A Room of One’s Own

Sorry to disappoint you, but I am not going to give you a summary or review or debate about Virginia Woolf’s seminal and polemical essay published in 1929 entitled ‘A Room of One’s Own’.  There is a detailed analysis of the book on SparkNotes, but reactions to this proto-feminist essay are usually mixed.  When I reread it recently, I was pleasantly surprised to find it much wittier and easy to read than I had remembered, and certainly more accessible than many of her novels.

Virginia Woolf's Study, from The Guardian Books website.

Anyway, the title of my post today has more to do with that essential element of a writer’s life: the space where they can do the actual writing.  I have nothing but admiration for those writers (Jane Austen, for instance) who manage to write in the family room, a constant victim of interruptions and misplaced curiosity.  For myself, I completely understand Virginia’s statement:

‘It is necessary to have five hundred a year and a room with a lock on the door if you are to write fiction or poetry.’

Except in my case it would probably be a treehouse as far away from friends, family and telephone as possible.  And an income that has kept pace with inflation would be nice too.

I have to admit that I suffer from a particularly pernicious form of property porn addiction.  I can spend hours, both online and off,  visiting writers’ homes and studies, soaking up the atmosphere, touching the desk at which they wrote their masterpieces… As if some detail of that place of creativity, some ritual or talisman that I could replicate in my own abode would make my imagination well up and my writing improve in leaps and bounds? Does genius rub off on those who contemplate it?

Toibin study
Colm Toibin's study, from The Guardian Books website

Alas, no, it just keeps me away from completing my novel and thus displaying any traces of genius at all.  However, if you too are prone to office envy, here are some gorgeous website where you can indulge (the photos are from these websites, thank you and hope I haven’t broken too many copyright issues if I refer you back to them):

The Guardian has a series dedicated to writers’ studies. Here is another favourite I keep handy in the My Pictures folder:

Francesca Simon's Study, The Guardian Books website.

And photographer Michael Mundy has a wonderful series dedicated to writers, artists, designers and other creative people, entitled ‘An Afternoon With…’

Ruth Marten, artist, illustrator. From http://anafternoonwith.com

After studying these websites in detail (and visiting writer’s memorial homes, reading countless home decoration magazines, oooh, yes, I do my research thoroughly!), I have found my favourite writers’ rooms have the following in common:

1) They are large, airy, light spaces, with lots of windows – which may be inspiring, but also distracting.

2) Large desks, crammed full of  laptops, mementoes, writing blocks, pens, stationery – sometimes I wonder if we become writers just because we love stationery so much.

3) Lots of books and bookshelves, sometimes carefully arranged by subject and publisher, sometimes higgledy piggledy.  Will the writers of tomorrow have a more minimalistic space with a few choice gadgets e-Readers, iPads?

4) Practicality and functionality trump aesthetics and value – sentimental value seems to matter more than antiques, IKEA rather than design

So now, here is my dilemma in our new rental accommodation.

Mikael Kennedy, artist. From http://anafternoonwith.com

What can be done with a narrow study leading just off the open-plan kitchen/diner/living room?  Width just 1.5 m, length just 3.20m, neutral white, just one window facing south towards the garden (some distraction from next-door neighbours, who are building an extension), no lock on door.  My old desk doesn’t fit, the filing cabinet must fit, no bookshelves yet (but IKEA here we come), the study also has to accommodate my business books, training courses and articles collected over many years, my accounting and other paperwork (for me and the family), plus  my husband’s endless collection of cables, CDs and other gadgetry.

I know I should be grateful that I have a space of my own at all, and I certainly look forward to actually ‘owning’ it, after two weeks of writing in bed, on the dining table, on my lap on the sofa and so on.  In the meantime, I seek solace in those beautiful, inspirational rooms that seem to recede further and further away the more I grow up (and old).

