 - but you'd have to make sure it's the right height for your couch. I got lucky, as I guesstimated my way to the perfect height, but don't count on luck to work every time! You can always get one for a few hundred bucks though - They'd probably be bigger and more flexible to account for different kinds of couches.

1) Writing Laptop (1
Your magic window to your dream.

And now we finally come down to one of the most important thing in your writing space. Without it, writing will be impossible. In general, I mean writing devices, from the most current iPads down to the typewriter and even pen and paper.

Sometimes, the medium on which you write on can determine how you write. Ancient Sumerians used clay tablets, and their writing script is based around those unwieldy things. Nothing cursive and fancy, just straight marks with indentations and dots.

While I don't know how it would have impacted your story if you decided to write on paper or typewriter (that would be a subject for a specialist scholar), I know exactly how it's like to write on different laptops, and I know what kind of laptops I'd rather avoid using:

- Those pocket laptops you can keep in a pouch, with a screen size of around like 11 inches, up to even 12-13 inches. The reason why I hate these little guys is mainly the keyboard, which turned out to be too small for my hands. The small screen is a bother to my eyes, but not as bad as when I need to push a story out with the keyboard. It took me something like a few hundred dollars, a tablet with a keyboard-casing attached and an 11 inch laptop for me to realise that going small and light is convenience at the cost of your soul.

- Low-spec comps. 32gb solid state drive and something like a 564mb ram. Cheap, but slow as grandpa. All it takes is a single Windows 10 update to max out the storage space, and Chrome to reduce the FPS to sub-24. While word processors generally aren't affected, you'd probably sigh every time you need to do some research or watch a video, or even surf the net and check your email for your editor's reply.

- On the reverse, gaming war-machines pulled from UFOs. Not recommended especially for beginner writers. You'd probably have a hundred games installed there (I'm not kidding), not to mention a million apps (now we're talking hyperbole), all your videos and music collection. It takes discipline just to write, something which beginners often lack. I was able to write on it, but the temptation is always there, which is why I left it behind on my 2-months-long writer's retreat, and nowadays, whenever I write or edit.

Right now, I'm suffering from the second point, as I thought performance to be secondary when considering a writing laptop. I won't be so foolish the next time I visit a computer store! A mid-ranged laptop will just about do it.

So there you have it! 5 things that are bound to maximise your writing space! Take them home and enjoy!

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