Make Your Creative Space Now

Everyone should have a creative space. It could be a nook under the stairs. A corner of a quiet, unused room or the basement. A covered porch. A quiet kitchen table when your people are away or asleep. Even a corner in a closet will do.

I would know. I’ve carved out my creative space in many places over the years, in dorms, apartments, houses, even hotels when I travel for work. I’ve made do with what I had and worked around running a mid-size business from home with two kids, two dogs, play dates, neighborhood kids descending on the yard, our union employees, babysitters, everyone coming and going at any given time. It was chaotic, but creativity thrives in chaos. You just need a space to process, harness and translate it.

Wherever this space may be, it should be sacred.

Your people should not be traipsing around in there, looking over your shoulder, asking what you are doing, poking around in your creative business. When you close the door or the drape or disappear into your space, you should feel safe to create. Think. Write. Paint. Dream. Read. With no interruption. Without fear of criticism. With no instruction or redirection. Just – you. For 5 minutes, if that’s what you can spare. Longer when you can. Even 5 minutes a day is enough to satisfy the soul. More is better, but some days you just have to make do with what you can.

As I have always told my kids, especially after the divorce, home is wherever your people and your dogs are. (And lizards and snakes in our case – no offense to cats, we’re allergic.) But your creative space – the place where you go to recharge, refresh, do creative work and thinking – this requires a different approach.

This is my space today:

My “food for the family” office. Need to figure out how to fix that drawer from opening. Book on my reading table is “”How to Win Friends & Influence People,” by Dale Carnegie. Re-reading for the third time. An oldie but a goodie if you want to understand people and how to be a better human.

I’m lucky now. I have a dedicated room with a door for my office/creative space. I work from home when not traveling, so it’s essential if I have any hope of actually getting things done and conducting 4 million Zoom calls in a week. While my office stays here, my creative space moves around the house, depending on my mood, what’s going on in my life, and the season. My kids are used to it, they are on the cusp of moving out and have never known any different than a mother who moves artwork, furniture, and work/fun spaces on a regular basis to keep things fresh. They think it’s normal. They do the same. Yay?

My ex-husband used to joke/complain that he would come home late at night and trip over a couch that was in a different place than it was when he left that morning. Amuses me even more now. 🙂

Where to start: Define your creative goals.

Listen, if you want to carve out your own creative space, first you have to understand your own process and what you’re trying to do. You have to know what environment works best for you. Some people like to work in libraries or coffee shops or bars. They need noise, people, activity. Hey, go for it! (Unless it’s COVID-19 times and things are shut down, like now as I’m writing this.) But if you’re like me, someone who needs quiet, private space at home, here are five ideas to help you get started. Disclaimer, I am a writer – not a photographer, an interior designer, or any kind of artsy person other than with words, so, it is what it is, from my heart to yours.

Lighting. I have horrible vision. I had one of the very first corrective eye surgeries back in the 90’s and while I had perfect vision for 20 years, ever since I turned 40, it all turned sideways. (Lesson learned, don’t be the “first” to get anything and for God’s sake don’t let anyone mess with your eyes!) It’s complicated but all you need to know is – good lighting is super essential forever, for everything. Evaluate your space and how you’ll be using it. Will you be reading? Painting? Playing music? Writing? Where? Where are the windows? What is the quality of light? At what time of day?

Try out different lighting to see what works best, at different times of day, given the light in the room at any given time. I rely on Target for task lighting because it’s inexpensive and 5 minutes from my house (I’m lazy and hate to drive and certain things I can’t shop for online, I have to see it in person and touch it). All the task lighting in my office – two near my computer and two on my writing desk, plus one on my glass table near my writing chair, have three-way LED lighting, so I can go super bright on dark Chicago winter mornings or nights when I’m reading or writing.

The Tiffany-style lamp on my office desk is a treasure found at TJ Maxx, one of my favorite places EVER. It’s like a garage sale on steroids!! When I was my most broke, garage sales and places like Once Upon a Child were my saving grace. While my kids are grown now, TJ Maxx will always hold a special place in my heart. I love this lamp for the gorgeous colors, the lovely design, and the fact that I paid less for it than I would have anywhere else. I turn it on after I’m done working, a symbol that it’s time to switch from “work” to “home” mode.

2. Seating. Right now, I have two desks in my office. One is my work desk (the first pic above). It’s all about function: task lighting, post-it’s for jotting down quick notes, a good camera for Zoom meetings, speakers, all the “functional” stuff. You know, fuel for what feeds the family.

My other desk is that which feeds my soul. It’s where I journal at 5AM or write early story drafts by hand (earlier if insomnia strikes – I’ve come to look at as “found time,” a term I saw referenced in an article that I can’t find now. I bet it was Tiny Buddha!) All I know for sure is that it resonated and I’ve made it my own.

