- August 31, 2016
- Alexia Gordon
“A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.” I can’t comment on Virginia Woolf’s first ingredient for a successful literary career. Having money certainly helps. I’m fortunate to have a daytime situation, to borrow a phrase, that pays my bills. The security of knowing a roof over my head doesn’t depend on the number of sellable words I produce makes it easier to me to pursue a career in fiction. I imagine being penniless and worried about basic survival would make writing difficult but I don’t know about impossible.
As far as Ms. Woolf’s second ingredient? Her essay was written before Starbucks and co-working. Nowadays it’s possible to borrow or rent space in someone else’s room to write. I often do. I find it hard to work at home. Home signals my brain it’s time to unwind and recuperate from the day’s stress. Home is my hermit cave. My place to retreat and recharge. (Yes, I’m an introvert.)
Writing fiction isn’t stressful. I love writing. But it is work, at least when you get to the point you’re writing on deadline for a publisher. Since my mind equates home with anything but work I struggle to focus on the business of writing when I’m there. Plus, my day job starts early. Getting up at oh-dark-thirty to get ready and get there makes staying awake past eight pm difficult.)
Writing away from home boosts my productivity. The fiction flows easier when I’m not surrounded by things my brain associates with downtime. I write first drafts in long hand so even without nearly ubiquitous Wi-Fi and 4G and a computer small enough to slip into a large purse, I can work almost any place. But I have preferences. I choose public places so I’m not tempted to nap. I’d rather nap than eat so I write in public places where sleep is out of the question. I need some background noise. Not enough to distract me but enough to act as white noise which keeps me from paying attention to the silence. I’ve never lived way out in the country. I’m used to the buzz of the urban environment’s hustle and bustle. Table space is preferred but I can do without. I’ve worked crouched in a corner of an airport waiting area. Electrical outlets are a plus. I do, eventually, have to type what I wrote and a laptop’s battery never lasts as long as you need it to. Access to coffee is a bonus. Not mandatory but awfully nice.
I’ve written in libraries, airports, on airplanes (a great technique for avoiding being turned into a captive audience for an overly-chatty seatmate. Just don’t make eye contact.), in bookstores, in coffee shops, on trains, in restaurants, in hotel lobbies, even in concert halls during intermission. My two favorite writing places are in Dallas, Texas. How I miss them now I no longer live in the Big D. One is the communal table in the Joule hotel’s lobby. Handcrafted from reclaimed wood, it’s a work of art surrounded by the Joule’s other contemporary art works—paintings, sculptures, video installations. Writing at the communal table is like writing in an art gallery (which I’ve done). With built-in electrical outlets, a staff who doesn’t mind if you squat, and a coffee shop a few steps away finding a seat at the table on a weekday can be a challenge. Many downtown Dallas denizens find the communal table inspiring. But on weekend mornings and late evenings the table often sits deserted, waiting for someone to use it as a creative space.
Fort Work Co-Working shares the title of favorite. I considered renting an office to write but I didn’t need an entire office to myself and it would sit empty for most of the day while I worked at my full-time job. I only needed desk space. Behold, co-working. A monthly fee purchases access to desk space whenever it’s needed, which for me meant evenings and weekends. I’d grab a space at a desk near a window (Fort Work’s desks are communal tables like at the Joule but with a more streamlined appearance. No reclaimed wood. Plenty of outlets, though.) and write, surrounded by tech startups and entrepreneurs and with easy access to coffee and energy bars.
I will continue to struggle to work at home. Going someplace else to write isn’t always practical. But whenever possible I will search out space to borrow (or rent) in someone else’s room. Especially if that room comes with coffee.