NaNoWriMo Series: Setting Up Your Space

September 27, 2016
Keri Horan
Riveted Editorial Board

Welcome to our second post in the NaNoWriMo Writing series! We’re counting down the weeks until November 1, and bringing you all the information you need to hit the ground running–er, typing–come November. If you missed our first post, which gives background on what NaNoWriMo is, check it out here!

To kick things off, I’m going to go through some options for your writing space. A writer’s workspace is as personal to him or her as the content of the novel itself. Largely a trial and error situation, what works for one writer won’t necessarily work for another. In fact, what worked for you last year might not work this year. Here are the pros and cons of some writing workspace options for you to try out as NaNo approaches so you’ll be ready to sit down on November 1st in the most effective space for you.

Your Room or Home
The simplest answer, and yet…so many writers struggle to work at home. Many writers don’t recommend working in the same place you sleep, which is tough if you live in a small apartment or dorm, or if your family will interrupt you outside your room. My recommendation is if you are writing at home, regardless of whether you’re in your room or not, set up a unique space that you can use for writing and nothing else. It’ll help get you in the zone, and signal to your brain that it’s time to get writing. If you don’t have an office or separate work space in your home, consider getting a screen, bead curtain, or other temporary barrier you can put around your desk or table so that it’s clear to yourself and others you live with that it’s business time.

Pros: You can leave your space set up rather than packing up at the end of each session, it’s free, you can write anytime of the day or night, and you have food, internet and everything else to make yourself comfortable.
Cons: Distractions, distractions, distractions.

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The Library
If you find yourself unable to focus at home, the Hermione-Belle approach could be a good solution. Head to the library. If you need any resources, they’ll be readily available, and you can find inspiration in the stacks if you encounter writers’ block.

Pros: Plenty of light, tables and chairs, internet, and a world of books surrounding you.
Cons: Hours are often limited, internet can be slow, some libraries restrict food and beverages, and the environment can sometimes feel stuffy. Also, any time you’re in public you either need to bring all your belongings with you when you get up to use the bathroom or take a break, or be comfortable with the risk of someone making off with your laptop while you’re browsing the stacks.

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A Hotel Lobby
I don’t know about you, but I’ve never had an excuse to go into hotels in my hometown. Until, that is, my writing group started meeting once a month in a different hotel. Hotels are awesome places to find inspiration: there are people from all over the world coming in and out, and if you get stuck you can people watch your way through writers’ block.

Pros: Hotel lobby hours are generally 24/7, you can usually order food or bring your own, the ambiance can be really nice, the furniture is generally comfortable, and there’s often free WiFi.
Cons: You don’t really know if there will be outlets or if the WiFi will be fast, there’s no noise control (hello screaming children who just got off a four hour flight), and like any public space, potential for things to get stolen.

Source: The Ace Hotel

Co-Working Spaces
These are becoming increasingly popular, and I have to admit I took the plunge and joined one. There are tons of options that range in their mission as well as their monthly fees. Some spaces, such as WeWork, are open to anyone but often host start-ups and other small companies. Then there are co-working spaces like Paragraph (which is the one I’m a member of) and The Writers Room, which are specifically for writers and require an application before you can join. The good news is most co-working spaces will let you test them out for free for a day. They sometimes also have part-time or discounted student memberships, so see if they’re open to working with you on your budget. Some of them also have special NaNoWriMo rates, and if they don’t advertise one, it doesn’t hurt to ask. If there are some in your town, check them out!

Pros: Everyone else is also working so the vibe is generally respectful and productive, there’s usually good internet, outlets, and furniture, they many have some complimentary food and/or beverages, and the hours are usually pretty open.
Cons: They can be expensive, especially if you want a dedicated desk. There’s also potential for your things to get stolen here, though people are usually pretty chill since everyone’s belongings are equally vulnerable.

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A Cafe
I really don’t know why the ambiance of a cafe is so soothing while I write, but it really, really is. It’s similar in vibe to a hotel lobby, except there aren’t as many people moving around, and I find them generally quieter. Or maybe it’s just easier to tune out the ambient noise.

Pros: Immediate and guaranteed access to coffee, chill vibes, and other people working on their laptops, too.
Cons: It can often be difficult to find a seat near an outlet, internet policies vary widely, the pressure to make sure you buy something every few hours so you’re not just taking up a seat from a paying customer, and potential for things to get stolen.

