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Sunday, January 27, 2008

A Room of One's Own

I have no pretensions to be the next Virginia Woolf but that superlative writer wrote an essay on this subject which you can read in full at . In short she said to write fiction, a woman needed money and a room of her own.

I have always had, in one sense or another, a room of my own or should I say, a place of my own where I worked and I could make identifiably MY space. My sons had their bedrooms, my husband his shed and I claimed the room in the house loosely termed "the study". Two and a half years ago I lost that space when my husband's employer unilaterally decided my husband should work from home. I don't propose to go into the fine details of that (still ongoing arrangement) that left my desk stranded on a (large) landing.

I attempted to claim that space on the landing as my own, but nothing I could do altered the fact that it was still a thoroughfare. I mourned for my space and my writing effectively dried up, except, oddly, on those few days when I was home alone and the whole house once more became my space, but crammed into a corner and subject to the continual interruptions of sons and husband was not a good place for a writer.

There are probably those of you who say, a good writer can write anywhere, and certainly when the muse is with me, I could write in a train station in the middle of peak hour, but I need a sense of order around me to get that muse kick started and working on the landing, I never seemed to achieve that sense of physical or mental order.

When I lived in Asia, I learned quite a bit about Feng Shui - certainly enough to know that the basic precepts of not cluttering and freeing up energy lines have some considerable credence. Certainly they do for me!

My eldest son has upped stakes and is travelling overseas for the next year so I, after some basic consultation with him, claimed his room. Over the Christmas/New Year period I painted the room and moved all my "stuff" into it, hung my pictures on the wall and made the space mine. I am not just a writer, I also sew (quilting/ embroidery) and with all my sewing materials pushed into available spaces around the house, I have even felt myself unable to pursue that side of my creativity. Now it is all with me again and I feel the space in my head opening up again.

Along with the space, I have also embarked on some new year's resolutions which I fully intend to keep (and by declaring them publicly - I can keep myself honest!). The first was to undertake one of Margie Lawson's on-line courses on "Beating Self-Defeating Behaviours". Through the course, I have hooked up with a wonderful fellow-writer in Canada, Alice Valdal , to be my change coach. We share a lot in common - including the same self-defeating behaviours.

The second was that old chestnut - exercise! I have given up on the unused gym membership and taken up a programme called "Step Into Life" - group exercise in the great outdoors. With a stressful job and the general pressures of daily life, physical fitness is the most worthwhile investment I can give myself. So keep me honest! Exercising outside is wonderful at the moment because the days are long and the weather is warm - roll on winter and it may be a different story.

Two questions:

1. Do you need a "room of your own"? Or If you have a "room of your own" tell me about it.

2. What new year's resolutions are you absolutely committed to keeping this year?

I look forward to hearing from you.



  1. Hey Alison,
    Great topic. Glad you got your space back. I think having a room or space of one's own is important. As a student, I used to go from one spot to another, and while I still can do this if I need to, I prefer to have my own space. I've moved into the formal lounge room, so it's half lounge/half study. It's not perfect but unless I had the whole room, it wouldn't be. But I'm happy with my corner of the world. I have 2 desks, 2 filing cabinets, a bookcase and whole lot of mess. This brings us to my 2008 goal - getting rid of clutter and not just in the study - everywhere. I'm a self-confessed hoarder, but it has become ridiculous!! So thanks for the prompt for my 15 min de-clutter a day.

  2. Hi Alison
    Do I have a room of my own? Yep. Do I use it? No, well not for my writing anyway.

    When my son moved out of home after he bought his own house I moved all my things into his room. At first it was great. I'd get out there and type away quite content, but I found myself getting up to see what was happening else where in the house. Even when I was on my own.
    So I up stakes, moved all my writing thing back into the main part of the house.

    Now I'm quite happy, I can see what my hubby is up too. I know when we get visitors and if I want to I can watch the telly while I write.

    My room, I now use for my painting and scrapbooking. Oh and it's kind of like my library, all my books in the one room.

    My only new year's resolution I have is to be organized with my writing. Anything else I'll just break.


