06 February 2013

A Perpetual Battle with Space

by D. A. Botta

A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction. ~ Virginia Woolf

Writers need space. Not much. But space. Not a planetarium. Their own space. A spot to sit and work their magic. You’ve got to make it your own. You’ve got to attract your muses there. You’ve got to channel your creativity there. That’s what I have searched for. That’s what I have longed for. That’s what I have been repeatedly heartbroken over. That’s what I’ve had innumerable arguments about.
That’s what I used to believe.

a recount of only my most recent relocations

I HAD AN OFFICE that was located upstairs. It was un-lovingly referred to as “the third bedroom” when we purchased my home a few years back. It overlooks my backyard, which is sprawling grass and partially wooded acre. We have deer friends, a gopher, bluebirds, robins, finches and an occasional visit by a coywolf. There are beech trees, birch trees, pine trees, maple trees, pear trees and a willow tree. It is well worth looking at, if you like those sorts of things, particularly from the second floor of my home.

THE WALLS WERE MUTED YELLOW and the trim was white. Sheer curtains donned the windows. I situated a small black desk by the double windows. On the desktop sat my computer, a small notepad, and a lamp with a cream-colored shade which looks like parchment paper. On the walls were little 4x6 black picture frames containing black and white photos of my favorite authors and some of their quotes. The space was perfect. It was exceptionally comfortable.

So … what happened?

WELL, THE MOST DIRECT ROUTE TO RELOCATING a writer’s office is to get pregnant. My wife and I did just that, and so something in me (if I ever meet that something, it and I will exchange some heated words) took over my brain. It was some kind of psychosis. The day we found out we were having a baby girl, I drove directly from the ultrasound to our local home improvement store, bought raspberry and lavender paint, pine shelving and princess wall decals. Immediately upon arriving home, I had possessedly transformed my beloved office into a girly princess nursery before the sun rose the next morning.

NEVER FEAR! We luckily have a 2600 square-foot house. Surely there would be some place that could step up into the void and accept the incredibly honorable position of My Office.

THERE IS A ROOM on the first floor of my house which had been, until then, the Room of Other Things. It housed the dog’s toys, an old couch, and a ridiculously excessive collection of DVDs. The walls are a soothing sage green, and the glass-paned french doors are a pleasant welcome. After a brief shuffle of furniture, I had established my new writing space by the front windows which overlook our street. The view wasn’t the beautiful backyard I once enjoyed, but at least I still had something of a lookout. I introduced an antiquey-looking sign which reads “Librarie” and a small hexagonal oak side table that has a secret cubby in it -- perfect for a stowaway bottle of whiskey … just saying -- and voila! my new space was complete.

BUT THEN CHRISTMASTIME CAME and we (and our parents) did what typical first-time, one-only parents do: spoiled our kid rotten. Now, I cannot possibly begin to describe the magnificently vast explosion of toddler toys that had suddenly amassed in our home, but I can tell you this: it was complete blasphemy to this minimalist. I was actually ashamed of what we had done. But there was no undoing it. After a few weeks of attempting to live with the pink and purple minefield of toys in our living room, it became apparent that the days of My Office were again numbered. It also became increasingly clear why my wife had given me a netbook as a birthday present!  That sinister daddy-spirit possessed me again, and my writing space was quickly converted to our daughter’s playroom. The office desk and side table and pictures were, once more, relocated -- this time to the guest bedroom across from the nursery upstairs.

HAVING GROWN TIRED OF PATCHING PLASTER walls, I decided not to hang the pictures this time. I simply stuffed them under the guest bed, crammed the desk into one corner of the room, and stuck the end table into another corner. Having written a novella, two novels, and two collections of poetry in various rooms of my house, I had finally exhausted the viable options of My Office. I am left to wander around with my netbook, yearning for spring, so I can write outside on my deck in reasonable temperatures -- weather permitting. There will be no desk. There will be no walls. There will be no pictures of poets. There will be, however, a view. And if you close your eyes and hold the asphalt of my street to your ear, the traffic sounds just like the ocean.
Sort of.

ONE THING I HAVE REALIZED by successfully writing in semi-nomadic fashion and in all sorts of My Offices throughout my house: space matters until you’re plain out of it. Don’t get too attached to your space. It is a lesson in impermanence. Get ready to up-and-move just as soon as you get into a groove.


1. A netbook or tablet of some sort: you need to be portable.

2. Some form of light: a lantern, candles, moonlight, LED string lights (I’ve used them all).

3. A comfortable place to sit. You may prefer a chair, but your butt works just fine too.

4. Gray matter between your ears that is full of creativity and imagination.

5. A mug for your coffee, a glass for your wine, or a tumbler for your whiskey.
SO HERE'S THE THING: don't focus on where you're writing - focus on what you're writing.


  1. Wow, I know this dilemma too well. It feels like we've given every square foot of our home to our toddler too, and he wants more!!! Come to think of it, he should start chipping in for the mortgage, huh?

    Thank you for reminding us that wherever you write, there you are.

    1. Hahaha! It's an epidemic!
      Good stuff Rob.

    2. I just told my son to chip in for rent. He's finished high school. It takes time, but they get there.

  2. Peter Benchley wrote JAWS in a chicken coop on a family's farm.

    Hemingway wrote in myriad places. Most often close, cramped and chilled with a woman bemoaning his existence.

    Perhaps the harsher the conditions or accommodations, the grittier the work? I dunno. But as you said, all that matters is that we concentrate on the quality of what we're doing, not where we're doing it.

    1. Molly, this means I'm going to be a LEGEND! I'm writing torturously close to cats and impossibly far from the coffee maker.

    2. if grittier is the goal. LOL
      I am contemplating a blog post about what it really means to channel muses -- for me, it is a good conversation (with a real person: a writist or philosopher). But SHHHH! don't tell anyone. ;)

    3. Ahhh hahahaha.... I can't I have a pack to say nothing. Nothing at all. SHHHHH!