A Room of One's Own
A Room of One's Own, III

A Room of One's Own, II

Hemingway's study in CubaErnest Hemingway's study at Finca Vigía (Lookout Farm) in Cuba

"What was it Hemingway asked for -- a clean, well-lighted place? We cannot all afford a farm in Cuba or a suite at the George V in newly liberated Paris, and more often than not must strive to forge our clean, well-lighted sentences at a folding table wedged between the baby's cot and the dining table. In one of his cramped refuges the exile Vladimir Nabokov had to work in the bath, with a wooden board placed across the top to hold his famous sheaves of bristol file cards. A far cry from Thomas Mann's and Evelyn Waugh's leather-topped desks and foot-long cigars. We all yearn in our hearts to be Larkin's 'shit in the shuttered chateau,' but few of us achieve that grand apotheosis. How I envy writers who can work on aeroplanes or in hotel rooms. On the run I can produce an article or a book review, or even a film script, but for fiction I must have my own desk, my own wall with my own postcards pinned to it, and my own window not to look out of. "  - John Banville

How important is the physical space you work in to you and your creative process? Do you thrive best in "A Room of Ones Own," or prefer a couch, a cafe, a library carrel, an easel on a hillside, or some other space? For young mythic writers/artists/scholars/etc.: where do you work now, and what kind of space would you like to create for yourself in the future? For older artists, what was the best work space you ever had, and why?

The photographs below show workspaces of well-established artists -- in some cases, no doubt, tidied up for the camera. (You'll find the photo captions, as always, by placing your cursor over the pictures.) These images make me long to see the "before" and "after" -- the earliest work spaces of these writers and artists as well as the ones created after professional success.

The question today is: How important is the space itself to the work?

John Banville's studY

Joan  Miró's studio

"I think of my studio as a vegetable garden, where things follow their natural course. They grow, they ripen. You have to graft. You have to water. " - Joan Miró

"I thought the only way you can get into things is ... through the basement ... exactly where my studio was ... I could creep upstairs and snatch at things, and bring them down with me ... where I could munch away at them."  - Paula Rego

Paula Rego at work in her London studio

Marina Warner's room

"I used to write in a burrow downstairs, and moving up into the roof and light and air lifted me and my writing, or at least it felt so. I think of the room less as a retreat than a crow's nest, because the wind sings around it."  - Marina Warner

"My room is at the top of the house up two flights of stairs, which is very useful as people have to think before they disturb you. I've worked here for 42 years and written all my books and done all my illustrations here. For most of that time my husband, Nigel Kneale, worked next door. It was useful because we could pop into each other's room when one of us had a bad moment. We seemed to come to a stop for lunch at more or less the same moment. It was a very good time; I was very lucky. He used to tell me about the plays he was going to write, and I used to show him my pictures. Sometimes he'd say 'isn't that child's head too big?' and he was always right. But he always liked them, otherwise it would have been rather awful."  - Judith Kerr

Judith Kerr's studio

J.G. Ballard's writing room

"My room is dominated by the huge painting, which is a copy of The Violation by the Belgian surrealist Paul Delvaux. The original was destroyed during the Blitz in 1940, and I commissioned an artist I know, Brigid Marlin, to make a copy from a photograph. I never stop looking at this painting and its mysterious and beautiful women. Sometimes I think I have gone to live inside it and each morning I emerge refreshed.... I have worked at this desk for the past 47 years. All my novels have been written on it, and old papers of every kind have accumulated like a great reef. The chair is an old dining-room chair that my mother brought back from China and probably one I sat on as a child, so it has known me for a very long time." - J.G. Ballard

"Although I was seduced by the idea of the need for a room of one's own, it is the atmosphere of a place, rather than somewhere unique and private, that matters most. As I've got older, I realise all I need is a view, light and to be up high.... I use the tiny laptop on my desk for novels only -- no email, no journalism, no internet, no administration -- and I hoard only books and paintings relevant to the project I'm working on." - Kate Mosse

