A Room of One’s Own

No Telling

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

This has always been one of my favorite quotes. Not because it’s true, mind you, but because it’s amusing. If it were really true, there would be four, maybe five women in the whole world who had the ingredients necessary to write even flash fiction. Forget writing a novel.

I know a lot of women who write and they work the whole business piecemeal – half an hour here, fifteen minutes there, maybe an hour after the kids go to bed and if they don’t fall asleep on their keyboards before page three. Most of us sneak writing in between loads of laundry and incessant interruptions about Where Things Are. We are the keepers, we gals, and that always manages to come first because the guilt our mothers taught us stuck. Hard.

A room of one’s own? Unless she’s got one of those creepy “safe rooms” that locks hydraulically and requires a secret code to enter, she’ll never find a room no one else feels free to enter. And it doesn’t even matter if she’s got one of those, because no amount of expensive sound-proofing will drown out the pleading on the other side of the wall.

Here’s the thing: I’m not complaining. I generally love interruptions because they mean my house is full of life and love. It’s impossible to get deeply into a story that way, so I schedule my heavy-duty writing time in the early mornings for that very reason. You wouldn’t believe how much I can write in an hour and a half of complete quiet. The rest of the day belongs to other things and plenty of them.

It’s not the room, you see, it’s the silence.

The money thing is shiftier. Sure, I can imagine having enough money to buy time away from work. I think about this often when passing through states with lottery tickets for sale at gas stations (by the way, we’re beginning a state lottery here soon and I’m VERY excited). I’m not much of a math person, but I can wrap my head around the astronomical odds of winning such a thing as enough money to write fiction. It’s fun to think about, but it’s not going to happen. I’m guessing Virginia needed less money back then.

My theory about women and piecemeal writing is that we’ve all found something that fits our interruptible lives – blogging. Short pieces and instant publishing gratification between dentist appointments and fighting children…no wonder the blogosphere is awash in mommy blogs.

And I say, attagirl.

Maybe all of us aren’t producing Woolf-level fiction, but we get the writing done with a sense of accomplishment and a saucy pop when we hit “publish.” Nothing wrong with that. For heavy-lifting fiction there are always stolen hours late and early. I don’t know about you, but I’m not missing a hug from The Perfect Grandson just to get my head more deeply into a plot. The plot will wait for silent hours, but the boy will be a man in an instant and give his hugging to someone else.

(Note: During the process of writing this post I made two pitchers of iced tea, took one phone call, found a lost book, switched out the laundry, and comforted my daughter. Just so you know.)

43 thoughts on “A Room of One’s Own

  1. You know, I've always wondered about that quote from VW. I wonder if she was describing what she HAD or what she WANTED. She was at least describing what *I* wanted. I think that women have always had to juggle many things in order to get it all done. I love the way you put it all in perspective with the hugs from grandkids. Nothing matches those, eh?

  2. You are so right about the silence; I challenged my wonderful husband to a weekend without TV or laptop (after he had a dig at me about being addicted to the world of blog) – do you think he can do it? No way! I have bought noise-eliminating headphones just to get a little relief from the noise.. and we don't even have kids LOL

  3. In regards to that last paragraph, yes 🙂
    I feel that writing SOMETHING is better than nothing at all and even if you look over it and find it absolutely awful, hopefully you've still learned something from it.

    …I certainly wouldn't mind the “enough money” part of Woolf's quote.

  4. Love your note at the end. Just so you know, by the time I was able to read through your whole post, I fed the dog (that was pestering my hand with her nose) and poured hot water into the carafe for a cup of coffee for my husband and I. 🙂 M

  5. I like. 🙂 I always do a million things inbetween writing chapters in my soon to be novel and blogs. If I had a quiet room to myself all this time…I'd have no inspiration!!!!

  6. I'm a generation joneser too! So nice to meet you. Loved this blog post. Now that my girls are grown we've moved the elderly in-laws in with us, so the highly anticipated empty nest and its expected silence…not so much. Looking forward to getting to know you.

  7. What a great quote!

    I'm one of those…10 minutes here, an hour before bed (maybe)…its hard, and I have a place of my own….I'm just never there!!

  8. Thank you for your words of wisdom on being a female writer. I too post and write with many interruptions and now I need to learn to accept that my family interruptions are a gift, not an annoyance. My family is more way more important. Keep it up, I really enjoy your blog!

  9. Good point, Kate. I think we can assume that even if Woolf had money, room, and silence, she never had peace. And nothing will ever match The Perfect Grandson storming into my room dragging his red wagon and wanting hugs. Everything stops for that.

