Criteria for a Writer’s Station

By July 12, 2010 culture No Comments

High Calling Blogs Book Club Selection

Virginia Woolf declared that all a woman needs to write is some money and a room of her own. The mental and financial freedom she was likely referring to—in addition to an actual place—has faded over the years as we writers project into this our own vision of the perfect writer’s nook.

Describe the Perfect Writing Station
Well, it’s a quiet room, of course, with no distractions stealing away our best turns of phrase. It’s warm in the winter, cool in the summer. (Who can write well if physically uncomfortable?) Then there’s the need for perfect lighting—not too dim; natural light is preferable. We can’t forget other amenities (WiFi is a must) and the need for sustenance (snacks and drinks to keep alert). And this space would be large enough to house shelves upon shelves of writing tools and reference books.

Sounds great, doesn’t it? But is it reality? Your room might have good lighting but little space or it could be a quiet space without natural light.

Writers tend to suffer from the greener grass syndrome that makes us covet our neighbor’s writing nook—the one that has the things our own lacks.

I admit, such pestering thoughts come to me when I am mentally irritated (not mentally free, as Woolf would suggest). The space bears the blame as put off my creative thoughts for the perfect time and perfect place, when I have no other hounding responsibilities and when I have the ideal setting in which to birth a full-grown masterpiece. (I’ve already considered how painful and impossible a labor that would be!)

When Imperfect Is Better
Because that perfect time and place has yet to present itself, I’m learning to write in imperfect conditions (mental and physical). I’m finding the writing space I have is quite sufficient when I get right down to it.

Julia Cameron offers her criteria for a good writing station her book The Right to Write: An Invitation and Initiation into the Writing Life. Interestingly enough, perfection is not on the list, but festive is. She says that “writing stations should be festive. It helps the play of ideas to have a sense of play.”1 Cameron also says that “writers need to live in the world. . . . In order to bloom, all of us need a root system. Just as a regular practice of writing roots us firmly in our lives, a regular life roots us firmly in our writing.”2

So a writing station needs to induce a sense of play so that creativity and warmth encircle the writer, helping to produce solid work. And a writer needs to play in a regular life full of the usual constraints of work and family and errands and meetings.

Snapshots of My Writing Spot
I’ve provided here a few photos of my own imperfectly perfect writing station in all its playful, festive glory. Featured here: Photo #1 Chicago and Webster’s (of course) | Photo #2 colorful editing pens | Photo #3: magazine ad of Abe and Mr. Beaver (for giggles) | Photo #4 a foam lobster on a wire from the Chicago Celtic Festival (long story that gives me warm fuzzies) | Photo #5 my blessed heater

Writing in Reality
In a post for the Guardian, Matt Shoard says: “Real writers need frustration. They need embarrassment. They need cold, uncomfortable rooms, miles from a mobile signal. There should be an infestation of at least one parasite.” According to Shoard, perfect writing conditions aren’t conducive to solid writing. We need a bit of physical imperfection—a bit of reality—to make our work interesting.

In reality, the perfect writing station is the one in which I get busy and put words to the page. And the perfect writing life is the one in which I get busy and live a life worth writing about.


Join the HCB Book Club. Read other The Right to Write posts from this week here.

1. Julia Cameron, The Right to Write: An Invitation and Initiation into the Writing Life (New York, NY: Penguin Putnam, 1998), 214.
2. Ibid., 198.
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