  3. Hi Alison,
    I have my own office, my space, where I am orgainised. I can step away, and when I return it makes it easy for me to start again where I left. I think it's important for a writer to have a place of their own. I couldn't imagine it any other way. When I set it up I took the fenshu aspects of the home office into account.
    New Year's resolution. I didn' make any, as last years didn't happen. But this year I intend to redraft two of my manuscripts and submit, submit, submit. :)

    Oh I usually take a long walk each day, but lately it hasn't been happening, so I was using my cross-trainer. Yesterday was the first day in three days I didn't walk along the beach.

    Suz :)

  4. I'm with you Suz! Even at work, I cannot work in a cluttered office. I work (and I am married to one) with men who only seem to work surrounded by what I can only describe as an archaeological dig of "stuff"! There is a lot of sense, to me anyway, in some of the fundamental principles of feng shui (and is it significant our "wealth corner" is the far left hand corner of my husband's shed?? I gritted my teeth and stuck a lucky Chinese frog there - just hope he's still there - under the clutter)

    Sandi - that's a different approach. I suppose we can all work in different spaces but at the end of the day you do still have a "room of your own" where all your stuff is kept.

  5. Alison gee I can relate to this topic. We all work and live from the same property and personal space ownership becomes quite complex at times.

    In order to stay friends we’ve mentally labelled every location up in terms of first decision ownership. Silly things like deciding who and what is permitted in the space at any given time. We’re all learnt to retreat to less disputed territory before we become insistent.

    There’s a room down the other end used for reading, I think. Where I’m only permitted to go by invitation, always to catch spiders. What an untidy place it is; no wonder spiders congregate there.

    Even the cloths line has an end where pegs are never paired in matching colours about which I’ve learned to mind my own business in silence.

    Resolutions are silly for me, I’d never stick; it’s more of the same for me.

    I hope to see the result of your new room very soon.


  6. Hi Alison,
    I have my own room. It was meant to be my eldest son's room when we were building but he moved inot his own place before we finished and so I claimed it.
    Am ashamed to say it's the messiest room in the house after my youngest son's room. Mainly because I am too busy writing in it to worry about cleaning it and no one else ever comes into it.
    Maybe that should be my New Year resolution - to clean out my study.
    Love your books BTW and congratulations on the Eppie.
    From another Alison

  7. Alison, I couldn't work if I didn't have an office of my own. The office is 6 metres by 4 metres and it's still overflowing with 'stuff'. There are four desks which I use for different purposes.

    No visitors ever sleep in my office, no one gets to sit there, even. I think you're right about Feng Shui. The office is not only my space but my fantasy world.

    I've written 35 of my 42 published novels there in peace and happiness. I even resent it when my lovely husband walks past the window whistling as he gardens.

    As for exercise, I don't like it but I do it, because it keeps my bad back tamed and also seems to spur on my writing. I walk round and round the house, because I'm sure of the footing there and can get up a good head of steam.

    Good luck with your 'new' office! May you write up a storm this year.

    Anna Jacobs

  8. I must jump in and here and put a link to Anna Jacobs website

    Anna is, perhaps, one of the most committed and professional writers I have ever met. An absolute tribute to the adage that to be a successful writer takes hard work. Thanks for posting Anna, I envy you your room of your own. Alas, until #2 son ups and goes my room will also serve as the spare bedroom but it's a small sacrifice.

  9. Alison, huge congratulations on getting your space. I 100% relate to your story. Sadly, I am a delicate begonia when it comes to writing and not a hardy impatiens. I like everything just so and even then, it's tough to prod the muse into working. My muse likes to take long baths and eat Smith's crisps and read. Hmm, perhaps I should put that in a personal ad! I have a whole room to myself at the moment with a lovely view over the garden and native birds and lizards that carry on outside and entertain me when the muse is off seeking Mr. Right. I love my office to death - I've never had one before so this feels like such a luxury. Good luck with your writing in your new study!

  10. I'm in the class with you and loving it! I have defeated a behavior or two with many more to work on....

    Congrats on your step toward physical fitness.

