I spent several days this week converting our spare bedroom into my writing space because, as Virginia Woolf advised many years ago, a woman needs a ‘room of her own’ in order to write. The room isn’t complete yet: I need a few more shelves and I want to hang curtains, paintings and photographs. Nevertheless, today’s post is the first of many that will emanate from what my partner dubs ‘The Writing Studio.’
Is a private writing space necessary? I knew a student who wrote most of his PhD while sitting in the university café; another friend writes her wry, astute poems in the local café. The staff know her children, her friends and the way she prefers her coffee. They are protective of her privacy and, I think, a little awed by her ability to concentrate surrounded by the noise and bustle of a busy restaurant on one of Adelaide’s well known tourist strips.
I have tried to cultivate the skill of writing in cafes but although I am better at it now than five years ago, I find noise and movement distracting. I also like to watch people, which is a useful habit for a writer to cultivate but also an excuse to not write.
While creating a space to write I thought about the act of writing, of being a creative person. Sheree Dukes Conrad suggests the ‘common-sense understanding’ of creativity, where writers, for example, record and expand a conversation they have overheard, or a writing prompt or exercise, is not a sufficient explanation. Conrad believes the artist finds and brings to life a story, novel, painting or song that is waiting to be written, painted or penned.
The story exists, in the sense that it makes demands upon the writer to write it … the writer has to find out what the story is by writing it.
This is why, she believes, modern audiences enjoy Shakespeare’s Hamlet; they have experienced and therefore understand the ‘meaning and logic of [Hamlet’s] grief’.
How is this relevant to making a space for writing, particularly therapeutic writing? According to the World Health Organisation (WHO):
Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.
I believe good health is the default position of the human organism; we are designed to be healthy, although how our particular body expresses its unique form of health is an individual phenomenon. I also believe when we are unwell, good health, like a painting or poem waiting for a writer, waits for us to find it, and we need to help the healing happen. Sadly, this may not always occur and I do not subscribe to the idea that ill-health is the fault of the sufferer; of course we all want to enjoy good health.
Perhaps my need for a writing space has something to do with spending years writing a private journal, writing for therapy and with my search for well-being. Whether it be in a group, a one on one writing session supervised by a therapist, or as part of an online counselling program I think therapeutic writing demands a certain quality of space, an empathetic, understanding, empowering, and protective environment.
In ancient times healing took place in an Asclepion, a healing temple sacred to Asclepius the Greek God of healing. While they are two different things, the Asclepion reminds me of a sanctuary. Derived from the Latin, sanctuarium, sanctuary originally meant a container that held a consecrated object or perhaps housed a holy individual. Now considered a safe refuge or asylum, a sanctuary is also a sacred space.
What could be more holy, or more in need of sanctum, than a person who is ill? Perhaps, to return to Dukes Conrad’s idea that a work of art waits to be discovered by the artist, an Asclepion or sanctuary is where healing awaits those who are suffering. The trick is finding, or creating, the appropriate sanctuary, but must it be a physical space? Is there an inner sanctum, an attitude of mind, we need to cultivate in order to find the poem that awaits us or the healing we deserve?
Over the years I have created several writing spaces. The first was in a corner of the master bedroom and, later, in the lounge room. When our children left home my ex-husband and I converted a bedroom into a shared office space. When we moved house I finally had my own space; the spare bedroom. More recently, I shared a small room with my new partner; now I have a writing and healing space once more. Despite organising these writing spaces, I soon learned it wasn’t just a physical space I needed. I had to cultivate an inner space where I allowed myself to believe in my writing and call myself a writer. I think this is why my two friends, and many other people, are able to write in cafes or busy marketplaces; they know they are writers, they trust the work and they confidently travel towards the novel or poem that demands to be written.
Maybe writing in a public space is difficult when we burrow into the obscure workings of the psyche, when we need to let the tears fall as we write, or pound the keyboard in anger as we let off steam. I think, however, any writing requires us to access and enter our sacred writing space. My favourite place has to be the eyrie overlooking the sea where I sought healing after my marriage ended. It was my space; tiny, cold in winter and hot in summer, I found it, paid for it, cried, laughed, grew and wrote in it.
Here I sit then, in the new, yet to be finished writing space. It contains my favourite writing books, a photo of my granddaughter and a framed painting, created by, found by, my granddaughter when she was just twelve months old. As I sit here I realise this is not ‘The Writing Studio’, it is ‘The Writing Sanctuary,’ a place of healing, a place to search for the next short story, novel, script, blog post or whatever else awaits.
Where does your writing await you? Which specific writing place, or process, works for you? Can you describe that space in ten words or less?
Sheree Dukes Conrad, ‘Toward a phenomenological analysis of artistic creativity’, Journal of Phenomenological Psychology, 21.2 (1990), 103-120, pp. 111-112.
Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own (Malden, MA: 2015).
Jeannie Wright, ‘Online counselling: Learning from writing therapy,’ British Journal of Guidance and Counselling, 30.3 (2002), 285-298.