A ROOM OF ONE’S OWN

            By Rosemary Lord

            It was Virginia Wolfe who, in 1929, famously said, “A woman must have money and a room of her own, if she is to write fiction.”

            I thought about that as I de-cluttered my office-space for the umpteenth time, trying to create more writing space. I’d even bought myself a new smaller office chair – petite, chrome with pale gray leather. Much prettier than the traditional tall black swivel chair I’ve had for years. You see, I don’t have an actual office – a separate room – but use the far corner of my living room, surrounded by bookshelves, for my office. It would be nice, I thought, to have a separate office with a door – that I could shut at the end of each work day, and ignore my mess of research papers and note pads.

            Agatha Christie had a lovely, bright office in her sprawling country home, Greenway, on the River Dart in Devon. Now a National Trust property, the view from her office window is of green lawns and masses of colorful wild flowers. But she said she really did her thinking, about her plots and characters, in the huge claw-foot bath-tub in the upstairs Victorian bathroom.

            Men who write fiction need a room of their own, too. I also visited Bateman’s estate: Rudyard Kipling’s Jacobean home in Burwash, Sussex. You can walk into his book-lined study and see his wide writing table covered with travel mementoes, his inkwell, pen and assorted hand-written pages. Next to the table is a daybed, where Kipling would spend part of his writing day reclining and thinking through his books before he committed his tales to paper. Tall windows overlooking rolling fields and farmlands, made the room surprisingly light.

            Beatrix Potter began writing as a very young child, when her nursery was on the top floor of the family’s tall, Victorian London house. (At least she had a room of her own.) She would be brought downstairs to visit with her mother for an hour each afternoon. Her only companions were the household staff. When her lunch (delivered to her room daily on a tray) was late one day, a maid explained “Cook’s got mice in the kitchen!” Beatrix was intrigued: “What’s ‘mice in the kitchen’?” A houseman brought one of the mice in a cage for the little girl to see. The rest, as they say, is history. She asked to keep the caged mouse as company and began to draw the furry creature and write stories about it. Her literary work expanded when, as a teenager, they moved north into the countryside, where she found Mrs. Tiggywinkle and all the other characters she brought us.

            In today’s world, most writers have a room of their own in which to write.  Although Carol  Higgins Clark started out writing on the corner of the kitchen table. She would retype her mother’s (Mary Higgins Clark) novels to send out to her agent. Carol said her mom explained everything she was doing, so that eventually Carol was able to write her own novels and found her own literary success, following her late mom’s very successful path. She now can afford her own office.

            Jackie Collins wrote hugely successful novels set in glamorous Beverly Hills and Hollywood in her equally glamorous office, with big picture windows overlooking Beverly Hills. The furniture was light beige and luxurious, her desk semicircular with a high-back soft beige leather chair. Jackie wrote all her novels by hand on yellow legal pads. She wrote daily from nine to five, with a short lunch break.

jackie-collins-study

            Danielle Steel has not just one Room of Her Own – or office – but two: One is in Paris, where she grew up, and the other in San Francisco. She travels back and forth. The mother of nine now-grown children, Danielle has written almost two hundred books. Her passion for writing has led to an intense schedule. At her desk, built to resemble a stack of her books, Danielle begins at 8 am each day and does not leave until a draft is complete. Sometimes she just stops for four hours sleep and carries on until the book is finished. She wears her comfy cashmere nightgown and eats at her desk, with refills of de-caffeinated iced coffee and a stash of bittersweet chocolate. When she is in San Francisco, she writes on her 1946 Olympia standard typewriter. As I said, Danielle Steele has TWO rooms of her own in which to write her fiction.

danielle-steeles-desk

            I remember visiting fellow Brit-born writer, Jacqueline Winspear. She had a lovely, small home-office, where she wrote many Maisie Dobbs novels. The walls were lined with shelves of books, research, and jumbo post-it notes, with a large table under the window and a comfy chair. Jacqui said that when she shut the door and closed the blinds, she could lose herself back in the Maisie Dobbs world of England in the 1930s.

            I was envious that Jacqui had a room of her own in which to write. A room with a door that she could shut. I remember thinking that if I had a cozy office with a door that I could shut, then I could easily write at least one novel a year – just as Jacquie has done.

            But now, as I settle down again at my table in the corner of the living room and start scribbling another segment of my next Lottie Topaz novel, I look across the room to the patio and the pool outside. I realize that I can’t continue without another cup of tea. Kitchen here I come. Then I have an idea for a contemporary mystery I’m working on set in St. Tropez. You see how quickly I distract myself?

            While other writer friends have churned out dozens of novels, I realize that I have allowed my life and time to be torn in different directions, sorting other people’s problems and dramas. But, hey, I’m getting better. At least I am writing a few times a week, for a couple of snatched hours. I just want to be totally dedicated to writing several hours, every single day, like the aforementioned writers. What’s wrong with me?

            Aha! I have found the real reason behind my lack of focus. I don’t have a

proper office – with a door that I can shut on all those distractions. I need a room of my own.     

            Well that’s my excuse for today…. What’s yours?

LadyWriting

Posted for Rosemary Lord by Gayle Bartos-Pool.

