Was Virginia Woolf right?
Is the lack of a room of her own the greatest obstacle for a writing woman? Do other things come into play, are other solutions possible?
Virginia Woolf’s essay on the need for a woman to have a room of her own in order to work, a place to be private and undistracted, free of demands from others, stunned me when I read it as a young woman. It explained so much, like why there was no female Shakespeare, or Tolstoy. Or Velazquez, or Mozart.
Her thesis was that when women are the necessary hub of the enterprise that is a family home, their time and energy is consumed by dailiness. They circle around nursery, kitchen, laundry, garden, bound by the routine of life. Other people’s needs.
Virginia Woolf herself had opted out, chosen the writer’s life, with an extraordinarily supportive husband, no children — But even so she’d been subject to daily demands, in her case, dealing with the servants who made the room of her own possible. (And of her recurrent depression, which ultimately nibbled her to death.)
So I would rationalize my own procrastination at getting on with writing. I was too busy, too distracted, too enmeshed with other people’s lives. I had no room of my own.
But ultimately the urge to create something with words grew too powerful. Without a room of my own, I began to write in public places.
Armed with pencil and yellow legal pad, I wrote in public libraries both quiet (in suburban towns scattered around Nassau County) and tumultuous (the third floor in the Midtown Manhattan Library). I wrote in crowded Manhattan luncheonettes. And I learned a couple of surprising facts about myself.
What distracted me?
My own four walls. My own home, books, telephone, pots and pans. Even with Frank at the office, and the children at school, I frittered away precious time.
What stimulated me?
The presence of strangers. A crowd of other people’s faces, random noises, sights and sounds unconnected to me, no response demanded. I noticed them, then ignored them, wrapped in my own cocoon, as I bent over the legal pad and my felt Flair pen began to fly.
I wrote two books that way.
And now here I sit at Chocolate Springs, chocolatier Joshua Needleman’s delectable paradise in Lenox, sipping tea the lovely Emma has brought over, nibbling scones, and then working with a will. No more yellow legal pad, it’s my Apple computer, but the same dynamic.
A room of my own? No, Virginia, it turns out that’s not my Santa Claus, nor sanity clause. Other people’s places, that’s where it is for me.
And how about you? What stimulates you? Distracts you? Is it surprising, or what you expected? I’d really like to hear from you —-