Sanctuary / noun: a place of refuge and safety
There’s nothing I love more than seeing where creative people work their magic.
I’m a sucker for those articles that feature old black-and-white photos of creatives in their offices. Some are messy, others impeccably neat. A typewriter might be prominent in one, while in others it’s a snowbank of papers or canvas. Many even feature a cat or three. But all of them do one thing: reflect someone else’s fascinating soul.
As a creative person myself, I’ve always counted space incredibly important to the creative process. Yet for years I didn’t really have a space of my own to do this work. I began writing seriously about seven years ago right after getting married. Our first apartment wasn’t much bigger than the piece of it you see here in this photo from Thanksgiving, 2010.
For the first three-and-a-half years, I worked most of the time at that table. My husband and sister-in-law (center) often shared that table with me while they worked on their own projects. I’d set up in the morning after breakfast and clear things away again in the evening. Call it a 9-to-5, if you will!
The surface of the table was large. But with all that picking up and moving, I couldn’t help feeling like a camper instead of a permanent resident. I dreamed of having my very own space dedicated to my creative work: a space where I could shut the door and focus . . . without having to pick up after myself.
Maybe you can relate!
In 2012, I got my wish when we moved into a ramshackle fixer-upper dirt-cheap foreclosure house on Milwaukee’s lower East Side. For the first time, I was able to select a room (albeit a small one) that was dedicated solely to my creative endeavors.
Three more years of explosive growth in my craft, in my understanding of story, and my collaborative opportunities, soon followed. This was the room where I wrote Rise of the Tiger. Designed and ran the AURELIA: Edge of Darkness web show. And wrote and drew all of The (Re)Invention of Alethia Grey up to this point.
Having my own dedicated space did make a big difference in the volume of work I produced and my ability to focus on it for long stretches. Mostly because I could shut the door.
But it didn’t solve everything.
In time, my interests grew from just writing to spinning and knitting, sewing steampunk costumes and drawing graphic novels. My little room got crowded. Again, I found myself struggling to focus on just one thing while clutter piled up around me (despite my continual purging).
Add to that the fact that, as of January of this year, I suddenly began spending most waking hours in that room doing not just creative work but my creative business. Talk about overwhelm!
Thankfully, around that same time my husband decided to tear apart the unused (wasted!) space of our attic and turn it into livable real estate. And that’s when I invented the idea of the “Loftice” (Loft-Office) that would become my permanent creative home.
The Loftice was divided into two gabled areas: one primarily for art and craft, the other for business. A kind and obliging home inspector mandated that we install skylights, further enhancing the sunny southern view. With the help of no less than three of my brothers-in-law, over the course of 15 months, we made the Loftice a reality.
This past Saturday I moved in. And I couldn’t be happier.
As excited as I am about The Loftice, I’ve learned enough about myself (and my own laziness!) over the years to know that simply having a great space isn’t going to guarantee great craft or prolific production. I still have to sit down and do the work. I can minimize distractions, but I also have to build discipline within myself.
Yet creating the right space for ourselves, however small, can make a big difference in how well we turn our imagination into reality. Creating space is an intentional act: one that may take courage and fortitude on our part. Especially if those around us (or the details of our lives) tend to infringe on that space.
So before we sign off, here are some tips I’ve learned over the years for carving out a creative sanctuary of your own.
Tip #1: Admit you need it.
It’s easy to go on hauling your computer to the table, simply by course of habit. For a long time, I told myself I didn’t need a dedicated space. Even when we moved into the house, I probably wasn’t thinking very strategically about grabbing a bedroom as my workspace until my husband suggested it. If you’re used to putting your creativity behind everything else in your life, stop. Admit you need a place to scheme, dream, and work your tail off. Admitting is the first step to action.
Tip #2: Get (really) creative
While my tiny apartment didn’t afford much room, I bet there may have been some under-used space I could have leveraged. Have you a closet that’s mostly empty? A section of your basement? Maybe a back staircase? How about a garage or shed? (There’s been much made in the news lately about shedquarters entrepreneurs are building in their backyards!) Even just a tiny corner of one room could be curtained off. (I actually did this for the last 6 months of living in our apartment. We put a shower curtain across what had once been the dining room so I could have some “focus space!”)
Tip #3: Craft your environment
Everyone likes a different kind of space when they’re working creatively. I love having candles and old-fashioned hand-made goods around me, as well as my latest drawings and ideas for inspiration. You may prefer a cleaner, more modern look. Or something that’s entirely unfinished to evoke the sense of the creative process. Even if you can only bring your aesthetic in to small details, make intentional choices about how you dress out your chosen environment. Make it feel comfortable and inviting for you and your muse.
Tip #4: Use your space
As I mentioned earlier, a dedicated creative sanctuary can help you stay focused but it cannot cure lack of discipline. Once you create and dress out a space, use it. All the time. Whenever you can. Train your brain and your body to create in that space. After all, I think that’s part of what makes a creative sanctuary so special. Whatever its dimensions, look, or feel, we train our brains to associate that space with creative work. Which makes us psychologically more likely to get creative work done.
I look forward to writing from The Loftice for many years to come. You’ll be the judge of how my work improves or not in the months to come, but if my first day’s productivity is any measure, we’re off to a very good start.
And in the meantime, I’d love to see photos of your workspace! Tweet them to me, and I’ll be sure to share!
What about you? How do you create sanctuary for your creativity?
What tips do you recommend for utilizing small spaces well?