I have a chair from Pier One next to my desk that is small enough to work in a tiny house and perfect for reading on cold mornings. Add a throw pillow and blanket – priceless and comfy! My favorite is when my kids, over 18 and almost ready to fly but still in the nest, come sit and tell me about their day, ask questions, or just hang out with me. <insert big heart here> I positioned it that way intentionally and bonus – I can look up from reading and see the windows, the light, the trees, and whatever weather Chicago is throwing at us that day.

I am super picky about my pens. That’s a whole other post. But the mug they are in is handmade pottery from a studio in Hayward, Wisconsin. The hearts say “believe” and “create” and came from an independent bookstore in my town. The book is “The 12 Secrets of Creative Women,” which greatly influenced and inspired me. I’m re-reading it now. I’m also working through the 12 Secrets Journal, which inspired this post.

3. Objects. Objects have special meaning in stories and in real life. They should in your life, too. Sprinkle them into your sacred space where you can. Move them around from time to time. We tend to stop “seeing” things when they are in the same place 365 days a year. Here are a few of mine to get you going:

My candle, my journal, inspirational books, great lighting, and stone artwork purchased at a farmers market a few years ago. The colors spoke to me. I often stop writing to look up at this piece of art and appreciate the detail and the colors.
I can never find my glasses. But apparently my son listened when I shared the touted philosophy that everything has a place and there is a place for everything, as he gifted me with this giraffe for holding glasses. It always makes me smile no matter how crazy my day becomes.
This is a ceramic bird from Chile that a friend brought back for me more than 20 years ago. It is for good luck, from what I was told. When I see him, I think of my friends Becky and Barney, who brought it back for me. How lucky am I to have this love and positive energy in my writing studio. #grateful

4. Scents. One word: candles. It goes without saying that your creative space should not smell like a dirty sock that was buried in the backyard with the dog’s bone and leftover fish dinner from 20 years ago. Make it smell yummy, like you want to lick the air and actually want to be in there, doing important creative work. And make no mistake: any work that you do in there is important. It doesn’t matter whether it’s published or shown, sold, shared – it can be just for you, to make you happy. I prefer Yankee Candle. I’m not getting paid to say that, I have allergies and their candles are the only ones that don’t trigger asthma attacks that take me down for days.

5. Privacy. Shortly after I moved in, my elderly, retired next-door neighbor, who is very bored with a front door that faces my office (it’s unincorporated where I live, so some pretty goofy house setups and property divides around here), told me he saw me sitting at my desk typing, and added some exaggerated typing motions to reinforce his story. Apparently I type like Patrick from Spongebob SquarePants on crack?

So I invested in Wallpaper for Windows. You can see it in my first photo. I found it at Lowe’s and Home Depot. There are a lot of different patterns and types, all very pretty, and it’s easy for people like me with no mechanical ability to apply.

As mentioned early on, a door, a drape, boundaries (“When the door is closed, stay the hell out!!”), incense, whatever you can add to your space to keep it quiet and private, is essential. Unless you like to be interrupted nineteen times with questions like, “Is there milk in the fridge? Where are my pants? How do I set up my retirement fund?” or worse, big stuff like, “The (100-pound dog) is puking everywhere in the house again!”

Establish a rule: when the door or drape is closed, when you are in your creative space, unless there is blood or bones protruding from skin – it can wait. Even (gasp!) for the dog.

Get your creative space together now or refresh the one you have

Whether you’ve been eyeing up your living space to find a dedicated spot for your creativity and solitude or just need a creative reboot for the space you do have, it’s so worth it to commit the time and thought to building a spot that work for you, your process and your creative work. Have fun with it and kick your creative mojo into high gear!

So there are five things you can use to build your creative space – so get on it! 🙂

Moving: Settling into a New Home, New Life, New Way of Thinking

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my new writing space: my backyard

Awhile back, I wrote a poem where a willow tree played a prominent visual role. I don’t know why or where it came from. It just…appeared. Followed by the words. As I write – as often happens – ideas, images and lines come to me. Creative gifts.

I’ve learned not to question.

Shortly after I wrote that poem, I decided it was time to move. On a Thursday night, I reached out to Rich, a real estate agent/friend who has helped me buy two marital homes and rent my post-divorce home. (Yep, I rent. At this stage of my life, I travel light.) I’d been looking for the past two years on and off, but nothing felt right. Not the house, not the location, not the time, not anything. By Friday morning, he had a listing – very rare, met all my criteria: closer to school; extra bedroom for my office; and two bathrooms – a must after three years with three people/one bathroom, all in a town where rental house inventory is scarce. I toured the house on Friday afternoon. Took the kids on Saturday afternoon. By Monday morning, I was negotiating. By Tuesday, it was mine. Two weeks later, my kids and I moved out and in. (Special shout out to my sister for helping!) Four days later, I packed up and flew to California for work. Flew back.

