I am a big fan of Virginia Woolf. In my opinion The Waves is one of the top 3 novels ever written. And I am also, as so many of you, very fascinated by her essays, and regard A Room of One’s Own as obligatory reading. I have, until now, considered Woolf’s advice on the importance of having a room of one’s own, as a sound advice for every writer, and especially every female writer.
But Louise DeSalvo is making me reconsider …
A Girl Writing, by Henriette Browne
And, after thinking the situation (my life as writer) through anew, I have to concluded – in line with DeSalvo – as follows: For most of us, especially for those of us being mothers, or caregivers, or for those of us not being quite in the league of Woolf, but still doing important work as writers, learning to work in the midst of it all, in the heart of a hectic family-life, might be a better advice.
DeSalvo says it like this:
I believe that this image of the ideal writing life – writing all day long in a room with a closed door while someone else tends to all life’s necessities, Virginia Woolf’s proverbial “a room of one’s own” – is one reason many people don’t begin writing because that so-called idyllic writing life is impossible for most of us …
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It depends very much how your mind works. I can write certain things in those snatches of stolen time in between family appointments, but I do need a room and time on my own to allow ideas to really sprout and write something bigger. I wish I were better at dealing with interruptions… but even at work I was never very good at handling that.
Totally understand, and agree. It is extremely difficult to work when being interrupted, but I do also think I could be better at grabbing hold of small pockets of time during the day.
I think the context is not what it was in Virginia Woolf’s day. A room of one’s own was as much a triumph of the psyche and the society as it was an actual space.
Probably, and my point is not to argue against the necessity of equal rights.
But I believe DeSalvo, in the quote above, is expanding on an earlier point of her’s, arguing for an understanding of creativity as a normal, natural, and even joyful part of life – rather than something difficult, esoteric, and painful. Creativity, as in for example writing, is an activity not only reserved for those of us who can afford laying all other obligations aside. Writing, good writing, can also be done in the middle of a hectic, ordinary, every-day life.
I have read DeSalvo’s book recently, and I agree with her premise that creativity is available to anyone “as a normal, natural, and even joyful part of life” as you say. When I was a child, I was proffered the concept of adult creativity as something rarefied – that Romantic ideal of the tortured esoteric soul of genius. Mentors and reading taught me otherwise, and I have generally accepted that I can get to my work if I make work one of my many tasks; as in some tasks there are certain tools one needs or places one has to go to do them, so with writing.
But it can be terribly frustrating!
Oh yes – frustrating indeed, but not impossible …
Ah but sometimes all other obligations require you lay writing, painting etc. down. I tried to move my studio to my home but the needs of my mother became more urgent and demanding, though not really time consuming. I had to be prepared to drop everything at times. I couldn’t paint. I have not painted seriously in over seven years. I took up quilting because I knew I could leave it and not have anything ruined for want of proper care.
I am not a writer so I can’t really say for sure if what you say is true but when I felt I had to get something down in words I had to do it when my kids were away visiting their father. I struggle with words. I worry them. They make me crazy. When I have to write something of any length I need an area of scorched earth about the size of a planet to work in just to avoid collateral damage.
“When I have to write something of any length I need an area of scorched earth about the size of a planet to work in just to avoid collateral damage.”
Yes, indeed–I have felt exactly this way. So I learned that, when I needed tons more space and quiet, I had to make a way for that to occur. I don’t have a huge support system, but enough of one that I could manage to get away sometimes; that is how I managed to do my masters degree studies even though my children were still home.
It was not easy to ask for that planet of scorched earth! And I still do not have a room of my own, or money.
I like holding both visions in my head!
I agree regarding The Waves. But yeah, a room of one’s own would be nice but not everyone is in a position to have one and in that case one must learn to make do. Sounds like you are reading a really interesting writing book!
Louise DeSalvo is starting to become one of my favorite writers on writing; very pragmatic, very eager to – and good at – sharing her knowledge.
oh that sounds like a great book! I hope my library has it!
While chronic illness has given me a room of my own, health issues dictate my availability for writing. I have not always taken advantage of the writing moments I do have. 🙂 Then, I found Louise DeSalvo’s “Writing to Heal: How Telling Our Stories Transforms Our Lives.” It made me see my situation a bit differently: “I didn’t know that if you want to write and don’t, because you don’t feel worthy enough or able enough, not writing will eventually begin to erase who you are” (DeSalvo).
DeSalvo says writing was Woolf’s way of “constructing reality, redefining herself. She found the underlying patterns of life that hide behind appearances.This changed her view of the world from one of a chaotic place to one that was orderly though in need of change….’It is only by putting it into words that I make it whole,’ Woolf said.” And in wholeness, it seems, there is transformation.
DeSalvo changed my perspective on Woolf as well as my writing life.These days, I view my room and writing “availability” through a broader lens.