    As to your question about a room of my own, yes, I have one, but I'm much more productive it I take my AlphaSmart somewhere with no pressures or distractions and just knock things out. I'm hoping to be able to transition back to my office as I defeat my SDBs.

    Good luck to us all. Come visit me at and Yet another way for me to procrastinate -- writing multiple blogs.

  11. Dear Alison,

    My first two books were created on a portable
    typewriter on the dining room table. It seemed ages until my children grew old enough to move out of home and leave a room spare.

    Having your own office is bliss, and I quickly grew attached to mine. I guard it from marauding grandchildren with my life (they are attracted to the mobility of my office chair!).

    Like my handbag, I resent anyone coming or going in it without my permission and I'm thinking of getting a lock and doorbell installed.


  12. I am very spoilt in that I have three young children at home and I still have a room of my own. When we built this house, that was my only stipulation. My studio is the size of the kids' rooms, but it's off our bedroom, so can never be claimed as a guest bedroom or the like.
    I also quilt and scrapbook, so this room is a catchall for all my creative stuff. It's not as uncluttered or organised as I like, but I'm working on it.
    I don't know how i'd cope not having my own space!


  13. I've loved reading all your comments.
    Janet - I have a sign on my DOOR (yes! I finally have a door) that I think came from a conference goody bag that says "Writer at Work, dammit! Unless you are bleeding from an artery or we're in imminent danger from earthquake or flood, then you're on your own. Deal with it!"
    Jane - you hang on to that room! Our house was designed with a study for me... and now a large, multi-national oil company squats in it!
    Anna - A room with a view! I saw a programme the other day on Vita Sackville-West (lover of Virgnia Woolf). At Sissinghurst, she had a whole TOWER and no-one was allowed past the front door.
    Anne - Yay you for working on those SDBs! I confess to being way behind in the lectures, but I figure if I can start the year as I mean to go on!!

  14. Alison, I've been to Sissinghurst and climbed the tower. It gave me a severe case of writer's envy. Absolutely gorgeous place, so romantic. Interesting in that program how she and her husband basically spread one house across several buildings, including bedrooms in separate places. Vita slept in the tower, from memory. Harold slept in a stable block.

  15. Hey Alison

    I have an office that I 'technically share' with my hubby, (but he works away during the week so its MINE most of the time.) My kids come and squat, now and again - chat to their dad on skype etc then go back to kid things....I am productive at my desk and I run ''my empire'' from here. Its great - but recently we had family here, and they 'shared' it too. And while they never meant to intrude, just borrow the nicest computer in the house etc I felt like my space was invaded. And that I didn't like. I found I couldn't write, and that made me cranky.

    My cat who sits with me when I write ( yes, sometimes even on my desk too - bad habit I know) He hated it. Everyone kept sitting on HIS spare chair, putting things on HIS desk space etc. He is happy again now as he runs into the study when I walk in as if to say - yes - its a good day for writing... actually we are both happier now - we have our space back.

    So enjoy your space - you deserve it.

    Resolutions... to be actively working on a writing project the whole time - trying not to 'slack' off and kick back watching TV every night - unless I have achieved writing during the day.

    Good luck with the excercise program. See you at the conference all toned and buffed!

    Bye 4 now

  16. Hi Alison, I thought I posted previously but I messed it up... Anyway, I now have a room of my own and it is brilliant. It's also a room which is not a public access point - people have *no need* to enter, so there is blissful privacy. Room to put my things around, or stash gifts that need to remain undiscovered, or write, or read... Absolute heaven, absolutely recommended if possible.

  17. Hello Alison
    I just had to respond to your post because I feel so strongly about this. Every woman needs a space to call their own to recharge; to get organised; to daydream; to escape; to *be themselves*. I've had to share a space with my incredibly messy husband for 20 years in every house we've ever lived in. In our latest move, I made it clear that "this is my half of the room, that's your half". He laughingly suggested we put tape down the middle, a la The Brady Bunch. He now realises how serious I was - I growl every time he lets any of his junk spill over to my side! I am so loving having half a room of my very own :-)