    Oh, Isabella. You chose a challenge you'll always win! Those headphones sound like a good idea – and no, kids aren't the only noisemakers. Good luck!

    Jeanette, you're dead right. I had a year of silence not too long ago and I kept leaving the house to write in busy coffee shops and other public places.

    Just getting down the words even if they're terrible makes a big difference, Trixsy. I always find at least some little usable thing, don't you?

    Amuse me, that's exactly what I'm talking about. And I forgot to mention the dog, who needs to bark at nothing or go out at the worst possible times.

    I'm with you, GirlMeetsGun. Are you an eavesdropping, conversation-stealer too? It would be hard to write about the world if we weren't out in it.

    Cari, it's possible that we Gen Jonesers will never suffer from empty nest syndrome. I believe it will define our whole generation. Come on back any time!

  10. It is a dream of mine to have a quiet place of my own where I can sit and focus in an atmosphere that is conducive to writing for me. But like you've hinted, it's not reasonable or realistic. Our job is never done.

  11. Lisa, that's good. It's no much use to have a place of one's own if we're always elsewhere. I guess 'ol Virginia never had to commute to work!

    Thanks, Miss Bus Driver! While not every interruption feels like a gift (or may actually be one) it's likely they'll just keep happening. We can set boundaries all we want, but our families will always overstep them. If I ever figure out how to achieve balance on that…

  12. Thanks, Alice – good to have you here!

    2 Teach, it's already started again this morning. I may not get a complete sentence in all day. Ah, Sundays!

  13. We have a new puppy in the house so now there is even less time for myself. Goodness, that dog literally has to pee every 30 minutes! Squeeze all the other stuff in between (for the human kids and hubbie), I think I have time to blog for 4.8 minutes per day!

    …I, too, am new to your blog but really enjoy reading your work…the addiction started at “A Blight on Your House.” So, now I have 3.8 minutes to write because I also have to follow your blog everyday (to read current stuff and catch up on the older posts). Ok! my time is up! Puppy Daisy needs to go pee again! Ciao!

  14. I definitely know what you mean but I'm well with it. I'm so satisfied when at the end of a busy day I can sit in bed with my books, DVDs and laptop that I can go on for hours. But my daylife is full of other things I like as well: my sons , my husband and their problems/necessities, my students and my lessons, my house and the shopping… From time to time I wish to slow down a bit but there are so many important things and no time to waste!

  15. I have a room of my own! Actually, it's a loft of my own, and it's my own 'cause the old poop won't climb the ladder to access it. Hey, whatever works! I mostly sew and paint up there, but the laptop goes anywhere, even out here on the patio. Silence is a harder commodity to find indoors though. Got to have the TV tuned to sports or hunting and fishing shows. Loud. Interestingly enough though, if I say something, the pause button is hit because the loved one can't listen to two things at once. The silence comes in the seconds when he's listening to see if I have quit talking.

    I do love blogging! Find me at http://okruralperson.blogspot.com

  16. Thanks for letting me a part of your 4.8 minutes today, Yen Graney!

    Wandering Mind, there's never enough time to get everything done. At least you have a high scape – I'm dying of loft-envy.

    I love that, Kooky, and I'm raising a big glass of iced tea to you right now.

    Thanks, Steven!

  17. I think perhaps we need counterpoint to get the point? I live alone, and have cats. They want the occasional bit of attention, but they sleep 22 hours a day. Despite my room of my own, and tons of silence, I'm less productive than any of the mamas I know. Hmm. Maybe I need the money?! Anyway, the silence gave me “Blogger of note” and I'm sure enjoying your work.

  18. Hi! I am a servicemember currently serving in Iraq. Your blog is def my favorite, lol. I was raised by a single mother, and have THE greatest respect for women, and mothers. Just thought I would stop by and let you know how much I enjoy and appreciate your blog…


  19. seems to be about balance

    to much silence- I'm self-absorbed
    to many kids- I'm crazy (or crazier)

    ideal if one thing can make us appreciate the other…

    continue to love your blog…

  20. Hello! I have a lot more silent time now that my daughters are grown and out of the house (and I'm divorced, so no man bugging me), but I still have trouble finding time to really write. Blogging fills the bill for me. It doesn't take much time and I feel really accomplished.

