A (Messy) Room Of Her Own

A woman looking out a window

A (Messy) Room Of Her Own

A writer needs a special space in order to create

You know those moments when you read or hear something, and you realize it has been a central theme of your life all along? Suddenly that book title, meme, or song takes on Meaning and becomes part of how you understand yourself.

That’s what happened for me when I first heard of Virginia Woolf’s “A Room of One’s Own.” She wrote,

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

I know now that Ms. Woolf’s essay was more political commentary than instructions for creating a floor plan. Nevertheless I took the sentence literally and made it my mantra.

. . .

I probably had a room of my own for the first three years of my life, although I was clueless and didn’t appreciate my good fortune. Once my siblings started arriving, that luxury vanished. For the next 56 years, I shared.

I went from home to college to marriage and family, and always there was someone else in my space. At best, I had corners of my own. I never had the luxury of closing a door and saying “This is my room alone; no one may come in.”

. . .

For 15 years, my husband and I lived on the road in an RV. In case you’re not familiar with the concept, an RV is basically one box-shaped room that serves as all rooms. If you want privacy, you hang a bedsheet from the ceiling, and every time you inhale, you breathe in your spouse’s exhale.

Photo by Stefan Widua on Unsplash

While living in our little box on wheels, I frequently made vision boards to help me call my ideal life into being. On each one, you can find a picture of a woman sitting at a desk in front of her laptop, gazing thoughtfully out a window with a scenic view. The collaged phrase “A rOom OF hER owN” is glued above the photo, and the word “WRITE!” pops out from among pictures of hang-gliders and dolphins.

Even though I co-authored a book during our travels, I still had countless stories to tell. I believed that if I was ever going to write them, I needed my own private, beautiful space. It’s not just about escaping the chaos outside your door; it’s having the freedom to create an environment that reflects your inner self — yours and no one else’s.

. . .

When the time came to settle, we moved into a rental house that was so huge, we could have parked our 36’ RV in the kitchen and still had room to walk around it. We may have been over-compensating. Not only was I far from my husband’s exhale, I frequently couldn’t tell if he was in the house at all.

My private office was enormous. I bought a used L-shaped desk, something I had dreamed of for years. It too was enormous. I had space for a recliner, a large craft table, and three bookshelves. My double window looked out over a forest. It was all mine and it was perfect — with one exception.

When the trees were bare, my room was flooded with sunshine, but as soon as the leaves appeared — which happens in Georgia much earlier than one would expect — it was a dungeon. So for eight months out of the year, I practically lived on our deck. When it rained, I wandered from room to room in my giant house, following what natural light I could find.

During the nine years we lived there, I spent thousands of hours writing. I wrote social media posts, business materials, and content for workshops. I edited a colleague’s book. And all the while, the stories that had been trapped in my head for decades were trying to break free. They called to me as I was composing fundraising letters and reports. They tried to escape in the form of dreams.

“Be patient,” I told them. “I have work to do.”

. . .

When that work was finished, I retired from facilitating workshops and running a non-profit. I told everyone I knew that I was devoting the rest of my life to writing. My husband and I downsized to a sweet little house, and although it’s much smaller, we each have our own private space.

My room is half the size of its predecessor. I still have my recliner, but only one bookshelf and a much smaller craft table. Outside my window there is no forest, so I have natural light all the time. And I replaced my L-shaped desk with a minimalist writing table, ideal for a full-time writer.

“Get ready,” I said to my impatient stories. “Soon I’ll let you out.”

When we first moved in, setting up my room — my OWN room — was my highest priority. I splurged on a round purple rug, just like the one in the picture I drew of my dream bedroom when I was 10. And I kept everything clean and neatly arranged, because, as we all know, a tidy environment promotes calmness and creativity.

But I wasn’t writing.

I was planning my writing, taking writing classes, and reading books on how to write. I was gathering ideas and organizing materials. I spent every day in my beautiful, private space thinking about being a writer.

I finally had a room of my own, and apparently I wasn’t going to share it with anyone, including my muse.

Photo by Call Me Fred on Unsplash

A month ago, my procrastination ended abruptly on Day 1 of Ninja Writers’ BYOB (Blog Your Own Book) project. The concept is simple: Write and publish a blog post every day in August. Then gather those stories into a book you will self-publish on Amazon. Easy, right?

I figured if I made a commitment to the project, it would force me to stop procrastinating. So I signed up, and before long, I realized what it takes to write an article every single day. I have time for nothing else besides eating, and sleeping, and my grandkids.

I started letting things go in the Room of My Own. The foldaway bed my sister used during her last visit is still sitting next to my recliner. My minimalist desk is covered with photo albums I’m looking through for story ideas.

I dragged out art supplies for my grandchildren three weeks ago and haven’t put them away yet. There are cracker crumbs in my recliner and pieces of popcorn strewn about my purple rug, while he vacuum cleaner sits just inside my door, waiting patiently for an opportunity to do its thing. It’s a mess.

But I am writing.

The stories speak themselves to me when I wake up in the morning, and by the end of each day, I have published one of them on Medium. I’ve taken them from inside my own head, where only I can hear them, and sent them out into the world.

I don’t care if my room is messy. I’ll clean it up after I’ve published my book.

I have managed to keep one corner tidy. On a shelf is a photo of me as a young child walking along a deserted county road. Next to it sits a framed quote from a beloved mentor:

“God has His Hand on you. Don’t let anything distract you, don’t let anyone drain your energy; you need all your energy for the work you have to do.”

In this phase of my earth journey, the work I have to do is writing — freeing and shaping the stories that have waited so long to fly.

For most of my life, I believed that having the perfect physical space was a prerequisite for becoming a serious writer. And while environment is important, the real prerequisite is making space in our minds for our stories to breathe, to gather and take shape. Then we set them free and hope they will do some good in the world.

This is our job as writers, whatever room we’re in.

Photo by Callum Shaw on Unsplash

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