A freelance writer tests the claims that tout the link between workspace and creativity.
Storytelling Content Creation

The Truth about Workspace and Creativity: Lessons Learned from Writing in a Basement and a Palace

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Can beautiful workspaces make writers more creative? And if so, does that mean a basic, boring old office cube can sap someone’s potential?

Both content creators and the enterprises who hire them crave the most inspired, fresh ideas. You know, the unforgettable campaigns: Video scripts that linger. Stories you can’t help but share. Taglines like “Maybe she’s born with it,” “Betcha can’t eat just one,” and “There are some things that money can’t buy.”

These come from undeniably inspired writers.

Often, in the quest for the best revelation, writers and their clients look to links between workspace and creativity to invoke the muse. And as more creatives work independently and remotely, it’s the home office design that’s now making headlines.

As a business writer, I’m aware of those industrial and organizational psychology trends. So when my family moved into a new house last year, I knew right away which room I wanted to designate as my creative lair.

“That one,” I told my husband.

I had always heard there's a correlation between a writer's workspace and creativity, so when I got the chance to test the theories, I jumped on it. Here's what I learned.

Perhaps you can see why I favored it.

Suddenly, after reading all the hype surrounding the benefits of unique workspaces, I was in the position to find out firsthand. In an office like this, I should be able to crank out some serious Hemingway-esque material. Right? I mean, if the experts from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign say that open sight lines and views of greenery could help the mind recover from stress and develop resilience from mental fatigue, then shoot, I should be completely stress free and immune to discouragement, right? After all, if a little exposure to nature is mentally beneficial, then what about a flood of it? What about a space like this?

I had always heard there's a correlation between a writer's workspace and creativity, so when I got the chance to test the theories, I jumped on it. Here's what I learned.

It’s the epitome of a naturally lit, well-exposed workspace. Would it inspire me the way experts had promised?

Spoiler alert: No, it didn’t.

Here’s why.

All That Glitters

Yes, my workspace is inspiring. Of course I’m in a better mood here than I was five years ago when I started writing out of our (then) basement apartment. And yes, I can even agree that this place enhances my mental capacity.

But sometimes, the sun does more than brighten my outlook. Sometimes it’s distracting. I’ve gotten dizzy and dazed, even sunburned.

I had always heard there's a correlation between a writer's workspace and creativity, so when I got the chance to test the theories, I jumped on it. Here's what I learned.

I accidentally fried one computer monitor before learning that these windows actually magnify the sun’s rays.

Important video conferences were cut short because of the cavernous echo on my end. Inevitably, song birds flew into the windows with a heartbreaking thwap just as I struck a cognitive vein of creative gold and began nurturing a fleeting idea. In short, there was a learning curve that took precious time.

Pause, please. I’m not complaining. I promise.

And I wouldn’t trade this place for the world.

But I’d be lying if I said it was perfection from day one. There are technical, logistic reasons workplace designers recommend things like white noise, carpet, warm light, muted colors, and textiles on cubicle walls. The link between workspace and creativity may have merit, but it’s hard to know if you’re too distracted to complete an assignment.

Work Is Work

If I had the luxury of crafting whatever story I felt like writing, then I’d take my cues from my beautiful office space. For example, some moody mornings, the weather outside is particularly spooky, ominous, and unsettling.

I had always heard there's a correlation between a writer's workspace and creativity, so when I got the chance to test the theories, I jumped on it. Here's what I learned.

But instead of following that whim and writing a sad tale, I’m usually under deadline for a thing about the “surprising” clauses in car insurance or the health benefits of flax seeds. The collision of melodrama (outside) and tedium is—believe it or not—harder to juggle here than it would be in a traditional office. However, the effort is stimulating, and that, in turn, piques my creativity. Often, my readers say they never thought such-and-such a topic could be so interesting. And that’s an achievement for which I credit the creepy fog, panoramic sunset, three-minute hail storm, or whatever else nature serves up as I work.

I had always heard there's a correlation between a writer's workspace and creativity, so when I got the chance to test the theories, I jumped on it. Here's what I learned.

The early misadventures in my drool-worthy office space gave me a new perspective on every hammock-dwelling digital nomad that posts a picture of a seaside laptop and mimosa, claiming, “This is the life.” As with all digital storytelling, there’s another side to the narrative.

Collaboration and Connection

While working in a palatial home office isn’t everything it’s hyped up to be, it’s still pretty sweet. Here four office elements I’ve learned I cannot live without.

A Tile Treadmill

My home office has a long, well-lit hallway for walking meetings. When I phone in with clients or interview sources, I don’t sit at my computer, clicking around distractedly. Instead, I move.

I had always heard there's a correlation between a writer's workspace and creativity, so when I got the chance to test the theories, I jumped on it. Here's what I learned.

Recording apps tape the conversation so my virtual assistant can transcribe it later. What matters is that my workspace lets me walk, a practice that’s been shown by researchers at Stanford University to boost creative thinking, even going so far as to double a person’s creative output.

A Separate Area for Brainstorming

Here’s the truth: Staring at a blinking cursor is torture no matter what state-of-the-art workspace your office architect has created for you. That’s why ideation requires a separate area for thinking, reading, and thinking some more.

I had always heard there's a correlation between a writer's workspace and creativity, so when I got the chance to test the theories, I jumped on it. Here's what I learned.

In fact, I’d say your brainstorming space should be the aesthetic, heterogeneous one, not your workspace.

I had always heard there's a correlation between a writer's workspace and creativity, so when I got the chance to test the theories, I jumped on it. Here's what I learned.

When it’s time to put your head down and write, there’s no need for an exotic destination, steel drum music, or a penthouse cityscape view. Because by this phase in the content creation process, the inspiration has already arrived.

A Place for Clients

My greatest pleasure has been to invite clients into my space as guests. Any time a client flies to the Washington, D.C. area on business, they’re offered a retreat from the noisy (not to mention politically charged) city.

I had always heard there's a correlation between a writer's workspace and creativity, so when I got the chance to test the theories, I jumped on it. Here's what I learned.

They’re not here for long, so they don’t get the headache or sunburn. It’s just the change of scenery needed to revive their own creativity before heading back to “work.”

Digital Tools

The kinds of things that truly inspire me are stories, trends, music, headlines, strategies, and most of all, other people. These are things you can access from any workspace. Digital collaboration tools, trend tracking sites, and viral videos are all great fuel for ideation, and honestly, I get most of those goodies from my mobile. In other words, I’ve had these resources in every office environment, and since moving into this cool space, my idea factory hasn’t produced more proposal material.

Yes, an inspiring home office is something I believe everyone should enjoy for at least one season of life. And it doesn’t need to be bright windows. Entrepreneur Justin Kemp gets his with an in-house beach. Another writer I know hung her ergonomic office chair from the ceiling so she could swing while she works. There are benefits to creating a space that’s as quirky and inventive as you are.

At the same time, I say the link between workspace and creativity is easily overblown. I produced just as powerful stories when I had a small, cramped home office with no distractions. I’m enjoying my place, but it takes more than bright sunshine to make a truly unique, prolific content creator.

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All images courtesy of Bethany Johnson

Bethany Johnson is a multiple award-winning content marketing writer and speaker. Her work empowers marketers to ditch interrupt advertising in favor of original content that converts passive readers into active followers. Thriving brands like Tom's of Maine, MasterCard, ADP, Fidelity and Philips currently rely on Bethany's fresh style to connect with audiences daily. As a consultant, she combines simple change management principles with her insider knowledge of freelancing to show traditional marketing teams how to flourish in today's wild gig economy. For more, visit bethanyjohnson.com.

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