    By the way, I really enjoy reading your blog. –Janie

  21. I'm not a writer beyond my occasional blogging, and I have plenty of silent moments with my daughter grown and married, but I felt like this post was speaking to me anyway. I've taken the liberty of sharing a link to it on my own blog. I look forward to exploring the rest of your blog.

  22. It is likely that VW did physically have a room of her own, not one, but a choice. It was her way of life as part of the privileged Bloomsbury set. She had a place where she could be in control or lose it. A room of ones own is also a metaphor for the room in ones head, in the mind, the private and quiet thoughts. VW was deep and remember, she was also a depressive. Her social and physical factors came into play in everything to do with her lifestyle and her art. She was in conflict with her Bohemian behaviour and the presentation demanded of her status in society. VW was luckier than most, where she had her space and the solitude she oft times sought.


  23. Maybe it's all about the money, Nancy! I wonder how much would be enough to have us all cranking out fiction by the truckload?

    Nathanael – welcome, soldier! Hey, boys raised by single mothers often turn out to be the best men. Two fists high in the air for you – and thanks!

    I'm glad you found me, Kendra. Stop by any time!

    It IS about balance, Sally. Have you figured out how to get it? It's my life-long goal.

    Janie, I think blogs work for many women (men, too) because they're short and have a real audience. Thanks!

    Share away, Janet. The other thing blogging does is to bring us all together to nod and say, “Yep, that's my life, too.” It's an important connection. I love that.

    Zacl, poor Virginia had some awfully dark rooms in her head that refused sun. Her story is a sad one, but her work is amazing. I need to reread a few things now – thanks for sending me to the shelves!

  24. I found your blog the other day, simply because it's good manners to check out the Chosen Ones. I'll be back, often.
    No matter how much silence there may be, we writers will always have our heads filled with the noise of our characters, the bustle of their streets, the songs of the birds in their trees. Money is nice, a room of one's own is nice: but as so much of my writing is done in the attic behind my eyes in the hours I spend away from my keyboard I've found they're not necessary. What is needed is the notebook, the pen that works, and the discipline to give your characters the freedom they need to startle you with their decisions.

  25. Trudge, Zen Mama, trudge!

    Aotea, you are living proof that not only are all the good men married, they're all probably living in New Zealand, as well.

  26. Well written! I think you've hit the nail on the head with blogging filling the need to write. There's definitely a feeling of accomplishment when you hit the publish button and an even greater one when you receive feedback!

  27. I find Rumer Godden's story of finding a way to write remarkable. She wrote about her growing up and becoming a writer in A Time to Dance, No Time to Weep. She really succeeded against great odds because of the upheaval in her personal life.

  28. Hi,

    I love the humour you introduce into your writing. I have to say I once read that we women can multi task where men can only concentrate on one thing at a time; it's true and I'm always telling my male colleagues this much to their 'Oh yeah' comments. Enjoyed reading your stuff.

    I sometimes get up at 3 a.m. to write because I have to be up at 4 a.m. for work. Like you I manage to do so many things in between!

  29. Mmm, I hear you. I'm a young woman of twenty-six, and neither a mother nor a wife yet. But mind you, I am a sister, a friend, a roommate, a girlfriend, a dog owner, and a girl with debt.

    I squeeze my writing into evenings after work, when I'm lucky enough to get a good bus and am home in time to force in two hours at the coffee shop before it closes unnaturally early (to my mind). Or sometimes instead of reading at night, I'll take my laptop to bed instead, and work in two or three paragraphs.

    My poor library books have been renewed so very many times…

  30. You have no idea how much I enjoy reading your posts. You make writing look SO much easier than it is. Wowzers! I know you're a busy lady (laundry and all), but I'd like for you to stop by my wee corner of the blogosphere. I'd be tickled fuschia.

  31. I just found your blog and as a fellow writer (without kids), but with plenty of interruptions – one of them being a real job!

    All I can say about your blog is, “WOW!”

  32. “Most of us sneak writing in between loads of laundry and incessant interruptions about Where Things Are. We are the keepers, we gals, and that always manages to come first because the guilt our mothers taught us stuck. Hard.”

    yes indeed. sneaking writing, blogging, web surfing, you name it. i feel guilty when i say this, but i look forward to when my daughter starts preschool. i crave moments alone so i can get myself organized and ready to handle the load.

  33. Thanks, Rose! I didn't even talk about work, and we all know that carves out most of our days. Here's to sneaky time alone!

    Don't you dare feel guilty, Brieanne. In order to be better moms it's important to feed our own souls a bit. We all need re-charge time. Writing is a good way to do that. What we give, we get.

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