7 Ways to Increase Your Creativity Through Workspace Design

This blog appears in its entirety on the Writers in the Storm Blog today.

The life of a writer can be unpredictable. Family, medical issues, housing issues, and many more personal-life interruptions can disrupt the flow of words. Many of you may not have options and write when and where you can write. For example, right now I’m writing in the waiting room of a car maintenance shop. The environment here is nice, but definitely full of distractions. 

When we can choose our writing environment, it makes sense to choose a space that optimizes how we write. Keep in mind that not all of us will respond in the same way to the same physical space. In the list of elements I offer below, choose the ones that speak to you, that feel more creative to you. 

Brain Science

The theory that people are right-brained (creative, intuitive) or left-brained (logical or linear) or both is a popular myth unsupported by neuroscience. The brain’s right and left hemispheres are not separate organs. While the right-hemisphere performs more complex functions, and the left hemisphere controls most (if not all) physiological functions, the two hemispheres work together.

While the right- versus left-brain theory is a myth, it’s an easy way to understand how people think. At the extremes, a few of us are nearly 100% logical-thinkers and a few are almost 100% creative-thinkers. A few of us fall into the moves fluidly between the two. In a reality, we are all a mix of the two. Many of us continue to perceive one or the other thinking style is our primary way of perceiving the world. We’re not wrong, but it’s more complex than which hemisphere controls what. Still, we can use brain science and psychology to help us set up a work environment that supports our creativity.

Space

Environmental psychology is the study of how our physical surroundings influence us. One of the newer sciences, it came into existence in the 1970s. 

Our mental space stands in direct proportion to our perception of physical space.

Donald M. Rattner, Architect

In other words, our physical space affects us both as it actually exists and our intuitive interpretation of that space. The more we perceive a space to be open, the more we are open to new ideas. 

Height

The height of your ceilings affects your perception of openness. Tall, vaulted ceilings give us a sense of openness. Things that draw our eye to the height like pendant lamps or images enhance our sense of openness. 

Lateral Space

Most of us cannot do anything about the height of our ceilings. We can increase our perception of space by focusing on lateral space. 

Artwork of landscapes or faraway places can give us a sense of space. A window or a doorway with a view of the outside makes a space “feel” open. Furniture placement and a lack of clutter also affect our interpretation of the lateral space that surrounds us.

Some will say that they do better in cluttered spaces. That may be true for specific individuals. Maybe you would feel more creative with an uncluttered and more open environment. Try it. If it doesn’t work, clutter is easy to accumulate.


Learn how to engage your senses in your workspace in the rest of the article. If you don’t have the luxury of a dedicated workspace, there are other ways support your creativity.

What do you use to make your workspace support your creativity?


Image Credits

Top: Ernest Hemingway in London at Dorchester Hotel 1944, National Archives and Records Administration, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons 

Make Music with Character Voices

On the Writers in the Storm Blog, I offer suggestions how you can create characters with voices so distinct that your readers can “hear” theme music for each one.

Bright jolly vector staves with musical notes on white background, decorative major wavy set of musical notation symbol.

Do your characters feel flat? Do they all sound like you and only you? Tune in to the music of character voices, make them sound more like the different instruments of a band or orchestra. Make music with your character voices and your readers won’t be able to get enough of the stories you write.

Great characters are the key to great fiction.Donald Maass, Writing the Breakout Novel

Donald Maass, Writing the Breakout Novel

What or Who Your Character Is

There are many things to consider when creating your story characters. Many how-to-write articles suggest creating a detailed profile of your characters. Delving into a character’s birth place, likes and dislikes, job, hair color, and using tools like spreadsheets and fill-in-the-blank questionnaires can be helpful, but characters are more than the details on a spreadsheet or form. Character are more than their story role, more than the point of view you choose for them, and more than what they do in the story. Your characters each need a voice, a unique voice. But how do you create that?

The Key to Understanding Characters

When a writer is told they’re too young or haven’t lived enough life to write about it, it’s often because of a lack of understand the basics of character or even life. A general understanding of psychological personality types will go a long way to helping you create varied and interesting characters. 

Learn about the fundamental personality types. Go deeper than Wikipedia, though it may give you an overview that is helpful. There are literally millions of sites on the internet that discuss variations on personality types. Choose one that’s reliable like psychcentral, psychology today, and The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH).

Psych Central has a helpful explanation of what is personality. Psychology Today discusses the basics of personality traits. NIMH has a great resource on personality disorders. Those three sites offer multiple articles on personality, personality traits, and personality disorders. 

Read about establishing your character’s musical pitch and more in the rest of my post at the Writers in the Storm blog.

