A Room Without A View

The Nine of Coins is about living in luxury.

There are few things that get my creativity muscles tingling more than photos of an artist’s studio. When I’m feeling stuck, I’ll open my folder and click through a few. Something about these creative spaces actually inspires me to be more productive. And I begin to wonder—what would happen if I, too, had such a studio? How much more productive would I become?

I was reading Reese Witherspoon’s By the Book, and something she said caught my attention:

“I should start by saying that I don’t get my ideal reading experience ever. I work a lot and I have kids and a husband and about a thousand side hustles. But in theory, it would be alone in a cabin by a lake. I’d be by myself, with no one interrupting me to ask where their other shoe is, or where the car keys are, or to tell me that I’m needed on set. In this alternate reality, I would also have no emails, no text messages and no obligations or deadlines. I would have nothing at all to do for, say, five days. That would be ideal.”

Who wouldn’t want to spend five days in a lakeside cabin just reading? But then again, who would actually read in such a space? I certainly wouldn’t. There are so many other amazing things that would be begging for attention—hiking, swimming, canoeing, taking photographs, sitting by a campfire. At that point, reading would be an afterthought. It’d be something I’d do in the morning or before bed; no different than the way I read in my day-to-day life in my boring, suburban neighborhood.

Ironically, the only way to be truly productive in such a setting is to spend so much time there that the distinguishing, unique, artistic features fade into the background. The quest for the perfect studio is, in fact, a self-defeating enterprise. The moment you finally find productivity there is the moment you start realizing your studio isn’t that creative after all. It’s the moment you realize it’s just another boring place you go to do work.

As Annie Dillard says in The Writing Life:

“Appealing workplaces are to be avoided. One wants a room with no view, so imagination can meet memory in the dark.”

I have two different desks (as I assume most people do)—one in my house and one at work.

my creative space

The desk at home is nowhere near my artistic ideal, but it’s nice enough. I have my special keyboard, my big monitor with the moveable mount, inspiring books, a giant NASA poster.

My desk at work isn’t even my own. I share it with three other graduate students. There, I have my average keyboard, my average monitor, a few toys, no poster—no window. I have never been more productive.

math notebooks

I could work from home most days, at the desk I set up, in the chair I bought. And yet, I choose not to. I would never get anything done.

There is magic in daydreaming about the perfect, creative environment. But my hope is that the dream never becomes reality. Because the magic of an amazing space is only in how it can light up your imagination.

When it’s time to stop dreaming and start doing, I can think of nothing worse than an idyllic cabin by the lake. I can think of nothing better than a room without a view.

Each Monday, I share strategies to help you master your limited time, get started, and build creative habits that stick. Try it. You’ll like it.

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