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a room of one's own

A Room of One’s Own to Write Memoir In

Are you a writer who has felt cramped because you do not have a dedicated space for writing your memoir?

You have read about writing spaces and have longed for one, but do you really need one?

An outside writing space

An dedicated writing space sounds great to me—and a luxury I am not willing to let my writing wait for. In fact, I have never used outside writing rooms (also known as “office”—except for once when I borrowed a summer home for week and finished The Photo Scribe / How to Write the Stories Behind Your Photos there as I wrote ALL day. Being at that oceanside house 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.

But, the impetus to write so much 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, an office in another building or conference room in a library—would certainly provide focus, but since none of these would not have eating and sleeping facilities, they would require returning home.

Many of us have heard of Virginia Woolf, of course, who 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. Her writing has sometimes been hailed as a manifesto for how women especially need to have a “room of one’s own.”

Perhaps, dear reader, you imagine poor, plaintive Virginia Woolf pushing the butter dish to the center of the breakfast table and, having scooped the toast crumbs to the side, starting to write Mrs Dalloway or To the Lighthouse on the edge of her chair as her husband Leonard and the kids  ran around. Perhaps you imagine her imploring them to give her some peace and quiet.

If only she had a room of her own!

But, a close look will not find screaming kids in Virginia Woolf’s life (she did not have any), and nor, I suspect, will we learn that Leonard was a boisterous man. We will find to the contrary that Virginia Woolf did not write on the edge of the breakfast table after being careful to wipe away butter smears off the surface. As we wander through her house, we will discover an empty dining room that might have lent itself  to copious writing, a library with tables and chairs and solitude, and a number of spare bedrooms one of which that could easily have been converted into a writing room for this writer who did not have a “room of one’s own.”.

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.”

So, why did this woman (who lived a life life readers of this blog have ever lived) need “a room of one’s own?”

Ultimately, Virginia Woolf 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. Leonard had such a room but there was no club room available to her.

A very English class consciousness

A Room of One’s Own is very English in its 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, Woolf 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—”lady”—over another—”a char woman.”)

Woolf’s collection of essays that make up the book are based on lectures delivered at Cambridge University—hardly a milieu that would have stimulated Woolf 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 Woolf, 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. We would consider her options to be numerous.

Back to your need for a dedicated space

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.

Action Steps

  1. Accept that lamenting you can’t write because you don’t have a space is an excuse not to write.
  2. Make use of times and spaces that are available to you to write. Perhaps you and your husband are retired.When does he go out to play golf or have coffee with the boys? Use that time to write. The library is around the corner? Go there to write.
  3. Writing can certainly benefit from props, but you can write without props. Forget about Virginia Woof’s “A Room of One’s Own.” Make your own time and space. (Apparently having to write in her home’s library instead of in a club office did not impair her production. If you want to read about how a writer can be impaired by lack of resources, read Tillie Olsen’s Silences.)

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2 Responses to A Room of One’s Own to Write Memoir In

  1. Avatar
    Francie King January 29, 2020 at 9:22 AM #

    Denis, this was great! Using no-writing-room was once a serious excuse for me too … but no more. You take out your notepad or whatever device you have and WRITE, wherever you are (the subway, the park, the basement, the kitchen while the bread is rising …). Thank you for the reminder!

  2. Avatar
    Denis Ledoux January 29, 2020 at 1:06 PM #

    Absolutely. When there’s a will, there’s a way. Keep writing—but I know you will.

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