Thursday, July 14, 2011

On Writing: A Room of My Own

All of the comforts of home, plus Francine Prose.
A one-room (with loft) lovely in the Vermont woods.
     “A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction,” Virginia Woolf said.
     I do not dispute Woolf's claim but I contend it would be easier for anyone to write if he or she were at least independently lower-middle class and had a climate-controlled study in which to squirrel away. Mark Twain had an octagonal, detached studio his in-laws built for him on a hill above their house. Henry Thoreau had his rustic cabin. George Bernard Shaw had a writing hut that could be turned to follow the movement of the sun. These gentlemen were not independently wealthy per se, but they were able to support themselves with their word work.
     I'm several years (or lifetimes) away from being able to quit the day job, but I'm doing OK with the room.
     My wife and I recently rented an off-the grid cabin in Vermont. It's a one-room with loft deal: outhouse, spring water, no Internet, no cell service, with Franklin fireplace. We rented it for the months of July and August, although, with our schedules, we'll likely only be up there for a few long weekends. It seems like the perfect “room of (his) own.” No pesky phone calls, no sounds other than the rushing stream below and twittering birds. No e-mail to check. I got some solid work done there over the Fourth of July weekend, although it was a little weird writing with my spouse in the room. (In a one-room-cabin situation, there are not many places to go.) The cabin is good, then, but not perfect for the family man I have become.
     I've done writing in busy newsrooms, in the back of a speeding SUV on dirt roads in El Salvador, in tents, in computer labs … However, I write fiction best in one of two places: at my desk in my school classroom (around 4 p.m., after the students are long gone) or in my “study” at home. The study has a desk I cannibalized from a combination window seat/bookcase I built a few years back. It has a battered office chair my mother in-law gave me, a computer sans Internet connection (basically a dedicated word processor that plays solitaire), a stereo, books and lots of geegaws. The door does not lock, but it does shut. Occasionally, the family respects the closed door, but the cats never do. 
My home office.
     Wooded cabin, after-school classroom, study … the common element seems to be the ability to wall the world out long enough to hear the voices within. In my back-of-the-Jeep days I was writing journalism; I needed to hear the outside world because it was informing what I was producing. I needed the hustle, the rhythm of chaos. Writing fiction, I seem to need more peace. (Case in point: There is a jackhammer operator outside my house right now who is clearly not respecting my creative process.) 
     So, yes, Virginia, I have a room. I got mine, writers; how's yours?


  1. Great post, Rob. I, too, crave the silence. However, my room is my car, parked by the docks at the edge of town. The water sloshing beneath the warped boards is soothing, and the crab fishermen don't often speak when pulling up the traps. Add a cup of coffee and I'm good to go for hours.

  2. Writing room in the front of the house ... start at 3:30 a.m. and all is quiet (the bulk of the good writing ends about 6:00 a.m.) ... but I keep playing (off and on) until i'm gassed (about 10:30-11:00 a.m.). Long walk, reading, the gym, more reading and I pick write (stuff I can't let go of) the rest of the day until my eyes grow tired. That encompasses all the writing though (fiction, research, my dopey blog, blog wars, etc.) ...

  3. I used to have a room of my own -- before it became the nursery. Since the twins' arrival, I've given up all fancy notions of having my own time and space ;) and now will write whenever I can snatch a moment. Frequently this means typing up notes on my phone while feeding them, or scribbling down a quick scene on a notepad while out for a walk (and hoping they don't wake up b/c the stroller stopped moving).

    The bulk of my writing gets done on my treadmill desk - during nap time or after bedtime.

  4. Where does one find a treadmill desk?