Me, my “writing room”, and our weird relationship

A Room Of One's Own

As some of you may know, I have just gone into my third year of study for a PhD in Creative Writing. As well as putting up with being told numerous times that Creative Writing can’t be taught, much less turned into a legitimate subject for postgraduate study (a whole other story), this means I have to do a lot of writing. And a lot of reading. And some more writing. By the end of my studies I must produce 70 pages of poems, and an academic thesis, which I have chosen to write on contemporary female poets (primarily Scottish contemporary female poets) + history, tradition, identity (personal, social, political, national, international) + Margaret Atwood. All that stuff = a lot of writing.

However, it was only a few weeks ago that Lovely Boyfriend and I agreed that it might be a good idea for me to have “a writing room.” And frankly, I’m already finding the whole thing a bit weird.

Well quite. How pretentious and hipster-y of you,
says the cynical voice in my head. A bit like the eighteen typewriters and piles of records and CDs I own, a writing room feels like a horribly privileged, self-indulgent and, let’s face it, rather hipster-y thing to have. Have I really come so far in five years? I used to live with The Artist Formerly Known As The Boy in a tiny one-room bedsit: a flat so small that if one of you threw something you were pretty much guaranteed to hit the other person (we tested this theory sometimes when there was nothing on TV). I barely had a cubic foot of space to call my own, let alone an entire room (although, I did have a kick-ass roof garden), and yet I managed to get my writing done just fine. These days I have a great big living room with a huge bay window complete with panoramic view. Why can’t I just sit there and write?

But then… what about Virginia Woolf?
She did, after all, pen the immortal line, “A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.” OK, so I’m not writing fiction, but bear with me for a second. Good old VW claimed that the lack of women’s writing in the canon was down to the fact that women were never given access to the time, space or means to write in the same way that men were. If a man decided he wanted to become a poet, he was admirably committing his life to serving the Muse. If a woman decided she wanted to become a poet, she got a straitjacket. For the big bad Woolf, a room of one’s own in which to write was something women ought to demand. I daresay if she caught me feeling sheepish about my “writing room,” she’d give me a damn good dressing-down.

So wait… having a writing room is a radical gesture of literary sisterhood?
No, not really. I think Virginia Woolf’s ideas about building designated women-only spaces as a way to facilitate female creativity are still pertinent, but if I’m honest, I don’t think those ideas really apply to privileged college grads converting their lofts and filling them with cushions and “inspiration boards”. We should still be demanding that creative women have rooms of their own, but women who are homeless, impoverished, deprived of education or otherwise unfairly disadvantaged are more the kind of people who should be first in line for these kinds of spaces. If anything, I have a room of my own and then some: I should be offering up some of the space I’m hoarding to women for whom the idea of “a room of one’s own” is nothing more than an indulgent daydream.

Oh come on… like anyone would want that space anyway!
Well, true. It’s pretentious of me to refer to it as a “writing room” anyway, as actually, it’s just the spare bedroom and it’s not exactly inspiring. It’s a handy place to keep all my piles and piles of academic books, but it’s also kind of handy for hanging laundry and storing boxes and clean bedding. “Writing room” is a pretty glamorous term for a glorified boxroom with a lot of damp socks hanging in it. We’re back to the pretentious thing all over again.

Er yeah… not to mention the fact that it’s “your” writing room.
This bothers me too. Lovely Boyfriend pays exactly half of the rent on our flat, but he doesn’t get a space of his own. And what’s he supposed to do when I shut myself in the spare room with a big stack of books and a warning not to disturb/distract me? I guess he probably welcomes the opportunity to play Assassin’s Creed. But when The Artist Formerly Known As The Boy turned our then-boxroom into a “boy room”, into which he would retreat in order to spend hours focussing on his F1 sim, I got kinda resentful. What makes my “writing room” any different?

So why have a writing room at all then, you weirdo?
Well… it’s handy to have all my academic books in one place, within reach, and sitting at a desk rather than on a comfy chair makes me feel more productive and focussed. Our wi-fi connection is patchy in the spare room, which means that trying to distract myself with Twitter is very annoying rather than very appealing. And I can control how light/dark or quiet the room is: Lovely Boyfriend doesn’t have to turn off the TV just because I’m working, and I can seek out poetry readings on Youtube without bothering him. Also, I’m a terrible procrastinator and would sometimes rather clean my skirting boards than devote a full day to writing my thesis. So by giving myself a space to go into and write, I’m trying to make it feel like “going to work” — like it’s something I have to do whether I like it or not.

I’m still not 100% sold on the idea. What do you guys think? Do any of you have specific spaces set aside to write in? How do you feel about that? What are the pros and cons? I want to hear your thoughts — get thee to the comments box!


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3 Responses to “Me, my “writing room”, and our weird relationship”

  1. Harry Giles Says:

    There’s nothing at all unusual or reprehensible about wanting your own office space — poetry is your job, and you need somewhere to do it! Poetry being an unusual job, it needs an unusual office — and different kinds of office for different poets. Putting this a different way: would you ever consider a professional visual artist pretentious or privileged for wanting their own studio? Probably not. In visual arts, the physical need for space is more obvious; in writing, that need is more mental, but it’s still a need (and mental=physical anyway of course).

    > I should be offering up some of the space I’m hoarding to
    > women for whom the idea of “a room of one’s own” is nothing
    > more than an indulgent daydream.

    You and I and many in the minority world deal with our privilege all the time. Anyone wiith halfway radical views has to find ways of coping with (not justifying, but coping with) those guilts on a daily basis. A damp sock loft is hardly the most extreme of your privileges!

    But if you *do* feel a need to alleviate that guilt, why not do exactly what you say? Offer scheduled free time and space in your loft to a writer who wants some but doesn’t have any?

  2. Alison Summers Says:

    I too am doing a PhD in Creative Writing (second year at Newcastle). I’m writing an experimental novel and a conventional novel on the subject of dementia. I did have a notion of turning my spare bedroom into a writing room and moved in a bookcase,turned a dressing table into a desk and put up inspirational quotes on the wall. I have never written in it. My excuse is that it is too cold. I also cleared the dining table in my sitting room “to work at”. That lasted about twenty four hours as my dining chair is horribly uncomfortable. I also purchased a lovely bureau desk “to work at”. That lasted only a short time for the same reason as the diining table. The majority of the time I work with a laptop on my lap (! ) sitting on the sofa. Other times I work in bed. I sometimes wonder if I ought to buy a proper typist’s chair–but would I sit on it?

  3. R Jones Says:

    Hi Claire

    I have a writing room at home which I have called an “office” so as to make it seem like I’m doing work. The problem is, though, that I can’t enter it “to write”, it’s just too unnatural to me. Usually these things just come when sat on the bus or in the street.

    I hope yours works out a little better! I agree with you that it’s very handy to have your books in one space, and at least you’ve somewhere to put all those typewriters.