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Writing: Is a Room of One's Own enough?

Updated: Jan 5, 2023


Last week I handed the keys to my rented studio back to the owner, completing a nine-month room-of-my-own writing adventure. I learned the room won't suffice without motivation, discipline, and perseverance.


That's not to say that the writing studio didn't help get me started on several writing projects, including a Mom memoir. I had a dedicated computer, a special pen, writing mittens, slippers, a warm blanket for the long stretches of sitting still in winter, a cozy rug, a variety of teas, inspirational quotes tacked to a bulletin board, and even music. Plus a beautiful view and a place to put my bike which I often rode through the woods to get there. Sounds great, right? But as time went by I noticed I was going less and less. I found one reason or another to just stay at home. Somedays I just didn't feel like getting into the whole mess of writing: The confusion, the hits to the confidence, the nostalgia and even sadness around projects like a memoir, the self-pressure to advance. But also, at home there was more space, the table was bigger, there was a printer and it was quieter than I'd remembered. One day after a successful work session at home during a week I'd only gone to the studio to water the plants I'd left there, I realised it was time to give it up. When I told my husband I noticed a rather victorious look in his eyes, but he didn't say he'd told me so, even though in fact, he had. However, I did not feel beaten or ashamed of my adventure. I'm glad I tried it, and consider it a success. It gave me focus and and kickstart, and it was fun. I plan to keep on going. But now I'm happy working at my own pace and not judging myself too severely.


The writing studio experience made me curious about how other writers organize their space and time. I talked with writer friends Lucie, Christine, Becca and Harvey.


How long have you been writing?


Lucie: I began to write in 2006 when I participated in a writing contest. Then, 5 years ago, I began a book. It's finished and I have more than 400 pages, but the re-reading is as much work as writing the book. Lots of changes! I know I could have finished it earlier if I were alone with nothing else to do. What I need is time!

Christine: I’ve been writing professionally for 25 years. I first worked on staff at a publishing company and then transitioned to working as a full-time freelance writer and editor.


Becca: 43 years

Do you have a Room of Your Own?


L: Yes, Virginia Woolf is right, it's essential. I have a room in my home. I put a Do Not Disturb sign on the door before locking myself in. It works. I am respected. C: As a freelancer, I’ve always had a dedicated office space in my home. I’ve had the same big desk for 20+ years, and I painted four of my six offices pink. (The two that weren’t pink were in apartments where I wasn’t allowed to paint.) I absolutely need a cozy, functional space where I can close the door and not be interrupted. But I sometimes still find it hard to focus. About 10 years ago, I was struggling to work on my personal writing. I decided that I needed a writing retreat to recharge. I rented a hotel room for a week in Ocean City, Maryland, in the off-season and set off by myself to write. I did a lot of long walks on the boardwalk. I drove around looking for restaurants. I watched TV. What I didn’t do was much writing. I realized fairly quickly that it wasn’t my office at home that was the problem. (In fact, my home office was much more comfortable than the hotel.) It was me. I wasn’t going to be motivated to write simply by a change of scenery. I was still distracted by my phone and the internet. It was a great lesson to learn. And I think I was more productive when I got home because I wasn’t dreaming of some “perfect” writing space that existed somewhere else.


B: I write in my bed, or at my kitchen table.


What distracts you from writing?


C: What doesn’t distract me from writing? Well, that’s not quite right. When I’m being paid for an article or editing job, I’m exceptionally focused. I work backward from the assigning editor’s due date to figure out when I need to do interviews and other tasks so that I have plenty of time for writing and editing. But when I’m not writing on deadline? Then I’m distracted by the internet (Page Six, the Real Housewives!), laundry, and a million other things.


L: My home and my family. Since Covid, all four of us are at home almost all the time, and I cook the equivalent of a Sunday dinner every day! But I want to do it all by myself, including taking care of my daughter who has special needs. This distracts me from the pleasure of writing, but I accept it. And I dedicate each free minute to my writing.


B: Oversleeping


Harvey: Often everything else has to come first; family, job, work around the house. I have many books written in my head, if only I could get them onto the page. I can write a book in my head while painting a room, but I can't write the same book down on paper until the painting is done, and by then, there's no more time!


What are some techniques you use to focus or to force yourself to write?


L: The most important is being motivated. I adapt to my situation and keep on writing, because I am extremely motivated. And I force myself to concentrate because of my lack of time. If I didn’t make a big effort of concentration I wouldn’t have enough time.


B: The golden rule to good writing is writing about something close to the heart. Sometimes it helps to read a good book, a classic, befriend the voice of the protagonist and make it my own, like a good friend that sits with me to keep me company while I write.


H: I use the Scrivener software. It helps me organize my writing and makes it much easier to move things around and to visualise what I'm doing. I can't imaging writing without it. There are other writing software packages, but this is the one I prefer.


C: One technique I use is making myself write for at least 10 minutes per day. On a good day, the 10 minutes will turn into more. Since I like needlework, I tried motivating myself by stitching one “x” for every 10 minutes of writing. But, it was very time consuming to actually do the needlework, so I'm not sure to repeat! I met a part-time poet whose rule was to write at least one sentence per day. "Just do it" is good advice too, but you have to get beyond the "just not doing it."

Christine's needlework technique: One "x" for 10 minutes writing. 1 hour = 6 squares.

The freedom app blocks distracting social media

To force myself to stay off the internet, I use the Freedom app. https://freedom.to

It blocks me from logging into Facebook and Instagram, for example, for whatever length of time I pick. Usually I’ll do it for an hour and then give myself 5 minutes to check social media before I reset the app.


Sometimes I have a writing weekend with my sister who also writes; working together can help for limited amounts of time. I've also taken on-line writing workshops which have been super useful. I've submitted a finished book to publishers and got feedback. Now I just need to do the rewrite and try again. Once I hand in one book, I start another one. It sounds like a simple process, but the reality is that each bit is hard and often like pulling hair! And life gets in the way too, with everyday responsibilities, or unexpected crises. You just have to write when you can, as much as you can, depending on your goals. Every writer is different. What works for one person may be terrible for another. Whatever works for you is the “right” way to write.


Is concentrating on writing different than concentrating on any other job?


C: Writing is different than many other tasks because a lot of writing involves simply thinking. When I’m writing a magazine article, for example, it may take me a few hours to review my notes and think of the best first sentence to start the article. So “writing” for me doesn’t always mean I’m typing at my computer. When I’m really stuck, I’ll go outside for a walk, but I won’t put on music or a podcast. I’ll simply walk and deliberately think through the story I’m working on. I’ll “write” and rewrite sentences in my head. When I have something I like, I’ll record it on my phone. Often I’ll come back from a walk with ten or more recorded ideas that I'll transcribe onto my computer.


L: Concentrating on writing is special, you enter into another world, you forget about real life and that takes a lot of energy. I finish exhausted every day. But if I don’t write each day, even if only one line, I'm not happy. I have to write to be all right.


B: Writing is different because it gives me some purpose, and makes me feel better about my existential life.


"Whatever works for you is the right way to write." (Christine)














 

updated with Becca comments 05/01/23

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