Make room for writing

If you really want to write, you will do it anywhere: under trees, on the bus, in the bathroom, or in a booth at a noisy cafe.

First published in 1929, A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf is often reduced to a catchphrase for writers and architects who have not even read the book. Originally penned as two lectures, Woolf’s landmark essay asserts that every woman writer should have a substantial income and a room of her own if she is to produce literature worthy of publication and readership.

Furthermore, Woolf said, women who want to write ought to be given the freedom to travel and they must have plenty of idle time for daydreaming and creating. That was very progressive talk for the 1920s.

And while it is not exactly earth shattering today, A Room of One’s Own is still considered a major milestone for women writers. Whenever I am asked to name 10 books that changed my life, this one never fails to top the list.

Excuses, excuses!

Not surprisingly, the subject of finding or creating the perfect writing space” always comes up in the writing workshops I teach. Sadly, not having a room of one’s own is the most popular excuse for not writing anything. I have met a few self-described procrastinators who have an extra guest room, for instance, but insist they cannot work there because it is poorly lit, uninspiring, too small, too cluttered, too close to the neighbor’s window, or cursed with bad feng shui.

But sooner or later, every serious writer arrives at this truth: If you really want to write, you will do it anywhere: under trees, on the bus, in the bathroom, or in a booth at a noisy cafe. Serious writers need only a pen and a notebook to get started. And nothing – not even a bad view or ugly curtains – will stop us.

That said, I believe Virginia Woolf made an excellent point about the need for peace and privacy, and she did not even have kids to distract her.

Setting boundaries, closing doors

Working with little ones underfoot is another challenge entirely. When my own son was a toddler, I began freelancing in the damp basement of our 1920s home. If you are a younger parent who is eager to combine writing with motherhood and homemaking, setting up shop at a kids craft table next to the laundry room might sound convenient.

But I quickly discovered this was not what Virginia had in mind.

Working in a murky basement became a metaphor for the way I undervalued my career at the time. Aside from the fact that the ambiance was vaguely reminiscent of Freddy Krueger’s boiler room, my desk was typically littered with construction paper or my preschooler’s science experiments. Settling in to write, I would find blue finger paint or Play-Doh oozing from my paper-clip container. My scissors and rolls of tape mysteriously disappeared.

Meanwhile, the clothes dryer kept buzzing, which did not exactly impress editors when I phoned to pitch stories.

A year later, I moved my office upstairs to a sunroom with windows overlooking the yard. Not so coincidentally, I started taking my work seriously then. My writing became both a career and a vocation. I established a tighter writing schedule and contributed regularly to several local newspapers and national magazines.

Two years ago, my husband generously agreed to renovate my office-sunroom, adding shelves and counter-top space for books, a printer, and office supplies. Most important of all, my home office has a glass door to help establish my boundaries.

Clearing your own space

Every writer is different, so you will have to experiment until you find what works for you.

Not long ago, I met a parenting columnist who was also the brave mother of four little boys. She could not afford to rent a class A office space so picked the cheap office space just ten minutes from her house, which seemed like a brilliant idea at the time. But after three months of commuting back and forth to work and trying to coordinate an awkward breast-feeding schedule, the columnist admitted her new office was not so ideal. The clamor of family life is what kept her energized and motivated.

If you do not have the luxury of a spare bedroom or an attic with a desk, claim a corner of the house where you can focus on your work. Use the area just for writing (or your other creative projects) and keep supplies within easy reach. Put up a folding screen for privacy while you work; or use it to conceal your works-in-progress. Creating an official space for your creative life will dignify your goals and intentions. You will find it easier to follow a routine – and harder to keep making excuses.

If you do not already have a room of your own, can you describe your ideal space – right down to the supplies you would need? What would you have to do to make it a reality?

-Cindy La Ferle

Note: Part of this essay is excerpted from a previously published essay “Home Sweet Office” — which appears in full in my book, Writing Home.

Top photo: a glimpse of my recently remodeled home office in Royal Oak.

9 thoughts on “Make room for writing

  1. I love this piece and it’s good I’m reading now rather than when you post it a few weeks ago.

    Someone asked me last night how a children’s short story was coming along and I moaned about having company in the house for a week and the interruptions.

    My biggest complaint was when I whinged about our company sitting on the couch where I like to write every morning before my husband wakes up. After that I move to my lovely room he built me so I might have a private place for writing, but to hear me tell it last night you’d have thought I could only put words to paper ( or computer screen) if my backside was in one of two place at the right time of day.

    How silly of me … I must get over that!

    Here’s a link to a post with photos of my special room.

  2. That is a fantastic quote! And I can’t wait until I am able to move into a place which has room for just writing. Right now I’m all on top of myself, with kitchen, living, entertainment, bills, boyfriend, and everything in the space where I write.

    Your sunroom sounds delightful!

  3. Very nice. I always thought I’d need the vast space and view. I planned my office space in my recent move, quaint with a secretariat as my desk, other antiques, wood flooring, paintings, french doors looking out onto the patio…. Im finding my bedroom where I can think and express myself the best fit for me. Its warm and cozy and its where I gain the most focus for some reason.

    • Nothing wrong with finding “your space” in the bedroom. When we redid our master bedroom last year, I made it into more of a sanctuary — a place where I like to spend time reading and collecting my wits late in the afternoon. The room is done in shade of cream and white, which is very fresh and restful. But I have to be sure I keep it clean — because bedroom clutter can get to me. In any event, it’s best to work where you’re most comfortable.

  4. This is great. I just saw an author get her workspace organized on a TV show… cool ideas. I took away the “formal living room” in my house and made it my office 10 years ago. Now I notice the same trend in all the neighbors’ houses.. because who lives formally anymore.. hahah. But frankly the best writing I do is… wherever the internet connection is slow or non-existent.

    • I totally agree. I have seen people turn formal dining rooms into libraries and offices too. As long as there is eating space in the kitchen, or elsewhere, who uses it?

  5. I am fortunate to have a room-of-my-own… my current attempt is to do Internet-wandering and email at a ‘standing desk’ I trash-picked from down the block, and reserve the beautiful desk for creative projects. More often, it’s reserved for clutter and cats… but I do some great work in a rocking chair (writing by hand, like morning pages; working out things that are frustrating, including knitting logic/math). Thinking of using the Freedom software to block Internet access for longer duration, but that makes me feel a little… like a loser. (Of course, if I could get longer/deeper bouts of laptop work done, that would be winning!)

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