16 thoughts on “A Room of One’s Own”

  1. This post had kind of a sad tinge to it 😦

    Having a space of one’s own is always nice, but I tend to hop around when I’m writing…. from the bed to my desk to the living room to the porch…. I’ve even been known to type up whole scenes in between reports at work (shhh, don’t tell :p)

    I hope your space becomes as wonderful and comforting as you want it to be 🙂

    1. As luck would have it, I finally found a desk to fit yesterday. So life is looking up! Thanks for your support – and well done for being able to write anywhere: I envy you.

  2. I’m one always on the go so it’s tough for me to have a space specifically dedicated to writing. I often times sneak away to the local botanical garden and write in the open green spaces. However I find most of my productive writing is done behind the register and in between customers at work. I feel that if didn’t have to worry about money then I could sit and write for hours and genius would just pour forth. The truth though is that my best writing is done while I’m busy and distracted. I hope you find your space soon!

    1. A-ha! Very perceptive and indicative of the perverse nature of the human soul. I know a number of people who wrote less once they started writing full-time! Thanks for your support and, as I said, I admire people who can work anywhere.

  3. What you say resonates, as I (due to growing children and household reconfigurations) am currently without a writing space. What Woolf says is true for me, because without a space, I can’t write. I hope we both figure out how to fit ourselves into our little corners soon.

    1. I read your post about this and that inspired mine! Before moving to France, I did have this vision of myself scribbling in a notebook in a cafe, while people-watching. But this only works for a limited time for me (when I am jotting down ideas or fragments or lines of poems). Once I get down to some serious work, like you, I need to have a corner to call my own. Which is why I hated open-plan offices in corporate life…

    1. The key is to keep on writing instead of searching for that perfect place. Ah, what a great novelist I could be if only I had room for all my papers…

  4. Just think about it like this: when you are a famous writer, aspiring writers will dig up this picture of your writing workspace, analyze it, and maybe even model theirs after yours! 🙂

    “Does genius rub off on those who contemplate it?” Oh, how I wish.

  5. Two thoughts on this one. 🙂

    One: Writing space. I think I must be an exception among writer-poets, as I’ve always preferred to do my writing on computer (or word processor, or typewriter if you go far enough back! 😉 ) When I -do- write on paper it’s out of necessity…I don’t have my laptop, I have a sudden poem hit, and I need to get it nailed down right now! So…yeah. Point is, now that I have my laptop, my writing space travels with me. So if I want privacy, or company, or just noise in the background, I can find it…usually. So why don’t I have zillions of books and poems written, instead of a mere 5 books barely started and 50 or so poems? I dunno. Perversity, I guess. :p

    Two: Stationery. Whee. My friends that go shopping with me know better to let me anywhere the stationery/crafts/scrapbooking aisle…or else they just drop me off there and let me drool and pick and pet the pretty pens and craft kits and beads and paper packs and staplers and glue and rubber band balls and binder and notebooks (even though as stated above, I rarely use them…I’m still addicted.) and markers…ohmigosh markers, in all the bright neon and jeweltone and metallic and primary colors…yeah. See? And yes, I’ve been like that all my life, well before I knew that writing was what I wanted to do. ( I wanted to be an artist…to draw and paint and put what was in my head out on paper that way…but I have to make do with words. Which make a pretty good paintbrush, all in all. )

  6. I don’t have a writing space but I travel easily between the many, the dining room table, the library, the bed, a cafe in between lessons, even McDonalds, because they have large booths, comfortable desks (well tables) and unintimidating servers who don’t mind if you spend 2 hours without buying more than a coffee. I crave the time more than the space and steal it whenever I can. Such a pleasure to meet you.

    1. Ah, yes, finding time is a whole different chapter – or even a book, as there are so many time management books out there! I sometimes think I fuss about the space issue as a way to compensate for the time issue. Thanks for stopping by on my blog, by the way.

  7. I agree with you, the room can sometimes be a distraction from the things you do in it. Mine would be lined with books – and is – except there are not enough shelves and it’s not orderly – which I’d like it to be!

  8. I love this! I find it really interesting how my writing changes based on where I am when I’m writing it. Sometimes it’s really difficult to write in a cluttered room, so a of the time I have to escape to the nearest Starbucks and try to do what I can there!

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