Monday 30 January 2017

A Room of One's Own

by Teri Terry
A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.
Virginia Woolf
I didn’t have either of those things when I wrote Slated so I don’t think they are a prerequisite – but I’ve recently considered renting my own writing space. Trying to make the decision got me thinking:
What do I need to write? What do I need to be happy? What is in the sweet spot on the Venn diagram where both co-exist, and why does it seem to keep getting smaller?

Can I say hand-on-heart that I need a room of my own in order to write? No.

To write, all I actually need are pen/notebook/laptop/time. For years I wrote early in the morning in bed before work; for the last five years or so I've been a full time writer who worked from home and often did the same. 
WOW did I love working from home to start with! Not having to go to work, not having to work to any schedule but my own (apart from the occasional pesky deadline), working in my PJs and talking to myself more than is good in public – total bliss.
But ... there are no boundaries:
Much like it did in the pre-published stages, it still felt hard sometimes to justify taking time and space from family/duck polishing/hanging out on Facebook. Working from home makes it hard to switch off the me that does all the other stuff.

It can be even harder sometimes to take time and space away from my writing to give it to the people who are most important. I think a lot of the reason is the amorphous nature of writing. It tends to take over your thoughts and attention when it shouldn’t, and nothing is ever completely finished. I could edit forever if I didn’t have to hit send on a deadline. So working from home also makes it hard to switch off the me that does the writing.

Over time how I felt about writing full time at home gradually changed for the worse:
I wasn’t even completely sure why. Changing the hobby you love to a job is always going to change how you feel about it, and that was part of it, but it wasn’t just that. 
I was looking for The Reason, and I blamed it on lack of space.
I do have the Writing Shack - a garden summer house that I can write in warm weather – but no dedicated writing space inside: not even a desk that was all mine. Stuff always had to be put away – I’m champion at losing things if they’re not left in sight. This was more of a problem on the business side of things than the writing side, though there was the one nightmare morning spent looking for ‘the’ notebook for one of my novels – convinced I’d lost it forever … it turned out the Man was tidying up and put it in the loft. I forgave him (eventually).

Solution: could I rent an office? Should I?
Well, reader: I did
Me! at my table! in my writing studio!
(Photo by Debra Hurford Brown)
The whole time I was considering getting an office, I focused on the practical: my need for dedicated space, quiet. This was my focus and there are huge pluses here with your work being able to be left spread out how you like it. I lose stuff less. I have a filing cabinet! And shelves for my notebooks. Also a work address is handy.

To get over the rent-is-dead-money issue, I convinced myself I’d be more organized and productive. And if that means more work done and hence more money in to pay the rent? Sorted.

But nearly two months on I’ve found it gives me so much more – for reasons that are perhaps even more important:

1. Separation of work and home: BOUNDARIES
I work at work and I don’t work at home. I wasn’t sure at first if that would happen – even though I ‘officially’ wrote during the day at home and not often in evenings/weekends, I always found myself doing bits and pieces then, too. But I’ve stopped doing that pretty much completely (confession: I’ve been writing this blog on a Sunday afternoon at home, but that’s a different sort of work!).
And what I’ve also found is that I’ve started to love coming home and being at home again, and if the man is out (generally at tennis!) and I’ve got an evening at home on my own I’m happy with my own company; when I was writing at home during the day I hated being on my own in the evening.
AND I got a red chair!

2. Getting dressed, going somewhere and talking to actual people!
I've rented an office inside a building with shared common areas. Now I chat for a few minutes with lovely office manager Caroline on my way in and out and whoever else is about of a half dozen or so engineers; there’s often chat by the kettle or at others times of day. They seem pretty tolerant of me babbling (so far!). And then I go to my space, and close the door.

Maybe I understand more now why many writers leave the house and go to write in coffee shops etc? If I didn’t live in a quiet village where the main not-at-home options are pubs (not a habit I need to get into) I might have tried that more, but I’ve never been good at working in places with people around me. It’s kind of like I want people there but not too close; I want to control my own space & sound also. Not a coffee shop option.

3. How I feel about what I’m doing has changed.
It’s kind of like me renting writing space is saying, I take this seriously – it’s my career – and I’m planning for it to continue. I’ve got faith in myself and what I do. It may sound weird to say this, but I feel more like a grown up (in a good way).

Conclusions on the practical stuff?

Am I more organised? OMG, YES.

Will I be more productive? 
I think so, I need more time to know for sure. Maybe not, because it may be that a book takes how long it takes to write and it may not work to try to speed that up. But I’ve decided I’m actually OK with that: I’m happier. The sweet spot has got bigger.
Me! at my table! in my writing studio!
It's so big I even have some giant sized notebooks, like this one!
(Photo by Debra Hurford Brown)


  1. I want an office now. What about writing slippers - do I have to get an office to buy those?

    1. No! writing slippers are very important to the creative process. You can't write with cold feet, after all

  2. I totally agree about boundaries. When I worked from home (day job), I found it very difficult to switch off from the work part, and often found myself doing "just one last thing" when I should have been cooking the dinner or talking to the children. In the end, I went a bit doolally (OK, it was clinical depression), and resolved that I would try to work in an office with other people from then on. Which I have!

    I also mostly write outside the house, but that has pluses and minuses. I would love a space where I could spread out, have a mood board and cover the place with post-it notes. However, because I have to carry everything with me, I have to make do with small notebooks, word files and spreadsheets, which are visually and creatively less exciting.

    1. Yep, working from home was the dream - but it didn't that way. For me a big part of it was recognising that as much as I need to be alone to write - and I love to write - I can't be alone as much as I was.

  3. Thanks for this post, Teri, and glad you have got to a happy place. So many things you say here are true! That "one last thing" that Nick mentioned is a real difficulty, as is managing the rhythm of my working/writing time alongside the rhythms of Another, who is also here almost all the time.


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