In my last blog, Walking For the Sake of Writing, I shared some recent studies which showed how walking had a measurable and positive impact on a person’s creativity. The response I got to that blog was very positive, and it got me thinking about how one’s work space can also effect creativity.
When you think about a professional novelist for example, how do you imagine his or her workspace looks? Is it some dimly-lit study with cluttered bookshelves running from floor to ceiling? Is there a large mahogany desk with a dust-covered computer you can barely see behind all the piles of notes, missives and miscellany? Is there a large, high-backed chair behind the desk which has been used so continuously there’s a Homer Simpson-style ass groove down the center of it?
If this is what you imagine, you’re probably in good company as that’s the stereotype of the writer’s work space. In fact, just for fun, I put the search string “writer’s work space” into Google images and that image is exactly what was returned to me over and over again.
But even if you don’t have this kind of room in your home, it did have me thinking about whether the studies on walking and creativity might have some correlation to the kind of environments we create for ourselves as writers. In other words, does having a variable work space increase creativity? Certainly there’s some validity to this idea, as even large corporations are increasingly abandoning cubicles and offices and offering a variety of work spaces, from communal to intimate, both indoor and outdoor. My employer, the Oregon Coast Aquarium, graciously allows me the flexibility or working from home rather than in the tiny cubicle I have on site. When I’m doing creative work for them, particularly writing, design or filmmaking, this flexibility is not only appreciated but beneficial for both parties. I get to vary my work space with fewer distractions and the aquarium gets a higher level of productivity from me.
If you work on cooperative projects, the importance of the writer’s work space can become even more obvious. Over the last twenty years, my friend David and I have produced various projects together. Our most recent efforts really underscored how the work space can effect personally creativity. David liked to work in his home, usually sitting in an upright chair at a desk or table. I preferred to lounge on the sofa with my shoes off and the laptop balanced on my stomach. He disliked the idea of working in public areas such as a coffee shop because he found them distracting. Conversely, I began to itch to mix things up after a short time being in the same surroundings. Certainly our different, somewhat oppositional needs in a work space effected our productivity. When writing on my own, often switching my work space several times, I can easily put in six to eight hours per day. When working with David however, we rarely went longer than three by mutual agreement.
Of course there’s no right or wrong way of organizing a work space. It’s all very individual and it may take some time for a writer to find the formula that works best for him or her. What do you think? What’s your creative space look like?
Back in early 2013, I wrote a blog called “My Wandering Process” which detailed how walking helped me with my writing and other creative endeavors. So it was with great interest that I read an article today from the BBC called “The slow death of purposeless walking” by Finlo Rohrer. The article states in part:
A number of recent books have lauded the connection between walking – just for its own sake – and thinking. But are people losing their love of the purposeless walk?
Walking is a luxury in the West. Very few people, particularly in cities, are obliged to do much of it at all. Cars, bicycles, buses, trams, and trains all beckon.
Instead, walking for any distance is usually a planned leisure activity. Or a health aid. Something to help people lose weight. Or keep their fitness. But there's something else people get from choosing to walk. A place to think.
Of particular interest to me was how many of the world’s great walkers – or at least those mentioned in the article – were also writers. These included Charles Dickens, Henry David Thoreau, William Wordsworth, C.S. Lewis and George Orwell. Yet most of the creative thinkers mentioned in the article were from an era before what you might call “intentional exercise,” where walking and other forms of movement were invariably aligned to some purpose other than a strictly pleasurable one. And while purposeful exercise is certainly positive, how many people go work out for the cognitive benefits? How many are even aware that such benefits exist?
The article cites an interesting study out of Stanford University called Give Your Ideas Some Legs: The Positive Effect of Walking on Creative Thinking. In my aforementioned blog, I noted how walking provides me with the opportunity to “see something different, hear new sounds, breathe fresh air, observe humanity…” But the Stanford study seems to indicate that there’s more to it than just stimulating your various senses.
“The effect [of increased creative ideation] is not simply due to the increased perceptual stimulation of moving through an environment,” the authors noted, “but rather it is due to walking. Whether one is outdoors or on a treadmill, walking improves the generation of novel yet appropriate ideas, and the effect even extends to when people sit down to do their creative work shortly after…”
So the very act of walking stimulates creativity, even if it’s taking place on a treadmill in an empty room where your chances of encountering new sights, sounds and smells is limited. For many however, walking is a waste of time and they resent it. Certainly modern Americans seem to look for ways to fill or soften what they perceive as an annoying activity, whether it’s by plugging into headphones or playing with their smart devices.
If you’re inclined to buck the trend however, the article has some good tips on how to walk in order to maximize the effect on your personal creativity:
Does it work for you? Send me a message and let me know what your process is for stimulating creativity.