Just how important is it for a writer to have their own space?
It’s a common aspiration for any would-be scribe to one day dwell in the depths of the perfect dream-study: the grand wing of polished mahogany, clad in white oak floorboards and Turkish rugs; lined by copious volumes of leather-bound books that rest upon antique bookshelves; warmed by a roaring fire that sits beneath a bespoke carved mantelpiece, before which sits a chintzy three-piece suite for naps and–on select occasions–entertaining family and friends; sash windows adorned by luxurious drapes that allow slivers of sunlight to cut in and illuminate the all-important, decadent folds of the Reading Chair; and, of course, the Georgian pedestal writing desk, one that offers several square miles of table-space and bears the marks of a great many years’ adventures under the ownership of other writers.
In case you haven’t guessed, that’s my ideal study. Subtle and overbearingly humble, wouldn’t you say?
Even the masters ascribe to the necessity for a writer to have their own space. Such positions becomes obvious even from seemingly unrelated advice, such as Stephen King’s commonly repeated adage: “Write with the door closed, revise with the door open.” It, of course, assumes that the prospective writer has a door to close.
Certainly, those writers who have the advantage of a few years of toil under their belt have the advantage of generally having access to a spare room in their home, or at least a small corner to sequester in the interest of pursuing their dream. Such hovels may scarcely resemble their ideal working space–their fantasies of blissful days spent lolling amidst a miasma of their own creative juices–but they can certainly secure a space to call their own and go forth unto their imaginations in comfort, solitude and relative peace.
But what of those of us who have no pad of cash (nor understanding partner, stable household, property of our own or indeed somebody willing to take up the task of bread-winning whilst we corral our imaginings onto the page)? What are we to do whilst still very much in the trappings of a life yet to be started? To where can we escape when the urge to put pen to paper (or finger to key, as t’were) strikes?
In many cases, there simply is nowhere to go. In households where families are going about the business of the day, watching television, talking on the telephone, doing household chores and playing video games, writing can become very difficult indeed. In cases of small homes—such as mine—where your choices are limited to the living-room sofa or your bed, there is simply no spare space to convert; no little kneehole to crawl into, not even a cupboard under the stairs.
During the ebb and flow everyday life, especially during the evening, when entire families are often piled into one room, laptops and phones are trilling, the TV is warbling and the family pet is busy barking and begging for dinner scraps, it can seem an almost absurd idea for one to even consider attempting something so bold as to plunder the depths of their imagination and craft a fictional realm from nought but paper and ink.
In fact, it can be downright impossible.
So to where can a trapped writer escape, or dream of escaping?
Personally, I have just moved. The current state of the economy has necessitated a downsize for my family, and the five of us are currently stuffed into a house that, while serviceable and really quite cosy, is fit for little than a young couple with a toddler in terms of permanent habitation.
I could go on for some time about the myriad distractions, sources of clutter and awkward arrangements, but it can all be summed up by a single word: mayhem. Not only are things new, strange and unsettled, but I’ve lost the one thing that I considered to be constant in my life.
My desk. It’s gone. Now the property of an elderly gentleman who expressed interest in turning my room into his personal den. The fulcrum of my daily activities, the diving board from which I have plunged into every literary adventure thus far, my origin–my (0,0,0)–has been swept from beneath me.
Just a plank of plastic-clad plywood, wasn’t it? Yes. And no. No, it was so much more. For, currently, all I am left with is my notebook and fountain pen–a godsend in a way, as I enjoy longhand far more than typing. However, in terms of coordinating a blog, managing literary submissions, editing manuscripts, formatting for dispatch and keeping up social media connections, it’s a nightmare.
And so I have been forced to search for something to replace my former base of operations.
In the last week or so, I’ve found solitude in the public library. There’s a small desk at the very rear of the building, nestled in a quiet corner between the rarely visited stacks that contain our village’s dog-eared collections of paranormal romance and Manga (I live in a rather quaint Bedfordshire town, and our library is frequented mainly by aged wanderers and tired mothers who need somewhere to dump their hyperactive children, and so these sections are largely redundant). It’s a fairly good affair: it’s warm, quiet and relatively cosy (or as cosy as one can be under the harsh glare of fluorescent strip-lights). Nobody bothers me. I waltz in sometime in the late morning to write, step out to take a quick bite for lunch, and return for a short afternoon bout of reading, and research.
And yet, there are most definitely drawbacks. Whilst it’s certainly more tranquil than the sofa in my living room, the public library is scarcely as quiet as…well, as a library. The generator sounds like a bucket of pit-vipers, a construction crew is repairing the supply depot of the Tesco Superstore which sits just across the street, people aren’t afraid to keep their phones off silent, and a troop of toddlers waddles in around two in the afternoon to scream, cry and tear the children’s section to smithereens.
Whilst for the most part I can filter the vast majority of that out (certainly after the chaos of home-life), it’s not exactly the blissfully silent sanctuary as I pictured it when the idea first struck me.
For the moment, I plan to make a regular thing of it. I say that because despite the shortcomings of the library, I did get a lot of writing done. In addition, reams of notes reached the page and research was, of course, a mere matter of taking a stroll along the aisles and picking out the correct volume.
But, in the long-term, I suspect that I will most probably lapse back to the living room; if not due to the laziness that can be found in any writer, then because the increased productivity that I benefited from came at the cost of getting anything else done, such as study, exercise, chores, and taking care of office work.
But how important is it, ultimately, for a writer to have that sacred study? For how long can that someone turf out articles and work on their novel before their muse scarpers to the eaves and leaves their pages barren?
I moved not two weeks ago, and already I’ve begun exploring alternative escape routes. Whether I’ll find refuge, or whether I’ll grow used to typing with hunched shoulders whilst the dog licks my ear and Jonathon Ross rattles (or wattles) away on the television…well, who knows?
In the meantime, I’ll do what any self-respecting writer would do in my situation: get back to work, damn it.