Writers, take up space!

Silhouette of person with arms outstretched at sunset, behind the words "Writers, take up space!"
Date Posted:
6/24/2020

One of the main tenets of the Center is an emphasis on not only improving your writing skills, but establishing a regular writing practice. On our website, I say, “We can help you become a better writer, but we can also put you in touch with the part of you that must write, so that you will keep writing.”

You can do this for yourself, too. It starts with taking up more space—your space—in the world.

Think of a pre-COVID crowded subway car or city bus, people packed to the walls. Every seat is full. Passengers who previously stretched their legs and rested briefcases and shopping totes on the empty seats beside them have moved their bags to their laps so others can sit. New passengers shuffle down the aisles, craning their necks in hopes of finding a place to take a load off. They resign themselves to standing, clutching the overhead or side handrails as the car zooms or the bus lurches forward again. The air is close, hot. The mood is a little tense; everyone is uncomfortable, and even one or two more people will make it worse.

You step on next. You don’t need two seats, or three square feet all around your standing space. You just need an unoccupied, you-shaped space to travel. The car has the capacity to hold you, and you desire to ride. Still, you don’t want to step on anyone’s toes. You pull your bag in close to your body, slip between a window and the tallest person on board with a polite excuse me, and hold tight to the rail so you don’t bump into anyone.

As a writer, it can be hard to imagine your new words in a sea of existing words. Writing is an insistence to communicate, and being a good citizen is often about listening. Lack of confidence regularly deters aspiring writers: I don’t belong here. I’m not good enough. I’m not as good as this or that person. I should just give up. These fears keep people from getting on the bus, so to speak. And in the most practical sense of the word space, some of us aren’t getting any writing done because we don’t have the proverbial room of our own within which to work.

Put yourself on a route that runs away from negative self-talk and toward mindful occupation of literal and figurative space in the world. Final destination? A productive, fulfilling writing life. Here’s how to get there:

Start in your own mind.

Why do you write? What do you have to say? What inspires you? What untold stories lie within you? What do you hope to accomplish? Do you seek to move people to feel or to act, and if so, how? By asking yourself the big questions, you are cultivating self-awareness to actualize your goals and give more weight to the choice to be a writer. You are taking seriously your call to the page. If you don’t (first), no one else will. Think about, journal about, meditate on these questions—whatever helps you arrive at answers that can begin to shape the mental space you need to establish and maintain a writing practice.

Continue into your home.

Part of taking yourself seriously as a writer means literally taking up space to write in your own home. In creating my own home writing space, I adhered to three “rules”: make it clean, make it comfortable, and make it mine. First, purge your spam box, label and organize your inbox, and consider writing from a computer that isn’t connected to the internet to minimize distraction. De-clutter, because clutter makes it difficult to concentrate and takes up valuable space, and get organized with baskets and desktop shelving so that everything has its home. Next, pick the right chair. Arrange your essentials—favorite pen, journal, laptop and charger—close by. Set your chair facing a window for natural light, or use full-spectrum light bulbs to minimize eye strain. A house plant will purify the air, and a fan or blanket will help optimize the temperature. Finally, whether your space is a corner of the dining room table or a whole room, ask yourself, how can I “decorate” this space with things that motivate me, inspire me, and make me feel creative? Then incorporate those objects—and only those objects, not non-writing-related clutter!—into your space as a way of dedicating it to your writing purpose.

Move out into the world.

You’ve mentally and physically prepared to write, creating a space that affirms your commitment to your craft. Now hopefully you ARE writing. The old adage write what you know applies here: be mindful about the topics you choose, and take care when writing about experiences that aren’t your own. Find your space, in other words, and write from there. Once you have generated some content that feels exciting and important to you, the next step might be to seek out a writing group, class, or retreat to gather some feedback. Now you are entering shared or collective writing spaces, communities built on mutual trust. Bring compassion and respect to these spaces. Amplify and support marginalized voices for whom “taking up space” is not nearly so feasible or safe as it might be for you. Honor your commitment to your own writing, yes, but also to providing reciprocal feedback for other writers. Read widely, and share writing you admire. These actions ensure the space you take up in the writing world is helping both you and your fellow literary citizens.

Taking up more mental space, physical space, or community space—which challenges you most, writer? Share with us in the comments.

Related reading: Reframing the “no time to write” problem

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