A Room of One’s Own

by Janis Patterson


I belong to a number of writers’ groups, some of which – at long last! – are starting to meet in person again. The particular group of which I speak is composed of all kinds of writers from working professional to stark-beginner aspirant, and was finally having a real meeting after two years of Zoom-ing. The conversation level was astounding as we all talked full speed full volume catching each other up on what had happened since our last real gathering. (As good as Zoom is for the meat of meetings, it is not up to personal interaction and exchange!)


One woman, who had joined the group only a few meetings before the shutdown, was holding forth, proudly showing photos of her new office. She had acquired one of those monstrous L-shaped desks that can eat half a room. It was festooned with several shelves of reference books, plaques of inspiring quotes, beautiful pictures, a few lovely little objets d’art and even a gorgeous silver vase of fresh flowers. A large brand new Mac computer took pride of place in the typing area and – to the envy of my uncertain back – a new, bright red X-Chair sat in front of it. I will it admit, it took a great amount of discipline not to drool openly over that.


“Now,” she concluded with pride after finishing a highly descriptive virtual tour, “I can be a professional writer.”


Huh?


When pressed for an explanation she said, “Well, one has to have a professional office in order to be a professional, doesn’t one?”


The eyeblinks in the room were almost deafening.


“It’s lovely,” someone said. “It must make writing so much easier. How many books have you done?”


“None yet.”


Double huh?


When The Husband and I inherited our house, we turned the guest bedroom into my office by the simple expedient of adding a small desk and a cheap office chair. Even though I have been publishing for decades I had never had a real office before and it was heavenly. For a number of family reasons, though, it ceased to be an option and I moved my writing center onto a table in the family room, a room shared with our animals, the TV and a newly retired husband. My output did not drop, though – at least, not significantly and not for long. I know a prolific multi-published novelist who writes at the dining room table, and another who has a card table squashed into the corner of her bedroom. There was one who turned the built-in bar in their home into her office and another who has a day job stays late every night for an hour and a half or so to write simply because she cannot write in the chaos of her home. In fact, I know more professional writers who do not have dedicated offices than those lucky few who do.


“You mean you haven’t written anything?” another asked incredulously. “It’s been two years since we last met.”


She looked offended. “How,” she replied only a little huffily, “could I have written anything? It was only delivered last week.”


There was nothing any of us could say to that. We separated into other conversational groups, metaphorically if not physically shaking our heads. This woman had had two years of what basically amounted to house arrest (she does not have a day job) and while many of us had taken advantage of the enforced lack of external activities time to write even more apparently she hadn’t written at all. I myself wrote 1 ½ more books than I would have normally done in that time span, and many of my professional writer friends did even more.


This woman had obviously spent her time poring over design magazines and websites. Now, she proudly proclaims to anyone she can get to listen, since she has a professional office she is a professional writer.


Hey, lady, professional writers WRITE. We write in dens and dining rooms. We write while waiting at the garage and in line waiting to pick up children from school. We have been known to scribble facts and ideas and scraps of dialogue on paper napkins while at lunch. Some of us even write on our phones wherever we happen to be.


I am not a total grinch. Her office is lovely (how I do truly envy her that red X-Chair!) and I wish her much joy in it. It will not, however, make her a professional or any other kind of writer except a wannabe. Only writing and selling makes a true professional. The agents/editors/publishers/readers won’t give a flip if she writes on a huge L-shaped desk or a card table. What matters to them is the story, the words, the worlds she creates… and you can’t order them from any design house.

9 thoughts on “A Room of One’s Own

  1. My office now besides having all that you’d expect is also a depository for home supplies as well. I have a window I can look out when I’m at the computer with a great view of lots of trees, the foothills and the mountains beyond.

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  2. I am almost reluctant to say I have an office. It’s small, the floor is usually covered with research I’ve done and am using in writing my book, and I never seem to find what I want as quickly as I’d like. I, also, have a book case full of topics I usually write on and books I’m reading. I love to read authors in genres I write. What a way to learn better writing. The other day, my granddaughter was helping with my computer, my five-year-old twin boy great grandsons were studying one of my geology books, and my l00 pound poodle stretched out between us. There was hardly room to stand. I love my office.

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  3. I started writing on an electric typewriter on a card table in the corner of our bedroom. Now I have a desk in an office.. But I take a laptop everywhere I go and write wherever I can.

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  4. I have my desk in the dining room not far from the dining room table and not far from the living room area. For some reason when I’m writing I don’t like the idea of hiding away. I like to be out in the open. Anyway, whatever makes a writer feel comfortable is best!

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  5. I am like you and have written all over the place. Some people need a certain kind of atmosphere to be in the zone and perhaps, that is where your fellow writer had to be. Hopefully, she’ll get into the groove and produce!

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  6. I read this piece thinking of all the places where I had written until my husband built bookshelves for me and I commandeered an old dining table for my desk. Years later I inherited my father’s desk–with drawers. How I coveted desks with drawers, places to put notes and pens and all sorts of paraphernalia. Now my “office” is cluttered with files, my husband’s stuff, and more. Sometimes I miss my first “desk,” because it was so small there was room only for my pad of paper and a few pens. I’ll bet most of us know someone who set up an impressive office before she (or he) ever wrote a single word or purchased business cards with her name and “writer” underneath it.

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  7. Good one, Janis. When we lived in Pennsylvania, I had a gorgeous, large, trick-out office and now here in NY state, my “office” is in a niche at the end of a hall on the second floor of our late 1800s house. I actually love the setting better than the former one and agree, you really can write anywhere if you’re so inclined.

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