The poet Philip Larkin said that all his best poems were written in rooms on the top floor of a building.
He once had to live in a basement flat, and got writer’s block. He didn’t elaborate but there must have been something about being up and above the world below, able to survey it from on high, that was conducive to writing poetry. It’s probably no coincidence that one of his best known poems, ‘High Windows’, ends with the image of looking out through high windows at a deep blue sky.
Logically, there was no reason why he couldn’t have written just as well in the basement as the top floor. But creativity is not logical. Larkin was sensitive to the conditions where he did his best work, and he arranged his environment accordingly.
Personally, I do like being higher up, but the critical factor for me isn’t height, it’s solitude. To me, hell would be an open-plan office where I’m trying to get my work done with constant noise and bustle around me, with non-stop interruptions and urgent requests and having to attend meetings all day.
So I’ve arranged my work and my life so that I work from home, with no time wasted on commuting or meetings or office politics or gossip. I can work without interruption and end the day with a sense of satisfaction that I’ve created something new today and served my clients well.
When I describe this to some clients, their faces fill with horror. They couldn’t bear to be alone all day – they thrive when they’re surrounded by people and bustle and activity. So I encourage them to find that kind of workplace – either joining a company or collaborating with partners or finding a co-working space.
Other clients hate to stand still and couldn’t bear to be in one place for long. They travel the world, finding new inspiration and stimulation in every fresh place they visit. So I help them create that environment for themselves.
The same goes for you – your chance of creating your best work improve significantly when you find or create the kind of environment that suits your kind of work and your kind of personality.
Only you know the right environment for your creativity. But here are some questions that may help you figure it out:
Are you an introvert or an extravert?
Do you work best on your own or as part of a team?
Would you rather have a predictable daily routine or as much novelty and variety as possible?
Do you like to work in the same place or keep moving around?
What’s the best working environment you ever had? Can you recreate it now?
Another fun way to research your ideal environment is to do a Google Image Search for ‘writer’s workplaces’ or ‘artist’s studios’ or whatever is the equivalent for your creative work, and see what inspiration you come across.
However you do it, treat the process of designing your environment as a creative project in its own right. This is an environment to help you do what you love, remember? So make sure you create it with love.
You can hear an audio version of this article in this episode of The 21st Century Creative podcast, starting at 9’12”.