10 Things That Help Me Write

Today’s not so much a writing how-to in the traditional sense; it’s more of a how-I-do.

Cue the Montell Jordan!


Ahem, sorry about that.

Anyway: I wanted to share a few of my favorite things that help me write in hopes that maybe they’ll help you, too. Even if you’re not a writer, some of these items could make a nice addition to your workspace.

If you’re not interested in the commentary and just want the shortlist, I’ve linked everything for you right here:

If you are interested in a bit more background detail on each, I’ve broken this part down into three sections: Equipment, environment, and creature comforts.

Part One: Equipment & Supplies

Okay, first up is equipment and supplies. This is the office-related stuff in my workspace that’s helped me get to a highly productive place and minimized my griping and groaning about what is largely sedentary work.

1. A really nice chair

About eight months into freelancing, my back started hurting...a lot. It kept me up at night, and no matter how devoted I was to yoga or getting up and walking around throughout the day, it remained a major problem. I was spending six to eight hours a day sitting in front of my computer (I can’t stand and write--it’s a focus thing, I guess) in a cheap chair without arms that cost about $30. No bueno.

After a while, I finally decided to invest in a nice chair: The Herman Miller Aeron. At the time, it was painful to spend that much money on *a chair*, but it has been hands down one of the most important purchases I’ve ever made for this business. I love it!

2. A large desktop monitor

Thrifty ol’ me tried working on a laptop when I started freelance writing, but the screen was too small to do the split-screen work I needed while researching and writing, and I was always hunched over at my desk (See also: back pain.)

I upgraded to the 27 inch iMac in 2014, and it’s been a major improvement workflow-wise for me. I wasn’t even an *Apple person* before that moment: I’d never owned a Mac of any kind. But now, I have a hard time getting deep work done pretty much anywhere else. If I’m working on a long-form piece of writing, 99% of the time, it happens on the big screen. (I use this wireless mouse and keyboard with it, btw.)

3. Convertible desk stand

You probably read this and thought, “OMG, your back hurt...we get it already!” But seriously. It’s a real problem for a lot of people who sit all day and stare at a computer. I use this convertible desk stand now to get on my feet in the afternoon when I’m finishing up my day with lightweight tasks like email, checking the socialz, scheduling content, etc.

4. Steno pads

I have to write down notes and ideas when I’m writing--on paper. It’s just part of the process. I prefer Steno pads because they’re small and easy to flip through when I need to find something a few pages back. Plus, they don’t take up too much room on my desk.

Writing pads/notebooks are an interesting point of discussion for writers: Ask around and you’ll find that most swear by a very specific type. For example, my friend and fellow writer Emma swears by legal pads.

...okay, okay enough about writing pads...moving on.

5. A big desk

A few years ago, Brandon and I went to IKEA and bought this large desk. It’s about 3x4, so there’s a lot of workspace, which is nice. The only downside is that this desk takes up a fair amount of room within the office. Eventually, I may size down a bit.

5. Whiteboard

My steno pad is for writing notes, but the whiteboard is for project to-do items (like finish draft 2 of X project) and business to-do items (like who to invoice for the month). I am fairly forgetful, so a daily/monthly list of action items here keeps me sane and on track.

Psst...I just opened a new purple marker and am very excited about ittttt!

Part Two: Environment

Next up: Environment. These are a few things that help create the right ~ambiance~ within my writing workspace so I can really settle in, get comfortable, and knock out my to-do list.

6. Mini space heater

In Illinois, it gets really cold between November-April. I hate being cold. It’s hard for me to concentrate when I’m shivering and resentful. We bought this mini space heater a few years ago, and it’s been a lifesaver for my always-cold feet. Plus, Brooks (my doggie coworker) loves laying in front of it. Win-win.

7. Desk lamp

Guess what: It also gets pretty gray and gloomy during those cold months. Isn’t the Midwest a dream!? Jkjk, it’s not that bad. But seeing as I don’t want my home office to feel like a cave, a good lamp has been helpful--especially when it starts getting dark around 4:00 in the afternoon. I like this one because it can change color tone and intensity based on the activity you're doing and the time of day.

8. Candles/Diffused oils

I was late to the party learning about hygge...but now I am all about it. Good smells and cozy feels help get me in the zone with writing, and it generally makes the office a more enjoyable place to spend time. I’ve been loving this candle lately and occasionally diffusing this essential oil (but not at the same time--that'd be gross.)

Part Three: Creature Comforts

Creature comforts, to me, are all about maximum comfort within my routine. When I can wear the same outfit/eat the same snacks/drink the same drinks throughout the day, it’s one less decision I have to make--and that gives me more mental space for writing and thinking.

9. My freelance “uniform”

Most days when I don’t have calls or meetings, I wear pretty much the same thing: A tri-blend t-shirt, sweatpants, wool socks, and maybe a sweatshirt. It the comfiest thing--and it helps me focus on the work I need to do (rather than “Oh, nice, my high-waisted jeans are literally trying to cut me in half.”)

Some people are all, “Wear shoes, it helps you think!” or, “Get dressed for the day when you get up: It’ll make you more productive.”

Nah, guys. For me, it’s all pajamas, all the time.

10. Brain fuel

When it comes to writing brain fuel, like most writers, I drink a lot of coffee each day--but I try to balance that out with a lot of water, too. I got this espresso maker recently and <3 making my own lattes at home.

A few of my most favorite snacks to munch on while I write:

And that's about it! Or, this is all I could think of right now.

It's the good stuff, though, I promise.

This article originally appeared in my newsletter, A Cup of Copy. Sign up and get these free tips sent right to your inbox every other Wednesday.

P.S. Speaking of productivity...if you're interested in learning more on that topic, my friend Paul and I are hosting a live, interactive workshop on it in January.