And finally, my first Saturday evening free in my new home, I sat writing in my new backyard. And I saw it.

A willow tree.

I used to believe in so many things.
I love my magical beliefs. 🙂 Everything will turn out alright in the end! You will getthrough “fill in the blank!” The universe or God or someone is looking out for you and protecting you! Everything happens for a reason!  Your soul mate is out there! Everyone means well, you just have to lower your expectations! No, lower! Okay, wait, lower. No – lower.

All of it. I was all in. It’s embarrassing to admit now, but – you know what? Fuck it. That stuff helped me survive. I’m still here and those “silly” beliefs carried me through some of my darkest, loneliest hours. The truth is, I still believe in that stuff…with caveats. Continue reading “Moving: Settling into a New Home, New Life, New Way of Thinking”

Coming Out of the Closet: Making Space for Your Dream

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my writing desk. reminding me to show up.

This post is for anyone who has ever had a dream. The passionate ones. Creative ones. Visionaries. Artists. Storytellers. Meaning makers. Lost ones looking for the way back to something they feel but can’t see.

You.

I was cleaning out my closet this past weekend and it got me thinking about dreams.  Those big, hairy, audacious ideas for something you love to do but don’t. It’s scary to put your dream out there, let alone go for it. A dream is a tiny flicker of a flame and there are dream crushers everywhere. One wrong look or word and poof!

It’s gone.

But the dream keeps tugging at your sleeve: Listen! Pay attention to this! This is good stuff! Let’s see what we can make happen here!

It’s soooo easy to defer your dream.
If you follow me, you know my story. I’ve known I wanted to be a writer since I was five years old. Two degrees, a professional writing career and 43 years later, I’m just now getting back to making space for my dream of being an author. There. I said it.

< insert terrified look here >

It’s one thing to say you want to do or be something. It’s quite another to make the commitment despite the doubts, insecurity and gigantic hairball of fear that tells you oh no, you can’t do THAT. That’s not going to put food on the table, pay for goalie gloves and new brakes for the truck. You’re not good enough. Who do you think you are, thinking you can do THAT??? And then there’s life. That thing that happens when you’re busy making other plans.

But then there is that little tug on your sleeve.

Continue reading “Coming Out of the Closet: Making Space for Your Dream”

What Does Creativity Feel Like?

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View from the writing nook in a castle. Dublin, Ireland. © Christy Miles

It always amuses me when researchers try to pin down the “science” of creativity. Like this Fast Company review of a new book, 7 Surprising Facts About Creativity, According to Science. There’s nothing earth shattering here – 72% of people have creative insights in the shower? Okay. What else you got?

Call me naive or childish, but…why can’t we just let creativity be magical? Can’t we just let it happen and be? Do we have to analyze it to death? I am reminded of my days at Purdue, the starry-eyed writer surrounded by logical, scientific, linear-thinking engineers. One day, sitting outside at twilight on a hot summer day between classes with an engineer friend, a huge plane flew overhead. We sat in silence, watching it pass by. I couldn’t contain myself and said, “Wow, isn’t it amazing that a huge, heavy plane can just…fly??” My engineer friend immediately began to explain aerodynamics to me in pain-staking, exacting, excruciating detail. It’s how he was wired. I get it. 🙂

But I’m not wired that way. I’m wired for wonderment. Amazement. Appreciation. Observing. Synthesizing seemingly random data, words and visuals into new and different ideas. Detecting patterns and playing with new ways of constructing and organizing them. I don’t want to understand the science of creativity. I just want to feel it. Every damn day that I’m lucky enough to be here.

So what does creativity feel like?
Here is my feeble attempt to use words to describe it. I wish I was an artist so I could show you, but even my stick figures suck. So here goes: Continue reading “What Does Creativity Feel Like?”

Why I Write: Find or Reignite Your Creative Fire

creativityThis is for anyone who creates, used to create, wants to be more creative, or wants to start creating something new or different. We all create things. Some of us make art, new recipes, or clothing. Some of us build businesses. Raise children. Creativity takes many forms. But life and time takes its toll. Our creative pursuits often fall to the wayside or we get burnt out, especially if we have to be creative for a living.

I once worked with a group of senior citizens in an assisted living center as a volunteer to help them write their stories. In the first session, there was a lot of silence until one woman finally said, the only thing I’ve ever written is a grocery list! The others laughed. I said – that counts! Because it does. (And yes, we got to their stories.) The ways we share our words and stories may have changed with social media. But any effort to capture our ideas, thoughts, plans and vision matter. That’s why we should do everything we can to make time to create and stay fired up about our creative passions.

One way to do this is Continue reading “Why I Write: Find or Reignite Your Creative Fire”