Kate Mosse's writing room

Nicola Barker's writing desk

"I've never had a study -- never really needed one. I like to work in the middle of things, so my desk is in the far corner of my livingroom, pressed up against the kitchen cabinets. I have a beautiful view of the river but I rarely turn to look at it. I'm very focused when I work. I wear a pair of industrial earmuffs, even though I'm partially deaf and don't really need them. I love the gushing silence they provide and the pressure of them against my head. My desk is my camp, my small launch, my treehouse. I got the carpenter who made it to cut a small indentation into the table part, so I could slot right into it. It's made from some old stairs. And it has loads of little cupboards in front full of interesting stuff - letters and rosary beads, faulty discs, stickers and whatnot. As I work, my dog, Watson, insists on positioning himself under my chair. He's a terrifying mixture of needy and companionable. He groans a lot, and sighs expressively. I suspend my feet on a shelf built under the desk. My chair has a little arch cut into it just big enough for him to slot his head through. If I move unexpectedly he's almost decapitated."  - Nicola Barker

"Anyone who works at home needs a refuge from the rest of the household, as far from the house as possible, and definitely without a phone. Mine is in one corner of the garden, overlooking a vegetable patch and young orchard, and I feel great happiness in it. I am hassled only by the cat -- a catflap would reduce the inconvenience."  - Louis de Bernières

Louis de Bernières' writing shed

Michael Morpurgo's writing bed

"For many years, I wrote on our bed in the house. But there were complaints about ink on the sheets, dirty feet on the bed, and we felt we should try to create somewhere else, a storyteller's house. Clare, my wife designed it -- it's based on the Anglo-Saxon chapel of St Peter-Ad-Murum at Bradwell-juxta-Mare in Essex, where I grew up, but it has a Devon thatched roof, a Japanese garden and an uninterrupted view of the countryside, looking towards Dartmoor. So there I have made my writing bed."  - Michael Morpurgo

"I don't really have studios. I wander around people's attics, out in fields, in cellars, anyplace I find that invites me." - Andrew Wyeth

Andrew Wyeth's studio

Ides of March by Andrew Wyeth

"I don't have a writing room, and don't want one. I've never written successfully at a desk - whenever anyone tries to give me a desk, it always fills up immediately with old bits of paper, and, after a week or two, I go back to writing on the end of the dining table, clearing it all up before dinner. Or, more often, just on the arm of the sofa.... I know perfectly well that if I ever found myself with a grand study with a view over the trees - if I ever started retiring to my study after breakfast to perform my daily 1,000 words - that would be the end of it. A sofa, a notebook, and the promise to yourself that in a couple of hours you can put Radio 4 on - that's just the ticket." - Philip Hensher

"Here I am, where I ought to be. A writer must have a place where he or she feels this, a place to love and be irritated with."  - Louise Erdrich

Your thoughts?

Painting by John F. Petro, 1885

Some of the quotes and photographs here come from the Guardian's series on writers' rooms. I also recommend the Tumblr site Write Place, Write Time,  The Lure of the Writer's Cabin in The New York Times, and the website Writer's Houses.

Comments

Well how nice to be able to design a house to accommodate your 'writing bed' when someone complains about ink and dirty footmarks on the sheets. I must admit I'm in complete sympathy and have an entirely new dinner service of Dresden china designed whenever I dirty a plate. It's so much easier than actually washing up.

That's rather severe on Michael, who is one of the kindest of men. As a fantastist, I think it's absolutely delightful that he's built his fantasy writing space. And he's hardly a selfish man -- he's used his success as a writer to create (with his wife) Farms for City Children, which has done a great deal of good here in Devon.

http://www.farmsforcitychildren.co.uk/

Unless you were simply joking and it came across with an edge that you didn't intend?

I am also in sympathy with Michael's wife. My husband, Howard, left unchecked, will turn every room in the house into his work space, papers and files piling everywhere - and as the tidier partner, it definitely helps our marriage that he has a cabin-office in the garden as his Room of His Own, where he can make all the piles he wants. (Oddly enough, he keeps it fairly tidy.)

