Writers on Writing: Virginia Woolf

Quote retrieved from Bloomsbury Literary Studies
In this post I’m going to switch gears from Ernest Hemingway, the “man’s man,” to renowned author and feminist Virginia Woolf. Admittedly I’ve only read one of Woolf’s works, To the Lighthouse. I believe I’ve read “The Evening Party” as well but it was in a collection with several other writers that I read for an undergraduate short story class, so I’m not certain that’s the right story. Nevertheless, I find her very intriguing, both as a writer and as a human being. (We don’t always treat the former as the latter, so I feel it’s necessary to make that clarification.)

The quote I want to focus on is the title quote from her book-length essay A Room of One’s Own:

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

Things have changed since Woolf’s time, in the writing world and society overall. We allow women more independence and more financial success in their own right. Does that make Woolf’s words any less true? Not necessarily.

Society still pressures women to be “good” wives and mothers. To add to the stress, everyone’s definition of a “good” wife and mother differs and some include the need to earn money. Kids, a significant other, a job–it’s no wonder many female writers have to put off writing until the kids have gone to bed. More women have their own money, but a “room of [their] own” can still be hard to come by.

What if you’re a single woman? A childless female writer? A male writer? Do Woolf’s words still apply? I would argue yes.

Whether we’re in a relationship or single, a parent or childless, man or woman or gender-less, we all have responsibilities bearing down on us. Household chores, self-care, paying jobs–writers have to eat, too–and much more can slow our writing progress. That’s before we add in our social lives (those of us who still have one), our immediate family outside of children and significant others, and our pets.

The best solutions to these obstacles? Money and a room of our own.

We may not be dependent on someone else’s money but we still need more money in order to free up time for writing. More money means fewer work hours needed, and fewer work hours are more hours for writing.

But do we really need a room of our own? It can mean seclusion and privacy, which begot focus and freedom. No distractions, no judgment. Just us, our ideas, and our writing. It’s why many writers withdraw into bedrooms or home offices, especially when their household is buzzing. Some even go to the extreme of renting offices outside of the home. Now that is the epitome of needing money and a room of one’s own to write fiction.

Portrait of Virginia Woolf

Photograph by George Charles Beresford, retrieved from the
Virginia Woolf Wikipedia entry

I know Virginia Woolf’s original statement wasn’t supposed to have this exact meaning. From my brief stint into her essay–please forgive me for using SparkNotes to research this post, I was pressed for time–I have come to understand that Woolf was trying to explain that women’s heralding duties and financial/legal ties to their husbands can affect their writing. As I said before, this interpretation of the quote maintains resonance to this day. Women may be more independent but society still pressures them in ways that men don’t always realize. However, the broader interpretation can aid all writers, no matter their gender.

You may not be able to resolve the money aspect of this issue, at least not for some time. It happens and we all have to face it at one point or another. You can only trudge through the daily work muck and hope for the best.

If you find yourself distracted by duties and losing time, you may be able to do something about it. Find a time and a place where you can set everything else aside and write. Set it in stone. Tell everyone–friends, family, your significant other–that that time and place are for writing and only writing. Some people may be mad but really, you have to write. A writer who doesn’t write is just a dreamer. Also, they can’t pester you about when your next story or poem will be published if they won’t let you write.

I digress. By carving out the time and place for writing, you are giving yourself a private writing nook that no one can take from you. You are creating a “room of [your] own”.

That’s it for this “Writers on Writing”. Keep an eye out for the next installation. I’ll be covering a personal favorite, satirist Mark Twain.

Until then, do you have anything to add to this post, either about the quote or Virginia Woolf? Do you have any writers/quotes on writing that you think I should discuss? Leave your suggestions in the comments or email me at thewritersscrapbin@gmail.com.


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