Skip to main content

Making the Perfect Creative Space

Go to your room!

Do you remember being ordered to go to your room when you misbehaved as a child? You’d stomp down the hall in defiance at having been banished. The irony is, now that you’re grown up, you may have a different room (a studio, man/woman cave, sanctuary) that you can’t wait to get to because you do what you love best inside it: play music, write songs. And if you’ve decorated it with some awareness of what elements inspire you, you’ll probably thrive within it too.

Shortly after posting last month’s blog — a conversation with songstress Beth Nielsen Chapman — many readers wrote to me expressing their awe of Beth’s self-designed songwriting room, an extraordinary space that caters to her unique spirit and personal aesthetic.

String lights embrace her beloved baby grand. An abundance of mementos and baubles, all of which have meaning to her, are placed on surfaces everywhere. To the side of her ergonomically arranged recording set-up are cozy chairs and soft sofas into which anyone would feel comfortable sinking.

Beth’s home studio with pianos, keyboards, guitars and decorative string lights.
Beth in her creative space.

Of course, one of the limitations we face when considering our space is the real estate we’ve been allocated. Beth’s studio is spacious. It has all sorts of nooks and crannies and an angular ceiling that invites reciprocal lines below.

My space, on the other hand, is a 20′ x 12′ renovated one-car garage. No interesting lines anywhere. Still, I’ve done what I can to accommodate my process and encourage creativity. There’s a comfortable sofa on which to relax. Photos of my favorite people are positioned all around my desk. Gold and platinum records on the walls remind me of what I’ve accomplished. (This can be uplifting, especially on the occasions when self-doubt comes to visit … and, I assure you, it does.)

Purple futon couch with framed awards hanging on wall above it.
Awards on the wall and a comfy sofa can help both body and spirit.

On a side table are books that have motivated me throughout my life: Natalie Goldberg’s “Wild Mind.” Paulo Coelho’s “The Alchemist.” Rollo May’s “The Courage To Create.” They all come in handy when I need a jump start. Ruby, my Yamaha TransAcoustic guitar, is an arm’s length away from where I tap lyrics on a laptop, plus there’s a mic close by in case I want to capture a spontaneous melody and an upright piano on the opposite wall.

Speaker/mentor Elle Zimmerman, in an article about what makes her feel most productive, writes that lighting, smell, space and color “all affect how I feel and process. When these things are aligned, I’m most creative.” I concur. In fact, I have painted the walls of my room a soothing blue/gray and regularly burn geranium and lavender oil to promote optimum energy. I even had a dimmer switch installed so I can adjust the brightness of the overhead lighting, and the mood of with it.

Table with a basin with a bottle of essential oils and a candle. A Beatles' poster on the wall in the background.
All the senses are important, including smell!

I’ve also found that I’m much more clear-headed when my desk is tidy. In his online column Tips for Making a Writing Space That Fosters Creativity and Inspiration, writer Noah Rue states, “if there is less to fuss with, there is less time to be wasting that could be spent writing.” I couldn’t agree more.

That said, we all have different relationships with clutter. For instance, in my husband’s studio you’ll find piles of chord charts, random bowls of guitar picks, headphones, guitar straps, pop-filters and capos strewn about, plus a stray coffee mug here and there. Disorder makes him comfortable. Perhaps if his space were too tidy it would throw off his Ch’i.

On the opposite side of the spectrum are those who prefer a naked room with bare white walls and no furnishings except for a typewriter on a table. To each her own.

What’s in your space? Do you remember making conscious decisions about color and chaos? Is there something you could add (or remove) that would un-encumber your process? With us all spending more time at home, it’s a good opportunity to reassess and consider some creativity-inspiring Feng shui or Marie Condo.

But let’s not forget: Though a compatible work environment is important, it can only enhance what already lies within us. A true creative spirit is mobile — we take it with us wherever we go, be it our car, a plane, a hike, the supermarket, the shower, church.

As a songwriter who’s collaborated extensively and hopped from studio to studio over the years, I’ve enjoyed and have been inspired by all kinds of aesthetics. Each reveals something unique about my collaborator. In addition, unfamiliar focal points and objects of interest stimulate my brain and allow my mind to wander (and wonder). And that’s a good thing!

But when I come home, I want to return to the welcoming arms of my sanctuary. My personal Zen. No matter how small or symmetric, I’m grateful for a private universe that I depend on to receive me, comfort and nurture me and beckon my best work. A place where, as Brian Wilson famously wrote, “I can go and tell my secrets to.” A place where I feel safe. A place that allows me to cherish and appreciate the words Go To Your Room!

Woman with dark hair smiling at camera sitting behind a wooden desk with wall of shelving behind her full of books, pictures and albums. There is an acoustic guitar on a stand on her left.
Photos courtesy of the author.


Check out Shelly’s other postings.

Keep reading