Oh dear, I just got off these two blog posts and it's 5:16AM and I meant to be in bed by 1AM and I was content 'till I opened this post and began to long and drool and WANT...Miro's studio, a huge white room, all my tools and things in perfect order, someone to watch over me, care for me and bring me medicinal tea with just the right amount of honey, whisk me away from this cramped, cluttered old apartment in this huge impersonal City to a paradise island for a year or two where the shore hugs the sea and the weather is forever balmy. YIKE! I've fallen into a huge abyss! Samsara's got me tangled in a voracious wishing tree. Oh, why can't I just enjoy the beauty of these scenes in a detached way Help me Buddah and whoever else is listening.

PS:
I love you.

I was indeed joking, though not without some prodding from the green eyed monster. However, I stand humbly corrected.

Michelle, I'm working right now in a studio overlooking the beautiful Devon hills, yet I have the same reaction to these studio/writing room pictures and want exactly what you want. And I simply have Studio Lust. For *all* the studios. Not jealously, just lust -- for all of them, and for a hundred life-times, so I can live and work in them all.

Sorry to interrupt your sleep, dear. Dream sweet studio dreams.


oooh....voyeuristic glee abounds!!

i have my little garret...with the desk i bought at a garage sale and the old chairs my husband found at the antique shop. i'm surrounded by my Treasures and i am absolutely and profoundly grateful for it. still, i often think it's infinitely more romantic and devoted of a writer/artist to create magnificent things in the corner of a cafe or whilst riding the subway -- it has such a valiant ring to it when they are interviewed in their eventual fame. ;)

i find it very interesting that none of the pictures above show fancy desks and ergonomic chairs....(well, except for maybe Nicola Barker's desk and chair which were designed for her)....and i can't help wondering how long those people are able to sit and write without getting cramped or achy. my own back is protesting loudly at the idea of writing on a bed!! :)

I'm finding the idea of a favorite kind of studio space very hard to pin down. For writing, so much of it is staring at a screen or a page that the configurations of where I am seem less important, as long as it's relatively quiet, there is daylight (near a window or outside), there is a sense of space and air, and I'm comfortable.

I love working on a laptop rather than a desktop computer because I'm not anchored to one place...I rotate between the sofa, dining room table, front porch, park benches and the coffee shop. However, I wrote both of my novels in our seemingly uninspiring home office, so once I get into the creative state my surroundings fade away.

Currently in Germany, I have the most beautiful and abundant space I've had in my entire life and I've been able to decorate as I pleased (on a very small budget, but still...) - and I've gotten less writing done here than when we lived in much more cramped homes (one in the US, one in China) where I found my writing space in the university library or simply standing at the dresser which was the only surface area I could call my own.

I think, while I love having physical space, and I love having *beautiful* physical space - it's the mental space that calls the shots in the end.

That one, I'm still working on.


Your Space

The write place or the right space,
that womb of one's own that is fine,
is a tight place or a loose space
where your head and heart can combine.

A right nook where you write book,
or you picture that paint-perfect art,
is the right room, not an end tomb,
as open or closed as your heart.

Jingle compliments of Jane Yolen ©2013 all rights reserved

If you prowl through the offerings of the Guardian's series on writers room (there's a link at the bottom of the post), there are definitely some writers with ergonomic chairs. On the other hand, there's also Colm Tóibín's writing chair (in his beautiful book cave in Dublin), about which he says:

"The chair is one of the most uncomfortable ever made. After a day's work, it causes pain in parts of the body you did not know existed. It keeps me awake."

http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2007/jul/13/writers.rooms.colm.toibin


Exactly!

"...it's the mental space that calls the shots in the end."

Very, very true.

Starbucks is my study. It has just enough noise and is removed from all the household distractions.
In the summers, though, I write in the garden. One of my happiest memories is of writing outside one summer evening just after dark, with the roses blooming and the fireflies flashing, and my neighbor playing classical piano pieces.

