No Room of One’s Own

February 6, 2015 § 11 Comments


IMG_5894The moment I remember most from grad school was sitting at a local restaurant, after a reading from a noted writer. I was at that time fighting my biological clock, at the stage where babies passing in strollers and babies in the arms of others and even babies in saccharine television commercials made me weep with a weird, unwelcome longing. The noted writer had a child, and I asked her, or rather told her in the way that grad students assert their beliefs, “I’ve been thinking about having a baby but I worry that it will take all my writing time.”

The writer said, “I worried about that, too, but actually he makes me use my time more wisely. I used to wake up whenever, read the paper, make breakfast, linger with a cup of tea, and now it’s like He’s down for a nap I have 20 minutes GO! It really is how you use the time.”

It’s been years since grad school, and I’m in the process of leaving my more-than-full-time job to focus on writing. The leaving is harder than I thought it would be, given that I’m self-employed and trying to pass a successful business to another person. Plus, I like it. I’ve freed up some time, but more writing does not seem to be happening. I’ve taken on hundred-hour editing jobs, desperate to still make money despite having a supportive partner with a decent salary, despite having saved for years to make a cushion large enough to give me a year, perhaps two, without having to hafta-hafta-make-money.

Clearly, it’s not a need for solitude that’s hindering me. Yet moving into a new life, accepting writing as my job, feels strange. Shouldn’t I sit at a desk, contemplating wildlife through my window until the spirit moves me? Shouldn’t I be taking X hours per day, five days a week? Going to the coffee shop without having to escape anything doesn’t feel like I’m doing it right.

At the Los Angeles Times, Susan Straight writes on the mythos of a room of one’s own, and how she instead fit writing into the physical and temporal spaces that she could:

I wrote in my green Mercury Villager van, with headlights that made it look like a shark at night, according to the girls who waited for me to pick them up from practice for everything children can practice for. For 24 years I wrote not while driving but while waiting in parking lots for hours — basketball and tennis and doctor appointments and hospitals, Girl Scouts and plays, driving exams and prom nights (2 a.m.! A whole chapter!), writing in my notebooks.

…The whole time, I waited to be alone. Writers were alone. They woke with the sunrise, drank coffee, wrote alone, thought alone, listened to music they chose, and in the evening drank something impressive while writing into the night. Alone. Real novelists, those we admire, those we consider timeless in their language and character and scene, those who receive accolades for inventive language and form, have writing lives we imagine in specific ways. I imagine these, even now, listening to writers being interviewed.

I joked all the time about writing in my car, about never having been to a writers colony but having finished my third and fourth novels in cheap motels…

I write in coffee shops, having found the quietness of my own room unbearable. I want to look up and see other people also writing, or studying, or thinking, or chatting. I write in my car on long stretches of interstate, irresponsibly scribbling one-handed on a napkin against the steering wheel, trying not to honk the horn. I write while walking, repeating a sentence or a story over and over to remember it until I get to paper or the keyboard. And I try to remember, it’s OK, as long as you’re doing it, you’re doing it right.

Read Susan Straight’s essay On Learning to Write Without a Room of One’s Own.

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Allison Williams is Brevity’s Social Media Editor.

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§ 11 Responses to No Room of One’s Own

  • Jan Priddy says:

    When I am deep into an essay or story or poem, it is on my my continuously, whatever I am actually doing at the time. I carry my journal with me everywhere, with my fountain pen tucked into the spiral spine. The pen was a gift from my husband and it’s a miracle I have kept it for nearly twenty years. The journals fill up and are retired to a shelf. I have mislaid journal-and-pen several times in the past 25 years. It has always come back.

    Perhaps one day, when I retire, I might revisit my journals. I have stories started there that I did not have time to finish. I have fragments of poetry. But mostly I have lists, lists of work I must do—this to be completed before I can begin that. The “thats” are often writing assignments made to myself. Promises.

    I keep my promises.

  • Reblogged this on Burlesque Press and commented:
    I love this piece – the author is the social media manager over at Brevity. Follow her on Twitter @GuerillaMemoir. And while you’re at it, make sure you’re following us too @1burlesquepress!

  • ryderziebarth says:

    Grad school is teaching me to be disciplined. Nothing beats a looming deadline. But I cannot write out of my element–my bed in the morning, early, and my shed in the summer and fall afternoons. I also “write” continuously in the air on walks, in my car on gas receipts, but the actually typing has to be done at a certain time and in a certain place. I would love to change that. best of luck on your new journey.

  • pmdello says:

    I write everywhere, in the market on a sticky note containing my grocery list, while watching Downton Abbey on my iPad, or lying on the sofa early in the AM, coffee cup nearby and a small notepad at hand. I’ll even write when at the infusatorium, receiving chemo. Procrastination seizes me when I’ve free time, though it’s ideal for revising.

  • FinickyFeet says:

    Susan Straight was my mentor in grad school. She used to tell us this all the time, and I even saw the van for myself. I also firmly believe in writing wherever you are. Just do it. In fact, I’m going to go write right now! What am I doing here reading blogs? Thank you for reminding me to get to work.

  • […] “No Room of One’s Own” via Brevity’s Nonfiction Blog […]

  • Thank you Alison. The utopian vision of that quiet defies the reality of daily life. I have quiet this month as both my kids are away, but the grittiness of real life, open doors and human interchange fill me. I work best with a bit of each in my days. xo S

  • Cara says:

    Inspiration doesn’t seem to come from quiet rooms for me. It’s in the crazy moments at my job, the loud arguments with my family. Which is why all my writing seems to really happen in those desperate moments of finding a pen to jam out the ideas before I get the chance to sit quietly and think, and have it all disappear. I love it.

  • Nichole L. Reber says:

    ‘He makes me use my time more wisely. I used to wake up whenever, read the paper, make breakfast, linger with a cup of tea, and now it’s like He’s down for a nap I have 20 minutes GO! It really is how you use the time.”’
    I don’t have kids– don’t even like children– but this is the most positive thing I’ve ever heard about the realities of parenthood. Love the pragmatic approach!

  • sara says:

    Parenthood definitely forces you to prioritise your time! Also, I wonder if those writers you are talking about, those mighty writers with all that time, were they men? Apart from Virginia Woolfe of course🙂 Women, generally speaking don’t have acres of time. We have to squeeze our writing in around things. I don’t mind that – I like to have a full and varied life. It feeds my writing.

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