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Do Writers Need A Room of Their Own?

Flickr Creative Commons: May Mudawi

A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction–Virginia Woolf

As an only child, I always had my own room. There were many, many rooms during the years when my father was a golf course construction supervisor. Some were cramped and generic, others included an adjoining bathroom or even a private balcony. One, at a ski resort, was technically its own rental unit with a separate address from my parents. At nine I had the entire second floor of our condo, which included two bedrooms, a bathroom, and a loft, though I usually hung out in the storage nook halfway down the staircase, which I also claimed. At our house in Maine, half the basement was mine. Not such a prize, as I had orange shag carpeting, no door, and a quarter of my space was taken up by the woodstove, which meant my winter sleeping quarters were five degrees hotter than hell. My dad eventually finished the basement and built me a proper room because he’s awesome like that.

I read, wrote, and drew constantly as a kid.

When I started college, my parents literally lived on the other side of the world—Thailand. Everything I owned had to be hauled to Missouri and stuffed into a shared dorm room. (Apologies to my roommate, who never complained.)

All creativity vanished.

Eventually, I had my own apartment and wrote a rough draft of my first (literary vomit) novel in three months.

When I married, my “room” shrunk to a shared office. Two kids later I downsized to a cramped computer armoire tucked into the corner of a cluttered common room, the TV mere steps away. I responded to e-mail while the Little Einsteins theme song played in the background and took social media “breaks” when the hubby watched The Walking Dead. I wrote during those brief, precious hours when I had the house to myself, with frequent interruptions to let the dogs in, out, and back in again. Damn squirrels!

A single draft took years to accomplish. I feared I’d never have a successful writing career at that pace.

Other writers I knew, both female and male, have expressed similar frustrations when they lack a room of their own. What makes this room so essential for creativity?

Having a dedicated space is a signal to yourself that writing is not an idle hobby that you peck away at between household chores or doom-scrolling Twitter sessions. Ideally, there should be no Twitter allowed in this space. It is a place you go to work.

Having a dedicated space is a signal to everyone else in the household that writing is not an idle hobby you peck away at between household chores or doom-scrolling Twitter sessions. It is your job, regardless of whether it brings in an income, and should be treated with the same respect as any other job. If the door is closed or noise canceling headphones are on, you are working. Boundaries should only be crossed only for emergencies.

Having a dedicated space allows for disengagement from the world. Focus can be in short supply under the best of circumstances. None of us are living that right now. 2020 is an awful year on so many levels between this nightmare election and the disruption of this pandemic. We are all grieving, be it for lost loved ones, lost jobs, lost vacations and canceled milestones. In a world where even the act of going out for coffee with a friend is a calculated risk, there’s a lot of free-floating anxiety in the air. Creative types are generally more sensitive to all that negative energy. We need a buffer.

Having a dedicated space allows us to world-build in a visual way. We can surround ourselves with photographs of our settings or characters and wallpaper our whiteboards with sticky note maps of our plotlines. If we thrive on clutter, we can keep our research and notes spread out or piled up. If we crave order, we can tuck everything neatly away at the end of each day.

Of course, all this is easier said than done in many households, as it was in mine until a couple of months ago. I write this while sitting in a comfortable chair, in a silent room, and behind a closed door. A mug of tea and burning candle sit to my right and two of my great-grandfather’s paintings hang to my left. My writing craft books and TBR books are all in here with me. I can even read in bed.

A blog post that would normally take me two days to write has taken two hours. I’m certain that’s because I finally have a room of my own.

What about you? Do you need your own space in order to be productive? What do you use as an office? What would be your ideal space? Can you make that happen?

About Kim Bullock [1]

Kim (she/her) has an M.A. in English from Iowa State University. She writes mainly historical fiction, though has also contributed non-fiction articles to historical and Arts and Crafts publications in both the United States and Canada. She has just finished The Unfinished Work of M.A. [2], a novel based on the rather colorful life of her great-grandfather, landscape painter Carl Ahrens.

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