The Folklore of Hearth & Home
The center called love

Rooms of Our Own

The Lew River valley

Lewtrenchard in the trees

In Still Writing: The Perils and Pleasure of a Creative Life, novelist and memoirist Dani Shapiro discusses the importance of having (as Virginia Woolf instructed so wisely) a "room of one's own" for nurturing our best creative work:

"It doesn't matter what or where it is, as long as it is yours. I don't necessarily mean that it has to belong to you. Only that, for the time you're working, you have what you need. Learning what you need to do your best work is a big step forward in the life of any writer. We all have different requirements, different ways of working. I have a friend who likes to write on the subway. She will board the F-train just to get work done. The jostle and cacophany -- she finds it clears her mind. Me? You'd have to shoot me first. For one, I'm a wee bit claustrophobic. Also, I need solitude and silence. I have friends who work best in coffee shops, others who like to work in the same rooms as their partners. Friends who have written multiple books at their kitchen tables. Marcel Proust famously wrote in bed, and so did Wendy Wasserstein. Gay Talese, the son of an Italian tailor, dresses in custom-made suits each morning  and descends the stairs to his basement study. Hemingway wrote standing up. One writer I know works best late at night, a habit left over from the years when she had young children under her roof and those were the only hours that were hers alone....


Our window

Front door

"We writers spend our days making something out of nothing. There is the blank page (or screen) and then there is the fraught and magical process of putting words down on the page. There is no shape, no blueprint, until one emerges from the page, as if through a mist. Is it a mirage? Is it real? We can't know. And so we need a sense of structure around us. These four walls. This cup. The wheels of the train beneath us. This borrowed room. The weight of this particular pen. Whatever it is that makes us feel secure in our physical space allows us to make the leap, hoping that the page will catch us. Writing, after all, is an act of faith. We must believe, without the slightest evidence that believing will get us anywhere."

Window seat at Lewtrenchard

I agree with Shapiro that it's important to discover how, and where, we do our best work -- for with this knowledge we can align our habits with our creative temperament instead of handicapping ourselves by working against our natural rhythms. But these rhythms, I find, also change through time; what has worked during an earlier phase of life might be entirely unhelpful to us today. Over the course of my life, I have been all of the writers Shapiro describes above (except that unimaginable subway scribbler): I was a big-city cafe writer in my twenties; I shared an office with a fellow writer throughout my thirties; I've worked in communal Art Studio buildings in New York, Boston, Tucson and Devon over the years...and yet today I find myself wedded to the silence and solitude of a small cabin by the woods.

Stained glass window 1

Stained glass window 2

Stained glass window 3

And then, of course, when we think we've finally got it sussed -- our work place set, our habits established, our schedule steady, productive, and predictable -- life throws a curveball at us, things change, we change, and we start all over again. We have to hone our working methods not once but several times over, as our art and our lives unfold.

Hornsea, Lewtrenchard

What what about you? Where do you do your best work? Do you have a "room of your own"...are you searching for one...or are you one of those people who can plunk down and work from anywhere? What's your ideal space; has it changed over the years? What was the best space that you've worked in, or the worst, and how much does your physical environment matter?

Do you ever retreat from the world to write or paint? What would the retreat space of your dreams be like? The room pictured here, in a 16th century Devon manor house, is one of mine....

Lord of the Manor

Lewtrenchard Manor

Pictures: The photographs above are of Lewtrenchard, a Jacobean manor house in Lewdown, Devon -- home to the Victorian author and folklorist Reverend Sabine Baring-Gould, and the setting of Laurie R. King's novel The Moor, in her "Mary Russell" series.  You can read more about Lewtrenchard (and the story of how Howard and I came to be there) in the picture captions, which you'll find by running your cursor over each photograph.

Words: The passages quoted about are from Still Writing by Dani Shapiro (Atlantic Monthly Press, 2013), which I highly recommend -- as well as the author's blog about her writing life, Moments of Being. All rights reserved by the author.

A related post: What makes a good writing day?, full of pictures of writing rooms, cabins, and huts.


Lovely manor house in Devon!

My worst writing place? In a noisy cubicle, under soul-sucking flourescent lights that would wilt most plants. Best writing place? Where I am now: in bed, tucked away in the rolling hills of Pennsylvania farmland -- quiet but for the neighing and mooing of livestock, and the tapping of a determined cardinal attacking his reflection in my window

The Moor is my favorite Mary Russell book. Thank you for sharing these photographs. It is a beautiful place.

That sounds perfect.

You're welcome. I love that book too.

I am searching for a room of my own now. I used to write outdoors, my Rite in the Rain notebook in hand, perched on a big rock by the Susquehanna River in north-central Pennsylvania. I dream of finally being able to use my antique library table as a desk in a small, cozy office in a small, cozy cottage...

My writing places have changed too... first in my dark bedroom with the spiders and their webs, then the dining room table through the night until I got to say Morning when my parents woke up!

Recently it's even more turmoiled and varied... new apartments, new bedrooms, new living rooms. The best part of course is my feline roommate Sammy, predating on my nightmares and standing guard of my writing process while he takes a nap, who adopted my sister and myself. :)

I've written mostly on a laptop, and am wary of bringing it out in public because I get so hyper and tend to forget myself, but as long as I brought along paper, that subway trip sounds delightful and adventurous.

Generally, whether other people around or listening to music with the discordant glitch-like distortion I love so much, I write better with noise around me. Chaos strengthens me. :D

Two large tables dominated my room of my own for many years. There I developed long term projects for clients. The tables were the heart of the room. Together they made a large square, spacious enough for my imagination to roam free and allow long term change plans to emerge from chaos. When my profession in the world ended because of a fragile health
the tables remained. The work I did there becoming a memory they offered a daily practice in mindfullness to keep the surface empty. In october that changed.
Now my room is spacious and I have a tiny writing table. I like to think I don't need the spacious surface anymore as I journey deep these days.

The best place I ever worked in was a room on the second floor of a nun's convent, overlooking the fruit trees. The silence of ages.

I write and paint in a room sort of my own. Our library has my desk in the middle where I can look out the front window when I need a break or want to check the weather. I have a small table in the corner with an Ott light for painting. It is quiet here but sometimes I play music to stir my mind. I wouldn't want to be in a subway, cafe or any other place due to my being so easily distracted.
My dream place to write/paint would be in a second story room with windows.
This place you have shown us is dynamic. A place of dreams.

Thank you for this beautiful post. It has helped me a great deal. I used to work anywhere at all when I was young, arrogantly trying to claim all the world as my own studio, I think! I kept a tiny jar of water in my bag and had a pocketful of paint tubes and would paint in cafés, on the train and outside in the country. Now I work with wool and still carry it around when I can, although I seem to need the space of my studio to feel grounded and also for the non-portable aspects of what I do. I’ve been having problems about my studio and have been ignoring it, trying to work elsewhere, but you have inspired me to face the challenge and fix my space.

I'm currently building mine -- a combination tiny house & craft show booth on wheels, it will be mine, entirely mine, solely mine, & I won't need to fear eviction by roommates or landlords. I can't WAIT til it's done, or at least ready to go on the road!

I currently don't have a room of my own. I'd like to. Ideally, I'd have some sort of flexible shared space with room for both quiet solitude and working at a big table with other focused creators (who also might like to pause for tea and conversation now and then). For now, I work at home, in the chaos of mess that is my family life, and try to imagine building a room of my own out of time rather than space.

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