Do you wish for “a room of one’s own?”
Are you a writer who has felt cramped about not having a dedicated space for writing?
You have read about writing spaces and have longed for one.
An outside writing space
An outside writing space sounds great to me—and a luxury I am not willing to wait for. In fact, I have never used outside writing rooms—except for once when I borrowed a summer home for week and finished a book there as I wrote ALL day. Being there was very productive as I had nothing else to do. It was either write or be bored. The book had been stalled and it raced to the finish line in that week.
The impetus to write much was not the space; it was the schedule. This “nothing else to do” is something I can replicate—albeit only partially—at home. A dedicated outside space—such as a room in a writing center or in a library—would certainly provide focus but since it would not have eating and sleeping facilities would require returning home.
Virginia Wolf, of course, wrote her long essay A Room of One’s Own in which she expounded that a woman must have a room of her own to write in. Must we imagine poor Virginia Wolf pushing the butter dish to the center of the breakfast table and, having scooped the toast crumbs, starting to write Mrs Dalloway or To the Lighthouse on the edge of her chair as Leonard and the kids ran around.
If only she had a room of her own!
But, a close look will not find screaming kids in Virginia Wolf’s life, and nor, I suspect, will we learn that Leonard was a boisterous man. We will find to the contrary that Virginia Wolf did not write on the edge of the breakfast table after being careful to wipe away butter smear off the table. As we wander through her house, we will discover an empty dining room that might have lent itself to copious writing, a library with table and chairs and solitude, a number of spare bedrooms one of which that could easily have been converted into a writing room.
What we will discover as we come across a cook and a maid to free her from the burdens of everyday life was that this woman was well-to-do. It was an easy thing for her to say to her help, “Madam is writing. She is not to be disturbed.”
Virginia Wolf was not referring to not having an actual room to write in (there were many choices in her home). She was referring to class privilege that was not available to her. She wanted a room such as in a gentlemen’s club in London. She had, of course, every right to such a room and it is to that class privilege she is referring.
A very English class consciousness
A Room of One’s Own is very English in its very class focus. It is about accessing privilege from which she was excluded (not fair!) and is not about having to struggle to write in rooms populated by others as one learns Tillie Olsen had to do. (In her journal, Wolf once wrote about seeing an accident and being relieved that it had not been a lady who was hit but only a char woman. I have never forgotten that prizing one life over another.)
Wolf’s collection of essays that make up the book are based on lectures delivered at Cambridge University—hardly a milieu that would have stimulate Wolf to look sympathetically at the lives of less-well-heeled women (or men for that matter).
As a less well-heeled person than upper-middle-class Wolf, I would have been very satisfied, I am sure, with the any of the extra spaces she had in her spacious home—and I presume many of you reading this would, too.
Space can contribute to writing but not having a room of one’s own need not exclude the possibility of producing well and producing voluminously.
We have helped many people whose lives demanded to be recorded but who themselves were not writers to create interesting and well-written memoirs.
We listen to you speak your story. We ask you a multitude of questions. Then we get to work writing. We come back to you with text and you make lots of corrective comments and we ask you a whole lot of new questions. Then, we go back to writing again.
Over time, your story develops into a memoir—one that you have shaped at every stage of the writing process.
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