17 thoughts on “A ROOM OF ONE’S OWN”

  1. Thank you, Rosie, for that glimpse into other writers’ rooms, and your own. I share your lack of space now that I am living in a studio apartment. Luckily I look out my slider glass door to a tree-lined horizon far away. When friends arrive I point to my bed one corner as my bedroom, to my sofa as my living room, and to my desk as my office. I think that passion drives us to write wherever and under what circumstances we find ourselves. When we are plopped into our murderer’s mind or the victim’s terror we are blessed to be able to look up from the screen and see our beloved belongings around us in the real world. Your comment about having a door to close reminds me of My Fair Lady and Liza’s wish for a comfy chair.

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    1. You’re absolutely right, Jill, about the drive to write that over-rides WHERE we write. I’ve spent years of creative writing from this table in the corner. I guess I’m having lock-down burnout and looking with envy at other writers lovely office spaces….. I think I need to get out more!

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  2. We writers do need our space. But a nook can work as well as a room if that’s what we have, and your nook is mighty nice, so Write On.

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    1. Thanks, Gayle. It’s curious the reasons we writers give ourselves when we are stymied with the next step for our writing progress. I’ve been having a lot of computer ‘challenges’ lately, so maybe that’s where I need the help. And, yes, I really do love my little writing ‘nook’….

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  3. I’ve got a room of my own where I write but it’s a prior den with openings into the living room. It still works fine, and my dogs seem quite happy hanging out in the areas near my feet.

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    1. I’m impressed with your prolific writing – and knowing you have an office, that was one of the thoughts I had when writing this post. The “If only…” that we get when we’ve been isolated as some of us singletons have been for this past 14 months. Instead I need to adopt the ‘If Linda can do it…’ approach.
      But I was delighted to see how cluttered Danielle Steel’s desk is!

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  4. Very enjoyable post, Rosemary! I very much liked hearing about the writing places and settings for many authors I like and respect.

    For me, writing, has multiple parts, not just sitting at my office(spare bedroom) desk/computer writing. Actually, that is the last step, for me, in that much of my plotting and character creating/developing, even dialogue happens in my mind on doggie walks, during showers, and in those moments between being asleep and being awake. I don’t drive much now, but when I was still driving a lot, did a lot of “mental” writing in the car. Carried a mini-recorder with me to keep my thoughts until actually wrote them down. Also watch a lot of TV, and write sometimes on a laptop watching a Midsomer’s Murder episode…

    To answer your question, my excuse for today is I don’t use my “proper office” enough…(smile) Love having an additional “excuse!” to justify my paltry output. In awe of my comrades in writing…

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    1. I love that your creativity begins in your mind as you walk the dogs, shower and are falling asleep. Walks and riding (not driving) in a car is wher my juices flow. And sometimes sitting at the computer. Hey, we started watching midsomer’s Murders again. A bit long if you start late in the evening, but really good. Hubby and I have not guessed the villain yet! Haha. Wherever you create and write, you do a good job, Madeline.

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      1. Thank you for you kind words, Jackie! Midsomer is my favorite all time series. Have all the DVDs of every episode from John Nettle(love him!) thru Neil Dudgeon. There’s “feel” to the shows that pulls me in (would love that “feel” in my writing, ha, ha.) And besides Nettles, love all the great British actors/actresses in the episodes. Marvelous! I’m on maybe my third time through them all…alas to much TV time instead of writing…

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      2. I love Midsomer Murders, too – and always think of Madeline, when it comes on…

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    2. Aren’t those writers’ studies interesting – befitting their personalities. And, like you, I’m just looking for an excuse as to why I’m not more prolific. But I will be – any day now…

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  5. An absolutely delightful post, Rosemary. I enjoyed the peek into how the other half (as in monumentally successful writers vs me) lives. I can understand the desire to have a room of one’s own for writing, but in my experience having the mindset to sit and write is more important (although the portability of laptops and notebooks helps).

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    1. Miko, you’re right, of course. It really is having the mindset. And not allowing all the distractions.

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  6. Rosemary, your blog posts are so relaxing. (That’s a good thing!) I hope to read some of your fiction again soon. PS: That Danielle Steel desk is amazing. I wonder how drawers work! My office is always a mess, split between writing, studying to teach, doing bookkeeping, and keeping track of blog posts I have to make here and on Here’s How It Happened. Sometimes I feel like giving it all up and just reading the many books you all here, and everywhere write.

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    1. Thanks for your kind words, Jackie! And wouldn’t it be lovverly to spend the day reading books… And don’t give up! I love all the energy you put into all the many things you do – and your photography is brilliant!

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  7. Rosemary, loved the places where famous authors write. I still write with pen and paper in a notebook for my first draft. My husband is amazed I don’t use a computer, but the slowing down helps me to process and add details. I love writing outdoors. I went to a writing group that met at Captain Whidbey’s Inn, and sat on their porch overlooking Penn Cove writing in my notebook. I also write while we are traveling, sometimes by a lake or river. The outdoors seems to focus my mind.

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    1. What a lovely thought, Heather, to write outside. Especially in the places you mention… I’ve really missed going to far away places to write this past year. Maybe I’ve got cabin fever!
      Also, I’m a real ‘Lookey-loo’ when it comes to seeing where famous writers write.
      And I write – with a pencil – in notebooks first, before I commit to the computer. It really clears the mind. I’m so glad you stopped by. Thanks.

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