A Room of One’s Own

What Do You Need To Write?

In her 1929 essay on women and literature, Virginia Woolf famously observed, “A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.” I first read it in high school, and to my young self Woolf’s reasoned claim felt deeply personal, even urgent. For the first ever I gave serious thought to the question, “What would I need to live the creative life I dreamed of?”

Woolf’s feminist realpolitik emerged from a stark truth, namely we can’t pursue our higher-level callings (art, love, etc.,) if our basic needs aren’t met. Laura Ingalls Wilder didn’t publish her first book until she was sixty-four years old, after a lifetime of struggling to survive as a homestead wife and mother.   

Time and space to write is a privilege. I’ve held the ideal of Woolf’s room close to my heart, guarding my free time like a jewel. My physical space matters, too. I’ve fussed over the perfect arranged desk, chased down the perfect pen. But for years, my writing output was always more prolific at my day jobs, in noisy, chaotic spaces.

What was missing from my room?

Woolf’s room was more than a physical space. What I came to know (but not before some pain) was that just as important as a comfortable chair, proper lighting, and a good routine was having the right internal space you need to do the hard work of writing.

Some people call this author mindset. Stephen Pressfield talks about the interior journey you need to take to this mindset in his insightful book, Turning Pro.

The right internal space will also help guard against writer’s block that, like sea sickness, is much easier to avoid than to quell once it hits you. Setting up the right internal space is hard work but necessary work. It’s the foundation for any writing practice with longevity, because, let’s face it, this writing thing is hard. And when you falter, and you will, you need something solid to prop you up.

In the next post, I’ll explore some of the issues writers face to create the spaces they need—external and internal—to do the hard, at times scary, and always worthwhile work of writing.