I read Virginia Woolf’s book-length essay a couple of years ago, back when I was still of the mind that a writer — or any artist, for that matter — will have a difficult, if not impossible time balancing a so-called day job with the mental, emotional and physical demands of creative work. Woolf specifically referred to the need for women to have an independent income that will free them from having to engage in the exhausting pursuit of a nonwriting-related livelihood in order to put food on the table and a roof over one’s head.
She believed that creativity can’t flourish if the writer is unable to devote all of her intellectual powers to the task, which is often the case when there’s a bill hanging over our head or a jealous boss hovering over our shoulder. Woolf wrote that women should be guaranteed an annual income of 500 pounds (what I imagine to be a tidy sum back in the day), as well as literally a room of one’s own, a place to where one can retreat and cultivate one’s creative work, free of the need to waste one’s time on such mundane chores such as housekeeping and errand-running.
On the other hand, Poets & Writers magazine had an article a few months ago about writers — both living and dead — who’ve managed to hold down a day job while still pursuing a writing vocation. Some of them even claim that their jobs give them much of the inspiration that informs so much of their novels, like the lawyer who writes legal thrillers, and that they really like the structure, camaraderie and steady income that their day jobs provide. In the April 2007 issue of Writer’s Digest, the magazine closes with a profile of Ned Vizzini, and how he relies on his day job to maintain his sanity.
I can relate. In the few precious months when I wrote full-time — before I got this current gig at the local library — I lived my life primarily in local coffee houses, with my entire universe centering around my laptop. It can be an isolating, almost maddening experience, and even I could tell that at times, I was living a wee bit too much inside my head. You know the feeling, right, when you’re talking to yourself, maybe even answering back? Or how about this: you’re having a conversation with a character, asking him questions, poking into his private business, nosying around his head and wondering why he did this or that.
It is kinda nice to have real chats with real people, and the fringe benefits of working in a library can’t be beat: access to new books all the time, books I probably wouldn’t have encountered otherwise but which now serendipitously land in our office and call out my name.
And yes, perhaps it does also help preserve my sanity, and maybe it’s not so healthy to be so isolated and keeping company with people who, for all intents and purposes, don’t actually exist.
But I have to admit…I do miss those days when it was often just me and this imaginary world that I had created. I imagine it’s a little like Trekkies who may carry on perfectly normal lives in the “real” world, but when they’re at conventions or in the presence of fellow fans, they’re completely in their element, surrender their inhibitions, indulge in this crazy passion, and just feel so at home.
Yeah, it’s a total bitch and a pain to get up at 4am to write. Usually it’s more like 4:15 or even 4:20, after five or six frustrating bouts with the snooze button. But once I’m in that chair and have powered up the laptop, I’m breathing pure oxygen and get swallowed up in the work. Okay, so I’m not independently wealthy, and maybe we never will be.
S’okay. At least I do have a room of my own. Or at least a corner of a really big room.
p.s. Snippet of a conversation at this coffee house where I’m typing:
Woman to barista: Where’s the Internet?
Woman’s college-age daughter and barista (simultaneously): Uhm, it’s wireless.
Woman: Oh. I don’t even know how that works. Do you just plug it in?
Woman’s college-age daughter: I’ll show you, Mom.
Wow. Seriously, lady, it’s 2007. “Where’s the Internet???”
7 thoughts on “A Room of One's Own”
Oh, my! “Where’s the internet?” LOLOL! :)Great post, Marjorie! I wrote three novels while I worked a day job. Now (thanks to my sweetiepie of a hubby) I’ve left the workaday world and am making a go of writing full time, but now that I’m doing so, there still don’t seem to be enough hours in the day. But I certainly see what you’re saying about the benefits of a day job. My old day job had gotten extremely stressful before I left, but your job in the library sounds great. :)And ha, I hear you on conversations with yourself, and even with your characters. I catch myself doing that sometimes on my morning walks! 😎
Hi, Thomma Lyn! Thanks for the kind compliment!I don’t know how you could have possibly written three novels while working in a day job. Kudos to you! I’m so happy to have the Internet, as it gives me the chance to meet people like you who are doing the things I’m doing, going through much the same things I’m going through, and serving as inspiration. If you could do it, why not I?The library is actually quite physically demanding, so I try to write in the mornings when I’m still fresh and awake, whereas if I waited till the end of the day, all I want to do is soak my feet in a basin of Epsom salts and zone out in front of the Scrubs gang. I like talking to my main character. It’s much like meeting someone new, ya know? Although I had a vague idea of who he was when I first began thinking about the story, I wasn’t sure who he was, what kind of man he is, that sort of thing. I get a fuller picture of him as I write, but I like holding these getting-to-know-you conversations with him. The longer I speak with him, the more interesting he becomes. He’s starting to fully form as an individual apart my imagined version of him, and lemme tell ya, he’s been quite a surprise. Right now, he’s still at the stage where all I see is the surface of him, but as I get to know him better, I think some of his deeper motivations and emotions and thoughts will emerge, and I can engage him as an intimate friend whose story I’m telling. Cheers,Marjorie
i first read a room of one’s own in grad school and i’m glad to have read it better late than never. i never thought of it the way she presented the ideas, especially the part of shakespeare’s sister (not the same opportunity as him).since then i always make it a point to appreciate my freedom as a woman, especially as a woman writer.
Amee, if you have a chance, check out The Lives of the Muses. Great read on the lady friends of some of history’s most prominent artists, e.g., Salvador Dali and Man Ray. An eye-opening look at the powerful influence of these women on their respective partner’s work and life.I especially loved the story of Man Ray and Lee Miller. Miller was the only one among those profiled in the book who garnered critical acclaim for her own work rather than because of her association with a prominent artist. Cheers,Marjorie
thanks for writing about me!
thanks for the suggestion.when my schedule clears up, i’ll make sure to check it out.
Hi, Ned! Thanks for stopping by! I love when writers who’ve “made it” take the time to acknowledge those of us who are still struggling in the trenches!Amee, thanks for the note! Cheers,Marjorie
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