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This is a relatively new discovery for me, but my all-time favorite place to write is actually on Amtrak. If it’s ever possible, I’ll get a seat in the quiet car with no one sitting next to me so I can spread out and set up camp. I like sitting next to the window so I can watch the view while pondering my plot. But the steady motion, the quiet with occasional train whistle, and very few distractions make me feel like I’m on the Hogwarts Express and do wonders for my productivity. Give it a try!

Pros: It’s quiet, there are few distractions, and nice views.
Cons: It’s expensive, the Internet is often spotty, and, again, you’re in public so there’s risk of having things stolen (though I find Amtrak generally safer than most other public places).

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Far, Far Away
Neal Shusterman likes to write on cruise ships. Many authors such as Cassandra Clare, Jenny Han, Morgan Matson, and Siobhan Vivian attend writers’ retreats. Sometimes getting away from the mundane is inspirational and can help you focus. Except when it doesn’t. If you choose to go this route, make sure you won’t get distracted by wanting to explore, go to the beach, or sit on the deck by the pool. If you’re traveling with the intent of writing, make sure writing stays your focus.

Pros: Finding inspiration in a new place, inspiring views, separation from daily responsibilities and chores.
Cons: It’s expensive and there’s high potential of being distracted by new environment.

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Everywhere and Anywhere
With a writing challenge such as NaNo, you’re probably not going to have the luxury of always being in your absolute ideal place when you have time to get down to writing. Even if conditions aren’t perfect, if you can get some writing done on the bus, or waiting in line for coffee, or when you wake up in the middle of the night and can’t fall back asleep, go for it.

Pros: Fitting in that word count however you can.
Cons: Walking into walls.

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Great, so now that you’ve figured out where your writing space is, let’s talk about what to put in it.

Whatever You Write With
We’re going to get into the pros and cons of writing with different platforms and devices in a different post. But for the sake of setting up your workspace, all you need to keep in mind is you obviously need whatever it is you write with. Jenny Han begins by writing her ideas in a notebook. Stephen King uses a typewriter (or, at least he did when he wrote On Writing, which I highly recommend). If I had to hazard a guess I’d say you’re going to use a computer, but whatever it is you’re most comfortable with is what you need.

Your Writing Totem
If you’ve been to the NaNo website (which you all should have done by now to make your account!) you’ll notice the Viking helmet. Why a Viking helmet? Because NaNoWriMo founder, Chris Batey, wears his plastic Viking helmet whenever he’s writing. He does this for two main reasons: to put himself in a creative space and to signal to his family that he is in the creative zone and shouldn’t be interrupted. In his book No Plot? No Problem! he recommends designating one thing as your totem–whether it’s a comfy sweatshirt, a pair of gloves, a hat, or something else. When you have it on, it’s time to write. I’m partial to these awesome gloves, which not only help prevent my wrists from getting irritated by the edge of my laptop, but help me feel like it’s time to get down to business.

Research Tools
My novel is historical fiction, so I always keep two books, a map, and colored pencils in my workspace. Despite my best efforts, I tend to get caught up in small details, even when I know I shouldn’t. I can’t leave the name of the street my character is walking down blank. I need to be able to find the street and describe it–which is where the map and colored pencils come in. Maybe you’re writing about a doctor and would find it helpful to have an anatomy chart. Maybe you don’t need any research at all, and can just Google what you need to. That’s cool! You do you. But if you do want physical books, maps or charts, try figuring out what you’re going to need now, and leave them in your workspace so you can quickly find the details you need and keep going.

I’m such a sucker for a motivational quote. This is the one I have up on my wall at home, but I also have these pencils and this mug. I don’t care if it’s silly, looking around and seeing these little motivational messages really helps when I feel overwhelmed, or lose confidence in my story. A lot.

Obv. This is a given.

Over the next week, test some of these workspaces to see what you like. Have we missed any? Let us know what works for you in the comments! Now that your work space is set up, next week we’ll be exploring different types of writing tools and software as well as back up options to make sure you’ll still have your novel if your computer falls off a cliff. These tools will make hitting your word count as painless as possible, and give you peace of mind that whatever work you do is safely backed up. Be sure to check back next Tuesday!

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