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Virginia WoolfA Room of Her Own

Published In The Kiss of Death, May/June 2007


“A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction,” said Virginia Woolf in her novel, A Room of Her Own. The year was 1929 and it was very likely she was correct. In a time when women were not as educated as their male counterparts in a male dominated society, it was only the most unusual of women who undertook the impossible and put –- literally -- pen and ink to paper.

Today, with so many writers starting out when their children are small or the bills have to be paid by a day job, coming up with the money to finance a side career and finding a place in a busy house to call their own can be a tall order. New writer’s defy Ms. Woolf’s opinion and do what they can to make their dream come true.

Nora Roberts, Sandra Brown, Debbie Macomber, just to name a few, started off writing just like everyone else. They had an idea, they found the time and place, and they put in the effort to create their very first manuscript. They found snippets of time before or after work. If they were stay at home moms, they wrote at nap times or between driving the kids to piano and soccer practice. For space, they used dining rooms tables.

Nora Roberts started writing when her two sons were just three and six. She would write longhand into notebooks while the boys were at baseball practice or the pediatrician When she got home, she would type out what she had hand-written into a portable typewriter at the little table in her kitchen.

Sandra Brown set a card table up in a little used room, using a IBM Selectric typewriter. “It was state of the art at the time,” she says. With two pre-schoolers underfoot, she had her hands full. “I tried to explain that I was writing a book, but to them a stack of manuscript pages didn't look like a book. No pictures. The rule was, while mother was writing, she couldn't be interrupted except in an emergency. ‘What's an emergency?’ they asked. I replied, ‘Smoke or blood.’”

Debbie Macomber rented her first typewriter, straining the family budget to almost the breaking point. After the sale of her first book, she splurged and bought herself a desk which she set up in the den next to her husbands desk. The mother of four kids, the youngest was just three at the time.

All these writers, these women, shared a common thread before they were ever best selling authors. They had a desire to write and sought out a time and place. In fact, they made the time and the place to create their dream.

Do they agree with what Virginia said? Does a woman need money and a room of her own?

Says Sandra Brown: “If she meant it metaphorically, then I agree. To write fiction, one must ‘zone out,’ enter a private world. But if she meant it literally, then I never would have written a word. I've outlined plots during soccer games, at the circus, driving car pool, folding laundry. During those times, having a room of my own, or even an hour of quiet time -- would have been a luxury!”

What makes up a “room of your own”? Does it have to be an actual room in your house? Can you make due with what you have? Well, if you are Nora Roberts and marry a carpenter, you might just be lucky enough to have him add on a third story to your existing house, giving you all the space you need to lay out your research books and printouts.

If you are still struggling with that first book, that first contest entry, that first submission to an editor, your options might be just a little more limited. You might have to find a corner of the house you can go to before or after your day job.

If you have kids at home with drum sets and electric guitars, then you might have to splurge and get a set of headphones. And not those little iPod ear buds. You need the heavy duty, ear covering, noise canceling headphones. Says Chris Baty in his book No Plot? No Problem! “When writing a novel, I always wear large, ear-covering headphones. Sometimes I even remember to plug them into my CD player ... headphones, with or without music ... create a social buffer around you.”

Says Janet Taylor, president of Totally Organized, “If you create a space to work, I believe you can discipline yourself not to get distracted and to stay focused on your writing. I have been working at home for over twelve years and I love it. I like the fact that I can dress comfortably and am able to surround myself with sounds (inspirational and motivational tapes) and smells (flowers and candles) without disturbing others.”

Kate Kelly, co-author of Organize Yourself shares a different opinion on finding space. She recommends what she calls ‘The Starbucks Factor’. “Many people work very productively at the coffee shop because they are ‘alone’ there, in terms of responding to the environment. At home you fall prey to everything from a ringing telephone to a whining child. At a coffee shop, you control what you pay attention to.”

A Room of Her Own ... Virginia Woolf had the right idea. A woman needs quiet to write her books and if she’s lucky, she will even get a pay check out of the deal. However, Ms. Woolf lived and died in a time when women didn’t wear so many hats and when live-in help was the norm.

Today’s writers are a new breed of women, ones who do it all and still find time to get their three pages done every day, the next chapter outlined or their newest contest entry out the door.

Today’s women don’t need money and a room of their own. They’ll write their books where they can, when they can and they will find a way to hook up with like-minded souls and find a smile along the way.

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