A Shed of One’s Own
June 27, 2019 § 6 Comments
I have coveted a writing cabin ever since I read about Rick Bass’s cabin in his book The Wild Marsh. He wrote about getting up at 5AM to write in a log cabin that overlooked the marsh—the same marsh he was writing essays about. It was not just a writing location but also an inspiration—a dynamite combination.
Then I read Michael Pollan’s A Place of My Own, which chronicled his building of an architecturally designed writing shed in his backyard. While he went somewhat over the top and took over two years to complete it, I identified wholeheartedly with the need for a writing hideout. Last year I discovered that author Kathleen Dean Moore has a writing cabin on her property in Oregon, a modern-looking cube designed and built by her daughter and looking out over a wetland. Moore notes that she only writes by hand in her writing cabin, exploring ideas around silence and the comfort of wild places. Most recently, I met a friend in Victoria, British Columbia who has a cramped but functional writing shed in her backyard, complete with space heater for our damp, cool winters, from which she writes about her many travel adventures.
I started to visualize my own writing shed. Something small enough to be cozy and somewhat hidden in nature. Something simple with a view—perhaps of the marsh at the bottom of our property. Something quiet and sunlit. I work by hand out there, framing essays on scrap paper, journaling in my notebook, and enjoying the view from the front window and the sounds of nature. Sounds romantic, doesn’t it?
It made me think of the shed movement in the UK, where people build sheds in their back gardens for a range of artistic pursuits—writing, sculpting, pottery, fiber arts and more. I began to dream of a “cabin of my own,” to paraphrase Virginia Woolf.
This spring my husband and I decided we’d build a writing cabin. We picked out an initial location, then moved to a new one for better views of the marsh (views which have now disappeared as the willow and alder continue to fill in the shoreline). We laid out some pieces of wood to mark the dimensions of the cabin in the grass. Then we began debating whether it was worth the cost of putting up a new building.
Could I somehow re-purpose an existing space on the property?
Turned out I could: the garden shed was big enough to carve out a small corner for writing, while the rest of the space holds garden tools, plant pots, weed whackers, gloves, hose sprayers, etc.
The shed just needed more light, and a proper desktop. Serendipitously, we found a free window at the side of the road to replace the 2’ x 3’ one at the front of the shed. The new window is 3’ x 5’, which makes the interior much brighter. We moved the original 2’ x 3’ front window to the side of the shed, replacing a 2’ x 2’ window. We installed a countertop of sanded, old wood that had been lying around our property, and covered the corner walls with faux shiplap—actually 1” x 4” fence rails that have an aged patina and add to the character of “the writing corner.” Finally, we painted the floor white so that light would reflect off it.
The best part is that the shed has a porch, so I can take my writing practice outside into the midst of the vegetable garden if I so choose. Maybe I’ll catch sight of the rabbit I suspect is pilfering some of my leafy greens.
But why is it so important to have a writing corner? Why not just write in my basement office, or outside on the front porch—both of which I do regularly?
Because in my basement office, I am distracted by my computer sitting behind me. I feel the bulk of it pressing on my mind, waiting for me to fall down the rabbit hole of Twitter or Facebook. I have to discipline myself when the computer is turned on, to only transcribe longhand notes into a Word document to write an essay or book review.
I need time away from the computer to generate new ideas, to learn what I’m really thinking about. In my writing corner, I have no choice but to write longhand, and rakes and shovels somehow don’t have the same clarion call as social media. I also find that, like Kathleen Dean Moore, the silence is inspiring. Unlike on the front porch to write, I don’t hear traffic noise inside the shed—just birds investigating the garden and trying to get at the blueberries and strawberries before we have a chance to eat them.
Now my writing practice is combined with my other favorite activity: gardening. From the front window, I can watch the veggie garden explode into growth over the summer season. From the side window I can see our perennial garden, a mass of flowers on a rocky slope.
I realize that having a writing corner is a privilege. I feel I need to live up to that privilege, to make the most of having a space of my own and the time to enjoy it. I expect to be more prolific, more thoughtful, digging deeper than I’ve dug before. I have sample book chapters to write, and a residency proposal to put together, and I can see those coming together nicely in the writing corner, where I have nothing to distract me from my mission, and everything to support my writing practice.
Sarah Boon‘s work has appeared in Outside Magazine, Catapult, The Millions, Alpinist Magazine, Longreads, LA Review of Books, Chicago Review of Books, Literary Hub, and more. She is currently working on a book about her adventures in remote field research and blogs at Watershed Moments.
A “She Shed” has become such an alliterative joke that it’s being used in insurance commercials, but Virginia Wolf had a great point. I am forming a sewing room now, which may become a writing corner as well. Just having the place ready should make me more committed to doing both! (And if it weren’t so hot right now, I’d weed the garden!)
What a wonderful place! Proof you don’t need more that a good view, a desk, space for some necessary books, and time away from the dishwasher, washing machine, piles of mail and the house phone. I have a tiny converted bunk house, and hide away for hours there to write, read and dream.
We live in a rented townhouse so a writing shed is not in the future. I am lucky to have an office in the guest room where I have a nice beech tree to look with the occasional squirrel for entertainment. We do what we can with what we have.
I love the transformation you described. When we bought our house, I turned the smallest spare room into my office, decorated it in white and light colors and positioned the desk lengthwise from the window. I write on my laptop, and leave my phone charging elsewhere. I Write more productively with low background noise, however having a hearing impairment I have become accustomed to ‘tuning out’ things I dont need to hear.
Love the article on the writing shed or a place of one’s own without a computer and a phone. Just writing long hand and allowing feelings to pour from the heart. Made me really think about a place of my own. My study has become too complicated and too many things going on. Thank you for writing it, Gena Bradford
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