Virginia (as in, Woolf) was totally right. For writers, sometimes nothing but a room of our own will do. However, there is a huge difference between having our own space and writing in a vacuum.
This is especially true in the professional world, where writers are part of a team that is often charged with carrying out important business missives, upholding brand, style, product and legal guidelines, and responding in real time to changes, comments and revisions.
After over a decade leading and managing writing teams, I remain wowed by how much productivity is demanded, and met, by writers in seemingly un-conducive environments. With a closer look, these feats of productive creativity often have a few key elements in common.
A fluid workspace is something freelancers have long enjoyed, and, thanks to laptops, wifi and forward-thinking executives, it’s now encouraged in many offices. A quiet nook, a comfy couch, an open window or a communal table can all serve to inspire a particular writing task. And the ability to choose the environment to suit the work at hand is a boon for creative productivity.
It doesn’t matter how nice your room is if you are unclear about what you’re in there to do. Good direction provides writers with a clarity of mission and a sense of creative purpose. It also helps limit creative time and energy spent figuring out anything other than the best way to write what needs to be written.
I’m a big fan of the big picture, and context provides a broader swath of understanding than direction alone. A good way to think about context is as a form of transparency, allowing writers a view into the short- and long-term goals of the assignment, the team and the company at large. It may mean a longer briefing meeting, but armed with more context, writers are apt to stay more on-target, which cuts down on review time and helps boost morale.
Shifting deadlines, changing parameters and lengthy reviews are par for the course in many assignments, and an open line of dialog can help versus stunt a project. Whether it’s through email, in person, over chat or VC, it’s vital to keep writers in the loop, provide timely feedback and be accessible for questions.
Due to the solo nature of our work, writers can occasionally feel isolated, both interpersonally and in terms of our contribution to the team. The right writing environment goes beyond good communication and context and fosters a sense of inclusion. It’s a great source of motivation to feel like we are a part of something bigger, even for us creative types.
You gave a writer great direction and tons of context, you invited her to the next all-hands and you’ve been pinging her every 10 minutes with updates…so why isn’t the project done yet? At its root, writing is an incredibly personal act that requires a creative leap, and writers must have the space to take that leap. Once everything else has been covered, there will be a moment when a writer simply needs to be alone in a room, so to speak.