Writer’s Tools: A Room of One’s Own

MyOfficeVirginia Woolf rather famously said, “A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.”  Even a woman of Woolf’s class needed money (to free herself from the necessity of earning her living) and space (a way to block out the day to day demands of family life, which were damned near unavoidable, and social life) in order to write.  It’s also possible that Woolf was a writer who needed silence and no distractions in order to produce.  But even if a certain amount of bustle isn’t a problem, the constant breaking of focus that family life creates is not so hot for a writer’s process.

The idea that a writer needs a space wasn’t new even then (although Woolf was specifically talking about women, who were not supposed to close out family and friends in order to work).  Traditionally, writers starve in garrets, which must mean they work there, too.  Writers have studios.  Or ateliers.  Or, like Jo March, they write in attics.  Or basements, the danker and moldier the better.

Or at least that was the way things were until the advent of the laptop.

I have a room of my own: it’s a tiny house in the back yard, used by the former owner of our home as a place to groom dogs.  It’s about eight-by-eight, holds my primary reference book shelf, files, and supplies, and a desk to work on.  But in fact, I rarely work there.  It’s too…well, in winter it’s just a little too cold and clammy, even by California standards.  But it’s also too isolated for me.  I like a little bustle around me, as long as it’s not my bustle.  Oddly enough, bustle makes it easier for me to focus than complete silence.

Which is why, after I have fed the dog and sent the young and the restless (my daughter and my husband) off to school/work I do a cruise through my email and internet, then slip my laptop into a bag with my notes and papers, and head off to the local coffee shop.  I’ve been doing this for over a decade–working at home was too distracting, particularly when my kids were small and I had a full-time day job.  In a coffee shop I get the comforting feeling that I am not isolated; there is coffee, there is electricity and even (if I’m feeling disciplined enough to use it without being sucked into the internet) WiFi.  There are neighbors I can nod at amiably, but no one feels the need to interrupt me.  There is noise, but it’s not noise that requires my attention.  And I can write.

I’m not alone, of course.  There are legions of people out there with books and laptops, sitting at Starbucks or the cafe at Barnes and Noble, or at a mom n’ pop coffee shop, or the library (no coffee…) doing their work.  Sometimes, toting my iBook into the shop, I feel like everyone in the world must be a writer or a college student.  But I also know a lot of writers who want to work in their own office, with all their books and bits and pieces around them, and find my way of working…peculiar.

What works for me, obviously, is not what’s going to work for you.  Perhaps you need a desk.  I eschew desks  (in the days when I used a Selectric typewriter–oh! dinosaur tech!–I used to plunk it on my bed and sit before it crosslegged, which probably explains the state my knees are in now) and prefer more free-form arrangements.  Perhaps you need silence in order for words to flow.  Perhaps you need to write longhand (not everyone uses a computer to compose).  Maybe you have a room all your own to work in, or your work is done at a desk in the corner of the dining room, after everyone is asleep (or before they wake–not me, I’m so not a morning person).  Maybe a particular project needs to be written in a new and different place from wherever you wrote the last project.

There’s no right way to write, and no right place.  Where do you like to do your work?


About Madeleine E. Robins

Madeleine Robins is the author of The Stone War, Point of Honour, Petty Treason, and The Sleeping Partner (the third Sarah Tolerance mystery, available from Plus One Press). Her Regency romances, Althea, My Dear Jenny, The Heiress Companion, Lady John, and The Spanish Marriage are now available from Book View Café. Sold for Endless Rue , an historical novel set in medieval Italy, was published in May 2013 by Forge Books


Writer’s Tools: A Room of One’s Own — 3 Comments

  1. I need a large desk in front of my computer screen (in fact the pull=out keyboard affair is ideal) so that my knitting can repose between the keyboard and the screen. You know all those times when you are waiting for something to load, download, boot up, or otherwise process? These moments are usefullly taken up with knitting. Much plot development can be done if the hands are occupied, as well.

  2. Kate Wilhelm used to think aimlessly about plot while doing the dishes, and arrive at her typewriter with the story more or less outlined in her head. I wonder what the advent of a dishwasher into her life might do/have done to her process?