Nowadays I have a chair nestled into one of the perennial beds. You can see a photo of it at http://raosyth.com/blog/?p=311 . Sitting here, I am almost invisible to the creatures passing by. Hummingbirds have often flown within inches of my laptop.

I've already described my spaces in part one, but I thought to (but didn't) add that my dream space looks a lot like yours, Terri. When I first saw photos of your studio in your blog (it was when you explained your ritual of lighting the candle), I pretty much fell in love. I hope this doesn't come off as creepy. Of course my landscape will be different... I want windows displaying the Shenandoah Valley, cats sleeping in little corners and chambers, and a boho-style of decor (bells and fabrics and a statuette of Saraswati, goddess of knowledge, art, music, and science). But your space is the inspiration. So thank you for that!

I've found that although I *can* work anywhere, I prefer writing fiction on an old laptop with no internet, facing a poster of a star system. The old laptop, which sits on my dining table, is where I wrote my first complete novel. The poster has dozens of worlds and gives me a sense of infinite distance as well as many places to visit in my mind when I get stuck for a moment. I am at my fiction-writing best in that setting.

Neither the place nor the laptop will be around much longer, though. I don't know where I will find a new place as conducive as this one. Do you have any quotes by artists/writers who lost the "Room of Their Own" and how they coped ... or moved beyond the need for one?

Hi Teri

I loved this blog entry on the different types of "spaces" people create to work, whether it be writing or art. I think each individual varies and sometimes, its objects around them that serve as sources of comfort and inspirational companionship, and sometimes, it's the structure of the place and the view. For me, I am a freelance writer who works in the breakfast nook of our high desert home in Southern California. There is wonderful light that streams through the glass doors leading out to the garden. My fellow artists include van Gogh with his wild sunflowers sprawling across one wall and Monet with his pool of water lilies at Giverny on the other. Add to that a desktop computer and comfortable chair, and I am ready in writer's Utopia.

While browsing through the comments today, you expressed a wonderful idea; and I quote -

""...it's the mental space that calls the shots in the end."

I totally concur with that concept. Some years ago, I had an editor who wanted to slip inside the head of his poets and see what their mental loft looked like in a metaphorical sense. He also joked about the whereabouts or figure of "the muse". Was she a statue? A painting? A window with a view? A delivery girl? His whimsical desire & inquiry led to the idea for the poem below.

Muse In A Poet's Loft

She cleans his room. Hands scrunch
white scraps of thought into carnations
using the dustbin as a wicker vase.

Drapes are torn off,
and one piece of sculpture is left
standing on the small armoire,

its stone angular, hammered down
to an immaculate form.
This is theme, Rodin in verse.

Poised with a basket
of shriveled language in her arms,
she walks out, secures the door latch
and whispers Fini!
____________________________________________

Thank you for this delightful set of pictures and contemplative writings on the subject of "one's room". In particular, I loved the study with the replicated painting of "The Violation" by Paul Delvaux. I can understand why the writer was inspired by and took such joy in the company of those mysterious subjects.
Thank you!
Best regards

Wendy Howe

Housing prices being what they are, my writing room is always what the builder sells as a third or forth small bedroom. Into this, I wedge a 60-year-old writing desk that once belonged to my father, wall-to-ceiling bookshelves, maximum clutter and disorganization, and a PC. It works.

Malcolm

I'm a little like Philip Hensher: any desk I set up quickly acquires a thick coating of papers, clippings, and doodads. I love to write letters at my desk (part of the coating consists of stationery and stickers), but I'm not very likely to do any writing work there other than typing drafts and sending submissions.

The mental space IS the key. I like a little busyness to actively ignore. I like to be in a New Spot. One of my weak spots is to let the day-to-day weigh me down, so I like to be physically set afloat. I write lots when I travel.

It's so good to think explicitly about this: thank you. Having teased it out, now I can plot and plan to USE IT.

At last, a room like mine - Marina Warner's attic writing room. Now I can love her more. Except mine is an entire studio not an attic,. A fourth floor aerie.

Love love love this!

