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.