At the end of 2010, I took a fabulous class with Jeanne Adams on how to create a writer’s workspace that works for each individual writer. I had moved into a rental house a few months earlier, and the owner’s furniture was still in the house! So I was working at someone else’s desk, sitting in someone else’s chair, eating someone else’s porridge–oops, wrong story :).
After taking Jeanne’s class, I gave myself a budget to re-do my office because environment is critical when you spend this much time in one room. Now, I’m proud to say I have two bookcases, a filing rack, a cabinet with drawers, a kickin’ desk and a chair that’s just right. Yes, I know some of you are saying: “But Kels, I don’t have the cash to re-do my space.” Well, Jeanne has plenty of ideas that allow you to work with what you have. My problem was I had nothing, and it wasn’t healthy for my sanity. And my husband values my sanity more than he values our money.
So let me get out of the way, and let Jeanne get to it. Welcome, Jeanne!
Making your writing space WORK for you! Or…using visual, auditory, and kinesthetic clues to make you a better writer!
Hello to everyone at Romance University!
Have you ever sat down at your desk, or the table where you write, or in the fluffy chair with your laptop, trying to get some pages written and you just can’t?
What about those of you who have an actual office? You’d think if you actually had a quiet space you’d get something done, right? No?
Sometimes, even with the best equipment, and seemingly the best space, we still can’t write. Now, it could be that you don’t like the story, or you’re “dry gulch city” on ideas this week, but it could be something more, something you’ve never considered before.
It could be WHERE you’re trying to write. I hear you scoffing. Can’t a good writer write anywhere, you ask? No, or if they can, they will still write better in some places than they do in others.
Why? Well, thank you for asking!
Everyone takes in information in different ways. Some prefer to learn visually – through pictures, colors, sights, etc. Other prefer to take information in auditorily – these people love a good seminar, lecture or book on tape. Still others are kinesthetic, they like to learn on the job – actively doing whatever task needs learning and learning it as they go. If you’re a really strong visual learner and the environment is stark, unwelcoming and lacks any visual interest, you’ll have a hard time writing. If you’re auditory, and there’s either no noise or so much noise you can’t think, you won’t be able to write. Writing at Starbucks is hell for you. If you’re kinesthetic and it’s too hot, or too cold, or you’re hungry, your back hurts or the chair is too hard, you’re going to have one heck of a time getting that manuscript done.
And again you ask, why? Well, because optimal working environments differ for people depending on the way in which they take in information. This is important for you as a writer, and it’s very important in character development too, so read on!
Let’s use the example of making a sandwich. If you’re a visual, you could probably watch someone make that sandwich and then remember, by visual clues, how to make the sandwich yourself. You see the cook make it: bottom bun, mayo, meat, lettuce, tomato, special sauce, bun, and visually you remember the order and sequence and you can repeat it. But if they don’t show you, only tell you, you’ll have a hard time remembering unless you write it down. Why? Because if you’re visual, and you just hear it, you won’t remember it. If you write the order and sequence down, you can SEE it, and you’ll be able to repeat it. You still may be able to do it from a description, just like you may still be able to write in a sterile, non-visual environment, but you won’t do it well, easily or happily.
A very strong visual loves things in order, neat and tidy, things in their place, lined up, precise. They do well with color and texture, but they want it to be neatly meshed, nothing slightly off or different tones, because that’s a distraction, a discordant visual note, and it’ll bug them. They don’t usually have clutter, but they have color and texture and lots of it. This is the woman who dresses with precision and/or high fashion, with every hair in place, the nails and makeup perfect; this is the man with his tie precisely knotted, the suit snugly tailored and the shoes shined to a mirrored perfection. A visual learner is the one who, after a movie is over, will say, “I wonder if that outdoor love scene in the middle of the movie was shot in the Alps or the Grand Tetons. You know, I think it might be the Tetons, because it was fall and there were aspens…” An auditory or kinesthetic will be thinking, “There were mountains in that scene? Really?” Visuals see the forest AND the trees. Where’s Waldo was made for the visual learner.
If you’re auditory in the sandwich example, you might watch the process, but you’ll be listening to the cook as s/he says, “okay, first ye’ get yer bun, then the mayo gets slapped on there to keep everything moist, then the meat…” There’s a rhythm to things, even sandwich making, that creates a mental/auditory pattern, or a sound cue. And if you’re trying to learn and are focused, you’ll remember everything that cook says where a visual won’t, they’ll remember the colors, or the textures, but won’t remember the words. (Auditories are the ones who shout out in theatres a lot. In Jaws, you know the shark is coming when you hear that two-note duuuuh-duh. An auditory is the one going, “GET OUT OF THE WATER YOU IDIOT!” Grins. The visual or kinesthetic may never notice the soundtrack.) Just like the example in the visual, if you’re auditory and had to make the sandwich just from watching the cook do it, without any words, you’d have a hard time. If you’re auditory, your brain best makes sense of the world through sound. Many auditories in this situation would be holding a mental monologue and miss the visual cues for the next step. “Why is s/he putting mayo on the bottom, that doesn’t make sense. Wait, what did he just do? Crap, I missed that step…” Auditories are the people who can recite the grocery list twice, and never miss an item. Of course, they’re also talking to themselves in the grocery store too, so everyone thinks they’re looney, but they don’t forget the mayo. Visuals and kinesthetics need the written list, or they’ll forget the mayo every time.
