Fix Your Toxic Writing Environment

There are two sides to the writer debate – those who require certain comforts and those who can write in the middle of a toxic dump. I’d argue both types are just as likely to have hazardous work environments. Your office could be making you sick, or at the very least, decreasing your productivity. The good news is there simple way to creating a safe and healthy work environment.

1. Trouble in the Air

The information is scary: according to the August 2000 EPA Indoor Environments Division, Indoor Air Quality and Student Performance report, “Indoor air quality can reduce a person’s ability to perform specific mental tasks requiring concentration, calculation, or memory.” While this specific report discusses students in school, the same can be said for those who require mental acrobatics to earn a paycheck. The solution?

1. Air filtration appliances. Units are available at every price point and are especially helpful for those who have basement offices.

2. Check for radon. Radon is an odorless, tasteless, radioactive gas. It can cause cancer, but can also be detected. Learn more about it here.

3.Get a plant or two. Certain plants suck the toxins of the air. Common chemicals from building materials – formaldehyde, benzene, etc. could be doing a conga line around your desk. Pick up a peace lily and park it in your space.

4. Open a window. Simple right? Nature’s filtration system.


Hunched over a keyboard typing away…that’s how writers are supposed to be right? Not unless you want a chiropractor to become your best friend. Poor typing habits are hard to break, but buying ergonomic furniture and aids; practicing good posture and workstation alignment and taking breaks will help prevent costly problems like back injuries and eye strain.


An obvious solution, but one many of us overlook. When’s the last time you cleaned underneath the lampshade or vacuumed your keyboard? Simply wiping up crumbs isn’t enough to keep your office safe.

  1. Dust and or sweep with a moist cloth to protect from launching dustbunnies into the air.
  2. Use a vacuum with a Hepa filter and clean the bag or canister outside.
  3. Use natural cleaning products like white vinegar to cut down on unknown pollutants in commercial cleaning supplies.
  4. Rugs should be cleaned regularly. If you are in cold weather, wait for a snowy day, haul the rug out and let it sit outside for an hour, once the rug is cold drop it on clean snow and beat it with a broom. Flip it over and beat it some more. The cold will help kill germs and the snow helps clean the fibers without soaking them and damaging the rug. *This is not absolute rug advice, if your rug is expensive or has been in your family for 100 years then hire a professional, don’t try to sue me!*


Kooky chemicals are everywhere, but greener alternatives to traditional inks, papers, etc. are readily available at great prices online and at local office supply stores. Recycled paper, soy ink, glass, metal or wood office organizers from sustainable sources promotes healthy business practices out in the world and at home.


So, after buying a weeping fig plant, stocking up on bamboo office accessories and using that odd vacuum cleaner attachment on the back of the computer monitor all’s well in the world right?

Not quite.

I have seen some truly horrific home offices. Neat, clean and completely devoid of any warmth. A desk, chair and wall calendar does not make an office. Infuse some personality into your space. Warm, inviting work areas boosts productivity and overall well being.

Even if funds are tight, cheap and inspiring art can be made by simply framing some of your published pieces. Those clips are accomplishments whether for Time Magazine or Paper Clips Don’t forget pictures of your family or dog and your ticket stub from that killer concert as well.

Writers spend countless hours in their office meeting deadlines, it is a worthwhile investment to create a space that is inviting, productive and safe. After all, you can’t beat a deadline if your dead.

What do you love about your home office? How can you improve it?


3 responses
  1. Megan Eaves Avatar

    Hi Terreece,

    Thanks for those great suggestions! I know my working environment isn’t the most creatively friendly place. What about some advice for those of us that don’t even have an office? I work at home, but we don’t have a home office, so I spend most of my time at our kitchen table, which is neither ergonomic nor particularly comfy. Any advice for making the home a generally nicer place to work for those of us with no office?

    1. Terreece M. Clarke Avatar

      Hey Megan! Depending on the day, I may spend my time at the kitchen table too, it’s easier to keep an eye on the little ones!

      Is there a way to carve out a little area for yourself? A smaller desk in the corner? When I didn’t have room for an office, I used an old-fashioned secretary with the flip out desk. It was a nice piece of furniture and then I would put my laptop in one of the drawers when i wasn’t looking. It’s important for you to have a designated workspace with a little bit of storage and continuity so you don’t have to clear away works in progress for dinner.

      It depends on your home decor, but there are some really great options that don’t call attention to themselves as being the workstation, but it gives you the comfy work atmosphere you need. has creative ideas of integrating pieces in little spaces. Let me know how it goes!

      1. Megan Eaves Avatar

        Thanks for those suggestions, Terreece! I really like the link – Apartment Therapy – it’s a fun read and helpful for those of us apartment dwellers.

        I think part of my problem is that my husband and I are living in a rented apartment abroad (we live in Prague), and so all of our furniture is provided by the landlady. I am hesitant to buy anything for the apartment because I know when we leave, I’ll just be eating the cost of that desk (tough when you’re on a limited income like us!). On the other hand, I know you’re right in saying that I need a dedicated workspace and I’m sure it would help my flow and creativity.

        For now, I am making a concerted effort to change the space I have between work hours and non work hours. I’ve upgraded to a more ergonomically friendly setup (laptop plus mouse and full keyboard, and padded chair), and am also making the effort to be sure the space is clean and clear before I start work.

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