I read Virginia Woolf”s A Room of One’s Own years ago on a flight to San Francisco. I’m a fiercely fast writer and a seriously slow reader, so the slender volume of her extended essay on women and fiction was just the right length for the flight. I turned the last page as the wheels hovered above tarmac. From title to finish, I kept thinking yes-yes-yes. Financial security and privacy still stand, for me, as hallmarks of surviving as a writer.
I have discovered my own space that cracked open the place in my soul where the alchemy of thoughts to words happens. For the past couple of decades, I’ve travelled to a magic island for one week in the fall. About a dozen of us writers, led by a kind of raucous fairy godmother who organizes everything for us, take to our rooms for the day and write. Then we gather for feasting and sharing our work in the evening. It’s a common model for writing retreats but what is uncommon is the setting. A private island. A house that rambles in worn Victorian splendor, with nooks and ghosts. My room of my own is on a faux corner, with fireplace, window seat, faded photographs of the reigning family and a views of the kitchen garden to one side and Nantucket Sound to the other. I pull up a straight-backed chair, to a painted faded aqua nightstand, open up my laptop and the words flow and flow.
Is it necessary to drive, take a boat and hide away on a private island?
No. I write the rest of the year in my home office with activity buzzing around, my dog by my feet. But I’ve come to think of the island trek as my pilgrimage. I come back with chapters complete; I return with a clearer vision of where I’m going and why I’m going there.
As for Woolf’s second pillar, financial security, I’m working on that. It’s true for me, as it is for many writers, that I write because I need to tell stories. However, book sales mean that people are reading–a good thing. One of the best descriptions I’ve heard of publishing contracts is that they buy time. Time for writing.
I’m grateful to Woolf for many things, but most grateful for stating the obvious.