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  • Lynne Shelby

This Writing Life #5 A Room of Her Own - where do writers write?


Many writers like to shut themselves away behind a closed door to write, but I imagine few go to the extreme of Graham Greene who was so determined he wouldn’t be disturbed while he was writing that he rented a secret office, with only his wife knowing the telephone number.

William Faulkner contented himself with detaching the door knob from his study door and taking it into the room with him to ensure that no one could burst in and disturb his train of thought, while Mark Twain’s family knew that if they needed him, the only way to get him out of the octagonal study he had built separate from their house was to blow a horn.

George Bernard Shaw was another writer who had a purpose-built writing room away from his house, in his case a ‘writing hut’ in his garden with a mechanism which allowed it to revolve throughout the day, following the sun!

Dylan Thomas also wrote in a shed, although his was built on a cliff.

D H Lawrence liked to work outside, preferably sitting under a tree, while Gertrude Stein often wrote in her car.

The more traditional Charles Dickens wrote inside his house, in his study, but his main requirement when he put pen to paper was not the room he was in, but that he always sat in the same chair at the same desk – he took both of them with him when he was away from home. He was not alone in being particular about the furniture in his writing room – Robert Graves could only write in a room containing objects made by hand. Anything else he believed would disrupt his creative flow.

Of course, not every writer has the luxury of the ‘room of her own’ that Virginia Woolf (who usually wrote in an armchair in her basement) declared is necessary for a woman to have if she is to write fiction, and many a wonderful novel has been written on the proverbial kitchen table!

Before he was a best-selling author, Stephen King wrote ‘Carrie’ on a makeshift desk in his laundry room, squashed between the washing machine and the dryer - on a typewriter borrowed from his wife.

Marcel Proust favoured an informal writing space, and wrote in his bedroom, in his bed. Edith Wharton also wrote in bed, in longhand, with her dog at her side under one arm, throwing the pages she wrote onto the floor for her maid to collect and take to her secretary to be typed up. A lot of contemporary authors also admit to writing while in bed in their pyjamas, but Agatha Christie must be one of a very few authors who wrote in her bathroom while eating apples, the fruit being as much a necessary part of her creative process as the large Victorian bathtub in which she sat.

Not unexpectedly, libraries are often the place where writers not only browse the bookshelves, but also write books of their own – possibly because they provide a quiet writing space, with few distractions, but there are still other people around to prevent a writer feeling shut off from the rest of the world. Herman Melville set out to write the Great American Novel in the New York Society Library, where Willa Catha also wrote.

Coffee shops are another popular place where writers put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard. J K Rowling famously wrote the Harry Potter books in a café in Edinburgh, while the Vesuvio Café in San Francisco was the favoured haunt of Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg and others of the Beat Generation.

I’m lucky enough to have a writing room (aka the spare bedroom!), but I can write anywhere, and often do, on a train journey or by a hotel swimming pool. Here is a photo of my writing room on a recent holiday to Greece – it has to be one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever written in.

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