Jane

For me, location is less important than the ambience *for* writing. Isolation, one way or another, to aid focus.
Music helps. There’s a sense of transportation when the right piece of music sets the ambience for writing a scene, or a story, or even a whole novel.
All I need is a blank screen or an empty page - and that need is often urgent, leading to snippets and reminders on bus tickets or till receipts or text messages sent to my own phone.
Creating a physical space where one practises writing - like laying out a yoga mat in the hallway - is a way to demarcate for the world (and the world within, the self): This Is Where I Write. It’s a creation of a sacred place, where concentration is mustered.
Some of us just need a glade in the forest; others, Rheims Cathedral.

These are amazing! I need a room like that1 It would inspire me so much!

I used to be a cafe writer in my city days, but living in the country, I seem to have lost the knack...

You're welcome!

Hmmm, I can't think of any immediately, but I'll have a look in my quote file -- that's a very good topic.

Does anyone else here know of any?

Losing or leaving a place you love is always hard. I wrote an article about leaving my beloved Weaver's Cottage some years ago (which is where I lived for many years before I got married), and also about myths and lore of "home." It doesn't talk about "work space" specifically, but does address the issue of leaving a place to travel into unknown territory:

http://www.endicott-studio.com/rdrm/rrHearth.html

After leaving Weaver's, I spent about a year and a half perched in small temporary digs before Howard and I finally found, repaired, and moved into the house we're in now -- for a long while my "office" consisted of a counter space just about big enough for a lap top, squeezed between the clothes washer and the back door. It was very hard not to grieve the office and studio I'd left, particularly as we couldn't find a new place to move into for the longest time and had no idea what our future was to be. I definitely had to re-learn something I'd known from my more transient youth: that if you need to, or want to, you can work from anywhere.

I love it too. Thank you, Wendy!

My close friend Ellen Kushner is a lot like you. She has a wonderful desk and big book-filled office where she does many things in her busy and richly multi-disciplinary life...but she writes best when she's traveling and away from it all.

That sounds wonderful.

What kind of music do you listen to? For me, it can't be anything with words, as that interferes with the rhythm of my language...so I tend towards classical music, or R. Carlos Nakai's Native American flute compositions, or Celtic harp, or else choral music where the words are not in English, sung by groups like Gothic Voices, Sinfonye, and Anonymous Four.

When I'm painting, however, I can listen to anything...and do.

Hi Jane

So glad you enjoyed this; and I thank so much for taking time to read my comments and respond. That was so nice of you!

Best regards
Wendy

Hi Teri

Glad you liked it! I am really enjoying this blog series on "a room of one's own". The diverse perspectives fascinate! And thank you so much for responding and for allowing us as readers to come into the wonderful and informative world of "myth and Moor".

Best regards
Wendy

Music to write under? - it varies.
Classical is good, but the music has to have the right "feel" for the project. Vaughn Williams, for example, is so beautiful I often stop what I'm doing just to concentrate on his music. At other times when I listen to music my fingers start itching with words, and I would love one day to write the story my hands reach for every time I listen to Songs From The Auvergne.
Still, I prefer music with no words. My latest novel, Maiden Flight, is a silly dieselpunk romp (if I do say so myself - blushes) written against a backdrop of Stephan Whitlan’s joyous, tumultuous "Illegal Data", an electronic composition which matched perfectly the breathless excitement I felt when writing.
Other electronic work that goes on for ages - hypnotic, trancelike, persistent - like Tangerine Dream, Free System Projekt, Redshift: all good. Shorter work by Amiina and Enya. Gregorian chants, Ravi Shankar, Omar Farouk Tekbilek.
It most definitely helps that any lyrics are not a language I understand, even slightly, or my concentration wanders.

"A right nook where you write a book..." That is one of those lines that stick,succinct
but with a little world in it.

In the long process of writing that novel at last fearlessly peeking out at the world, I
listened to the score of the film The English Patient. It had an amazing connection to
the changing scenes, wistful sorrow, excitement, awe, and one character plays the piano. I have other CD's that coincide with themes. For some reason film scores, being dramatic, are helpful to me.

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