Saturday, January 2, 2010

My very own room

When in college, I was required for a humanities course to read Virginia Woolf's "A Room of One's Own," her collection of essays about women and writing. At the time, my goal was simply to finish the book before the test, and so years later, I haven't retained much of what she wrote. The one thing that has stuck with me is her thesis:

“A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.”

Her room, I think, is not so much an actual room as it is a metaphor for privacy. The money part of that equation is somewhat outdated as many women I know nowadays are financially independent. That probably was not so common in 1929, when this book was published.

Stephen King gives similar advice in “On Writing,” although it's not just for the ladies and he is more literal on the room part. He says to be a writer, you must have a room, and the room must have a door, and you must have the determination to shut the door.

That all sounded fine, but I didn’t take it seriously. I work in a newsroom, where at any given time, five conversations are going on near my desk, in addition to reporters on the phone, the police scanner, a football game on the television and the never-ending clicks of fingers on keyboards. Peace and quiet is for sissies, I thought.

That changed 18 months ago, when I decided to write fiction in earnest.

To start with, I needed a computer, and the only one at my house was in the family room. The kids mostly used it for playing games and surfing the Internet, so the first difficulty I encountered was getting any time on it at all. And when I did, I had to deal with the myriad distractions that come with writing in the same room with three kids, my husband, the dog and the television. I love my family very much and enjoy spending time with them, but family time and writing time mix about as well as oil and water. I kept trying to make it work, though. I persevered for months amid the family room circus. Then the computer crashed. Permanently.

So I started writing at the office, instead. At times when there were no articles to edit and my colleagues were checking e-mail or posting on Facebook, I was pounding away at my latest short story. The approach was only marginally doable; it narrowed my writing time to five minutes here, 10 minutes there. It was like setting a faucet to drip and trying to fill a glass.

Then, at Christmas came a godsend: I received a generous amount of money, and there was no question in my mind what to spend it on. I researched the options for a few days and bought my first laptop.

Now every night after I get home from work, I take my laptop to my bedroom and close the door. I shut out the television shows and movies, video games, music, the dog who thinks he’s attention-starved, family members who want to talk about their day, the toddler who wants to “help” me hit the keys, the rumbling dishwasher and the tumbling clothes dryer. I shut it all out, and I write. I turn on the metaphorical faucet full blast and watch the words spill out on the screen. It’s beautiful.

In 1929, Virginia Woolf said a writer needs a room of her own.

Eighty-one years later, here is my room: It’s a screen 14” wide, backed up by 3 GB of memory and a decent word-processing program. Along with my imagination, a thick skin and a whole lot of determination, it’s all this woman needs to be a writer.

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