Monday, 1 February 2010

A Room of my own.

Until quite recently The Guardian ran a regular feature on Writer’s Rooms. The writer described the carefully chosen artefacts – the meaningful print on the wall, the careful alignment of chair and desk. It added a great new excuse to my reasons for never quite getting around to trying to write a book. Obviously I couldn’t even get started until I’d got my Room.Virginia Woolf was right.
Then I got the idea for Joe. There was one problem. Not only did I not have My Room, I didn’t even have a computer. The old one we’d had in Amsterdam hadn’t taken well to the move, and was punishing us by deleting data and refusing to access the internet. Plus it was sitting in an attic that was full of boxes and either far too hot or icy cold. We’d bought a new laptop, but my husband was working from home and had colonised it, plus the available space, in a messy room that was already tripling up as spare room, play area and storage.
Never mind. I informed him that he would be sharing the laptop. We negotiated a timetable every day. I wrote Joe in snatched half-hour bursts here and there. Handover times were tense, and it wasn’t wise to try and grab extra minutes.
Often the only way to reach my self-imposed target for the day was to grab the computer at 10pm. Much of the editing was done between 6 and 7am, before the others woke up.
It was infuriating, exhausting, uncomfortable, it put great strain on our marriage - and it worked. Knowing that I had limited time made me immensely productive. Being unable to access the computer for much of the day gave me lots of time to think about the story. Once I got to sit down and work, the book seemed to write itself.
When I got a two-book deal, and a deadline for writing the second book we decided to invest in another laptop. My husband kept the room though, and I set up camp on the dining table. What a disaster! Not only was my ‘Room’ regularly invaded by people munching toast or watching television, but with more time available I didn’t use it as well. With a few hours of laptop use stretching out ahead of me, I found it all to easy to be distracted by Facebook, Twitter and blogs. I told myself that it was important to build up a network of contacts. Before long I was doing better at social networking than I was with pushing on with the story.
And then I dropped my laptop. It flew off the dining table and smashed onto the floor. While it was being mended I was back to sharing my husband's computer. And, lo and behold, I was using my time much more efficiently. With only an hour to write, Facebook went on the back burner.
I know just what my Room is going to look like. It’s small, with white walls and stripped floorboards. One wall is shelves, floor to ceiling. They’re going to hold my books and the wooden Noah’s Ark with beautiful carved animals that my family bought for my 40th birthday. On one wall I’m going to have a mood board for photos and post cards. And by the window a big clear tidy desk, with my laptop.
Unfortunately the room I have in mind is presently occupied by my son (who hates it) and it won’t be available until we can afford a loft conversion. Or he leaves home. He’s only ten. Luckily The Guardian has dropped the Writer’s Room series.
But maybe a Writer’s Room isn’t what I need. Maybe I work best in short bursts of time with no distracting internet. I’m going to try working in cafes and libraries this week, see how I get on. Perhaps I’m the sort of writer who works best with no Room at all. Perhaps Virginia Woolf was wrong.


  1. I work best when I'm inspired. If I reach a point where I can't go on and then experience a Eureka moment, then I'm off and nothing stops me.
    My first computer cost €50 from a mate. It lost data, broke down constantly and used the Windows 95 operating system... this was seven years ago.
    How did I manage, you ask?
    Inspiration I answer.

  2. I find that I work best when I really have to! i.e. when I have a deadline looming and I have no choice but just to sit down and write. For some reason the pressure seems to get my creative juices flowing. I have to work in silence though.

    Kate x

  3. Know exactly what you mean about the arty photos. I would stare at the SPACE so many of these writers seem to have - the acres of built-in bookshelves - the antique desk - the Indian rugs...
    Still, a room of one's own is good even if tiny - I annexed our spare room, 8ft by 8, and can barely turn around (you certainly couldn't get a camera in) but at least I can shut the door. (When I've pushed all the boxes out of the way.)

  4. It's strange, when I work at home (in my office, lucky me) I have to have complete silence. However, if I set up camp in a cafe I can block out the outside noise. Strange how the writing brain works...

    Mariam Vossough

  5. Brilliant post! How I laughed when you talked about waiting until your son left home and then I read he was only ten! It is funny, isn't it, how we work so much better when we have no time? I do have an office because I work from home so I guess it's my writing room too. It's also the spare room though so I'm often thrown out. I dream of my own proper writing room that I don't have to share. I suppose it had better be internet free!

  6. Your Room sounds PERFECT! But, as you say, maybe you don't need it. Still, it would be nice though, wouldn't it?

    Hopefully my Room is closer to becoming a reality, but I'm slightly concerned I'll just end up with a lovely room with lots of books, where not a lot of writing gets done. It'll look great though!

  7. I definitely work best without Internet. And late at night when everyone is asleep. But to have a room of your own is bliss!

  8. Enjoyed this. Interesting what you say about the time away from your computer to think about where something is going. I don't do that enough. And you've got me excited at the prospect of one day having a writer's room.

  9. I think the answer is to have a Room but never spend any time in it...

  10. I'm looking forward to hearing how you get on. From your tweet yesterday, it sounds like so far so good.

  11. Yesterday - noisy cafe, one hour - rewrote article and wrote tons of outline for new book.
    Today - daughter home from school, off sick. TV blaring most of the day. Did some mild admin and lots of twitter, Facebook and emails. Will get back to outline when kids go to bed.

  12. You are officially my muse Keren David!

    The time limit thing makes sooo much sense - I'm going to try it.

    I used to use the whole 'room' idea as a way to put off writing. I mean how could I be expected to produce anything decent when my environment wasn't decorated as it should be?!

    Turns out it isn't even a room that works for me now anyway. It's sitting in my tower looking out to an amazing view that inspires me. Seems I didn't know myself as well as I thought.

    Rapunzel x

  13. Never been a muse before...Rapunzel, I have view envy.

  14. Sounds a great room, mine would need a view over a lake too. And have constant hot chocolate available. And fresh scones. I'd never get any work done.