For a kinesthetic – that on the job learner – you want your hands in the dough, making the bread, making the sandwich instead of being told how, or watching someone make the sandwich. This is the person who can watch it, and hear it described, but won’t be able to re-create that sandwich unless they actually DO it as they hear/see the instructions. It only makes sense if they’re physically following along AS its being done. This is the dancer who can learn a new routine faster than lightning if they are stepping it as its being called. They have body/muscle memory par excellance. These are the sports heroes, the coaches, the gal or guy who loves to hug everyone. They get your measure with a handshake. They love sex, too. In the movie theatre, they’re the ones braced for the explosion, gasping as the body hits the water (because they can imagine how cold it is), or leaning into the turns as the hero escapes on a motorcycle. Kinesthetics are the ones in the clothing store touching the nubby sweater, running their hand over the smooth weave of a fabric or leather, sniffing the air in the bakery. They’re all about how sensation hits the body, any sensation. Kinesthetics often think they’re auditory because they love music and love to dance. “But I love music, and songs and I learn songs fast.” But they can’t do it JUST from the words. Their bodies are in constant motion, foot-tapping, finger tapping, pencil tapping. My kinesthetic son can learn spelling words by pounding up and down the stairs as he spells because his body is in motion and isn’t distracting his mind by constantly WANTING to move. He’s a champion speller. He’s also a star athlete.
So how does this apply to your writing space? Just think about it, if you’re kinesthetic and the chair is hard, and there’s nothing to pick up and toss from hand to hand as you think, nothing to eat or drink (physical sensations), and you’re cold as can be because the AC is blowing down the back of your neck, you will have the hardest time ever concentrating on writing a single page. If you’re comfortable, have a snack, have a cushy chair or seat, are in comfortable clothes, it’s more likely you’ll pour out the pages. You can work in clutter because it’s textural and familiar.
If you’re auditory, you’ll probably want a clearer desk space, something calmer. Depending on your secondary mode (I’ll get to that in a minute) you’ll want soft, non-distracting music, or no music at all, just the voices in your head. You’ll have a lot of sound in your writing – things will shriek, squeal, bang, splat and buzz. The temp will need to be moderate, even a little cool and you could probably care less if your chair was a kitchen chair or a comfy chair as long as the light is good, the desk is clear and you have quiet time to write.
If you’re visual, you’ll need a neat, if colorful workspace, music may or may not be important to you, but you won’t want clutter at all, because you’ll keep looking at it thinking, “I have to deal with that” rather than writing. You’ll want inspiration on the walls or desktop, but nothing excessive. And you may change it depending on which book you’re working on.
Looking at your workspace, can you tell which you are? What about your favorite room in the house, or spot in the office?
You may have two of the three modalities – visual, auditory, or kinesthetic – which run closely together. You may be strongly visual, with a kinesthetic back up. Your writing will have a lot of colorful descriptions and a lot of action, even if it’s not an adventure. There will be a lot of physical humor or activity in your stories. If you’re auditory kinesthetic, the sounds will be physical sounds like grunts, groans, or screams, you’ll focus on how things sound and feel first, then how they look.
Or you may be visual auditory, where things make sounds, or look a certain way, but you never describe how things feel. Editors or contest judges may tell you that you need more intensity, or action, but you think you have it – stuff blows up, for heaven’s sake! – but they’re not getting it. That’s because you’ve told it, and shown it, but you’ve not said how it FEELS.
So what to do with all this? Based on these descriptions you probably already know what mode you best use. So what then? You can change your space to suit your modality! Warm up the room, add more light, get a cushion for that chair, clear the clutter, even if it’s just moving it off the table and out of line-of-sight during your precious writing time. Put on some music, or go to the library where it’s really quiet. Put on a sweater, take the sweater off, get a snack, light a candle. Do things that feed your mode and you’ll find you get more our of the writing time you have while in your writing space.
If you’re still not sure what your modality is, send me an email (Jeanne@Jeanne Adams.com), I can send you a copy of a short assessment to see if you’re Visual, Auditory or Kinesthetic, then you can see what the secondary is. Based on the examples, then, you can do things to alter your space and make it work for YOU!
Hopefully this helps a bit to get those pages flowing and you moving forward with your writing! I’m happy to answer any questions for you about modalities, about design for your office to make it more your mode and/or about how to make this work or work against your characters! Let’s go!
Which are you RU crew–visual, auditory or kinesthetic? How do you think that impacts your workspace now? How would you like to improve your workspace?
Be sure to pop in Friday when professor Sarah Frantz talks about romance in academia.
Jeanne Adams lives in Washington, DC and along with being a consultant and mom, she writes Romantic Suspense for Kensington. Her latest book, Deadly Little Secrets, garnered 4 ½ Stars and a TOP PICK rating from Romantic Times and was featured in the April 2011 issue of Cosmopolitan magazine. Her next book, Deadly Little Lies is out Sept, 2011.
Jeanne is also a multi-published non-fiction writer, writing for Llewellyn Publishing, and a marketing consultant with credits in magazines such as Forbes and Nature.
She works with writers and homeowners to make their offices work more efficiently and effectively using the principles of design, light and space planning. (As well as good organization!) She has a design degree as well as a landscaping certification and has worked in design in the Washington, DC area for nearly a decade.
You can find Jeanne at: www.JeanneAdams.com or www.RomanceBandits.blogspot.com.
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