Create a Compelling Plot with What-But-Therefore

Lynette M. Burrows

You can have interesting characters in a striking setting and have a boring book. Plot structure can create tension that keeps the reader engaged and eager to finish your book. But learning how to plot is confusing. Many writers have their own theory on how to create an interesting plot. Some argue the number of types of plot structure and they name anywhere between one (man against man) to seven. Others talk about the elements of or the stages of plot. Those folk teach five, six, seven, nine, or more elements they call stages, or doors, or plot points. They say to use a diagram or an outline or to write freely and figure it out as you go. What’s a writer to do? Learn as much as you can. A good place to start is 7 Plot Structures for Pantsers by John Peragine. If you’re looking for a simple and effective tool for creating a cause-effect, can’t-stop-reading plot use the WHAT-BUT-THEREFORE method.

Image is of an open book with an illustration on the two visible pages. The first page shows a grassy area with a small pond, a flowering tree, and mushrooms. A picnic basket and blanket are beneath the tree. On the second page is a dry and cracked section of dirt with flames leaping from the top of the page. How does the What-But-Therefore help you get from one page to the other?

What is Plot?

At its most basic level, plot is the chain of events that make up a story. But a basic chain of events does not make a story. Consider this pared-down version of Rumplestiltskin by the Brothers Grimm:

The miller says his daughter can spin straw into gold.

The king gave the girl a room of straw to spin into gold.

The girl made a bargain with a droll little man.

The girl spins the straw into gold.

The king marries the girl and she becomes queen.

The queen gives birth to a little girl.

The droll little man wants his end of the bargain.

The queen guesses his name, and he goes away empty-handed.

Illustration from Rumplestiltskin showing the imp dancing around a pot on a fire in a forested area with a charming cottage in the background.

As a plain chain of events, this classic story has no tension. It’s boring. 

A more complex definition of plot is the sequence of events which causes a character to react in a way that affects the next event through the principle of cause-and-effect. With this definition, you can still create an unexciting story. The tension must rise.

The way I make certain story tension grips the reader is to use a What-But-Therefore outline of each scene.


Read More

Read how the What-But-Therefore sentences work for Rumplestiltskin on the Writers in the Storm blog. (Sorry, I had the link wrong but it’s fixed now.)

A Note to My Readers

Thank you for your patience. I’m consumed with the packing up of nearly thirty years of furniture and life accumulations so my floors can be refinished. For readers of my newsletter, I am moved into the basement and a little less than halfway through the huge task of having my floors refinished. Next month you’ll get a glimpse of the before, life in the basement, and (I hope) a few of newly painted rooms and my beautifully refinished floors. I estimate the move back in will finish near the end of August. I plan to return to my usual blogging and writing schedule then. In the meantime, enjoy this post on WITS or stay here and search for similar how-to write posts.

A Month of Changes with More to Come

June has been a busy month of changes. Those changes come at a cost of my time and energy. That means that despite my best intentions, not much writing is getting on the screen. But positive changes can be a good thing.

image of a chalky, chalk board with the words "Time for Change" written in white chalk. We all are facing changes

Intentions

Instead of goals or resolutions, I use intentions. You can miss a goal. You probably break most resolutions. But an intention is a focus. When life gets in the way of your plan, take care of that event or disturbance, intending to return to your primary plan. Every morning begins with a renewed intention.

Making

There are three more days this month, but I doubt I’ll get any more making done. Somehow, I got my newsletter out and five blog posts written and posted. Beyond that, there’s a lot of thinking while doing other things and some note taking on two separate but related projects.

It will probably be September before I can make any real fiction writing progress. SIGH. Read on for the why.

Managing

Very little done in the managing area, not even keeping up with routine business chores. 

Marketing

Even less was done in the marketing department, but I have plans… oh boy, do I have plans. 

Home

Home has been where almost all of my focus and energy have gone. I am finally going to have my worn and stained and poorly patched wood floors repaired and refinished at the end of July. However, that means I have to move every stick of furniture, clothing, and anything else out of the main living areas. 

My two-year-old grandson, J, visited recently and voiced his opinion of this:

Changes are happening at my house. This photograph shows a floor littered with shreds of paper, boxes to be made, empty boxes and a box full of books with a book titled the Fantastic Art of Boris Vallejo on the top of the pile.

“It’s a mess!”

Grandson J

Me: Yes, it is, J. It’s a huge mess right now.

My late husband and I may have been related to pack rats who fill their nest with all kinds of things. After almost thirty years in this house, the accumulation of stuff is overwhelming. Fortunately, my grandson, C, and son have been helping—a lot.

C and I held a garage sale during 95˚ F weather. We stayed in the shade, under a fan as much as we could, and drank a lot of water. 

Cleaning out my late husband’s art studio has been… challenging and a long, slow process. 

Going Forward

After I finish sorting and clearing out things I don’t use, need, or want any more, my son and grandson will help me move everything else into the garage or basement. Then I will attempt to paint all the walls in this three-bedroom ranch before they refinish the floors. Wish me luck in getting all of this accomplished in thirty days. 

