Headspace - the final frontier: N M Browne

I've been thinking about creativity recently – alas, not very creatively. 

I'm interested in the 'where' and the 'when' of creativity rather than the 'how'. 

On the 'where' I have always agreed with Woolf that a writer needs 'a room of one’s own,' but increasingly I think it is about having this mental space, headspace, whatever you choose to call that freedom from obligatory socialisation, chores, money-making labour for a limited amount of time: the physical place is less important than the mental space.

(You will note I have separated money-making labour from creativity largely because it is increasingly difficult for the latter to be the former!)

I haven’t been very productive of late and toyed with the idea of booking myself into a retreat, removing myself from the distractions of my normal life. I can picture it all very clearly. I’d pick somewhere beautiful by the water, the Lakes maybe or somewhere by the sea.  It would have excellent coffee and delicious food that I would not have to buy or cook. My room would be cell like in its simplicity: whitewashed walls, polished wooden floors, but perfectly comfortable. There would be excellent wifi (for research, obviously) a supportive chair and a desk overlooking the aforementioned inspiring view. Even as I write this and conjure the place in my mind’s eye I start to panic. I cannot imagine writing so much as a shopping list in such circumstances. 

My writing life has always been a negotiation between competing priorities and involved the careful deployment of advanced procrastination techniques: distraction is an essential requirement for productivity. There is less to do these days than when I had four kids at home but even now I have a hierarchy of avoidance: I would generally rather clean toilets than fill in a form, I’d rather iron fifty shirts than mark student work, but would write a poem to avoid organising my cupboards. I work best in stolen time when burdened by the guilt of not doing something else. 

I am afraid of too much dedicated writing space and endless time. I need guilt and distraction, the challenge of avoidance to  allow me that hyperfocus, that clear headspace where I can be free.

Creativity for me is about having just enough headspace to work and not too much more. I can work in thin slices of time in rooms full of people if my head is in the right space and no physical space on earth can help me write a word if my head and heart aren’t in it. 

Looking at our local 'Gails' crammed with people working on laptops, I don't think I'm the only one who feels like this, but‘Headspace of one’s own’– doesn’t have quite the same ring to it does it?


I can identify with a lot of this - I've noticed that since I retired from my day job and in theory have all day to write in, I don't write any more than I did when I was working. On the other hand, I do have quite a bit more time to think about writing and also to edit, make covers and so on, not to mention thinking of new ideas while intending to work on the existing ones! I did fit in quite a lot of writing into the odd corners of my life while working - I used to write on a tablet during my lunch-hour regularly, in the corner of our shared office, and once I wrote a few hundred words while waiting at Kwik-Fit for them to finish my MOT test.

However I now do most of my actual writing in one place, a corner of the conservatory. In fact one of the things that most pushed me towards retirement from my day job was that I had to use my writing space as my work space during a spell of working from home at the beginning of the pandemic. Though of course the fact that I was by then much too old even to have a day job had something to do with my decision. And the fact that I realised I was only going out to work at all to get myself out of the house...
Nicky said…
That's so inspiring, Cecilia.
Umberto Tosi said…
I agree. Place is paramount to productivity when I'm lucky enough to be productive, which is far from consistently. I need to make space for the imagination to enter, safely, as skitterish as a squirrel...
Peter Leyland said…
Walking is the best way that I gain mental space for writing these blogs. On Wednesday I took five friends for seven miles up to and around Stowe and back, and it became a story that could well end up on here. Thanks Nicky for your post about creating...
Headspace is a good word for it, and increasingly difficult to find these days? I think my creativity definitely suffered after I upgraded from dial-up to broadband... an internet connection is like leaving the door of your writing room open for the whole world to wander in and out and watch what you're doing.
Nicky said…
That is so true though for me it's a door into a busy market full of conversation - and I love a good chin wag (and a good bargain)

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