Writing time will continue to be minimal until the end of July. 

While the floors are done and drying, I’ll start writing again. Halfway through August, I’ll begin moving everything back to the main level again.  

Everything Changes

This black and white illustration shows the scales of justice out of balance with one hanging very low and the other very high. Sadly, this is what our justice system looks like post roe v. wade.

Big and small changes happen all the time. Some changes are more than not good. The SCOTUS decision to strike down Roe v. Wade is the worst. I am a Christian and am horrified at this outcome. Outraged that some states are taking it so far as to declare that they may prosecute a woman taking care of her personal physical and mental health. It’s terrifying how closely this resemble the religious totalitarian society in my series, The Fellowship Dystopia.

Taking away freedoms is NEVER the right thing, the Christian thing, to do. This SCOTUS decision will lead to more changes. We who believe in the right of free choice must make certain the next change is a positive one.

When bad things happen, we must commit to changing what we can, but we need also to lighten our load by looking for the good. Some changes are good for us. I choose to look at my long process of home improvement as a positive change for me. Ultimately, it should save me time and and make my environment more comfortable. 

What positive changes are happening in your life?

Image Credits

Top image by  Gerd Altmann from Pixabay 

Middle photo by Lynette M. Burrows

Final image by kalhh from Pixabay 

Create Compelling Scenes with the MRU

I consider myself fortunate to have met Mr. Swain early in my writing career. His book helped me massively improve my writing. I hope this information helps you too. Writing Compelling Scenes with the MRU is introduced here and appears in full on the Writers in the Storm blog on Wednesday, June 15, 2022.


Structuring your novel’s big picture is important. The structure of your scenes all the way down to your character’s motivations and reactions are equally important. If you get the sequence out of order, you risk confusing or completely disengaging your reader. Don’t worry. You can create compelling scenes with the MRU. The motivation-reaction unit (MRU) is a tool introduced by Dwight V. Swain in his book, Techniques of the Selling Writer. This post is only an introduction to the MRU. In his book, Mr. Swain does a deep dive into the MRU and other tools writers can use to be a selling writer.

“A story is a series of motivation-reaction units. The chain they form as they link together is the pattern of emotion.”

Techniques of the Selling Writer, Dwight V. Swain.

What is the MRU?

In Techniques of the Selling Writer, Mr. Swain uses his understanding of the pattern of emotion (how people’s brains work) to create a guideline for writing fiction. He calls it the motivation-reaction unit (MRU) and breaks it down into parts. 

At its simplest, the MRU is—

a.) Motivation.

b.) Reaction.

In the book, Mr. Swain talks about each part of the MRU in great detail. Read it to get a deeper understanding of the MRU. He also discusses what story is, story structure, character, conflict, and ways to be a successful professional writer. 

How Your Brain Reacts to Stimuli 

People react to a stimulus predictably. There are simple responses, more detailed responses and complex responses. What we think varies. What we feel varies. What we do and say varies. But each of our brains reacts to a stimulus in the same pattern. 

A stimulus is something that directly rouses a reaction or activity. We pick up stimuli with one of our senses: sight, touch, hearing, smell, taste. Neurons in your brain process the stimulus and cause a sequence of responses. The blink of an eye is one reflex that happens instantly. Some responses we learned at an early age— don’t touch the hot stove. We gain some after repeated experiences, and some responses need to be processed on a higher level of thought that might take hours to months.

Simplest Stimulus and Response

A reflex is your body’s simplest response. A dangerous stimulus causes an immediate motor response. 

Stimulus: Something flies toward your eye.

Response: You blink without a conscious thought. 

More Complicated Stimulus and Response

The more complicated the stimuli, the more complicated your response. Your brain processes this in nanoseconds and your body responds in seconds or minutes. 

Stimulus: 

You feel the pain of a bee stinging you.

Reaction: 

You want to stop the pain, slap at the bee, and yell. 

Complex Stimuli and Response

Some stimuli, particularly social ones, are far more complex and trigger a complex response.

Stimulus:

Your ex-husband confronts you at a public event and loudly demands that you admit your much loved, recently departed, second husband abused you. 

Reaction:

Confused and hurt, you play the words in your head again,. You knot your hands into fists. You politely deny the accusation and you excuse yourself from the uncomfortable situation. Later, you replay the scene in your head; you remember similar conversations with your ex, and your suppressed anger boils. You curse loudly and deface your ex’s expensive car. 

How to Create an Effective Motivation

Motivation always comes before reaction. But what motivation is Mr. Swain talking about?

Read More

Where did you first hear about the MRU? What have you written, read, or watched that has a great example of the MRU?

If you enjoyed this post, you may be interested in the Story Sentence or my posts on Re-Visioning Your Story.