Let’s Talk: A Room of One’s Own by Susan Tepper

VIRGINIA WOOLFThe great Virginia Woolf coined this phrase, A Room of One’s Own. And, metaphorically, it’s about as close to the writer soul as you can achieve.

But getting down to the nitty-gritty of actual rooms, does a writer need a confirmed space in which to unleash the utmost creativity? Not necessarily.

In my own case I wrote four books in a 9 by 9 room filled with the detritus of the paper the prior books had created. To put things bluntly: the room was a filthy, unvacuumed, undusted, storage type of room that had once been a home office – some twenty years ago. Then a winter storm caused a roof leak. All the furniture (what little there was) got covered with plastic drop cloths.

I sat at my PC and lifted the drop cloth and wrote. When someone came over to see something I’d written, their choice was to stand looking over my shoulder into the computer screen (not comfortable), or sit on a wooden bench covered in old printed manuscript drafts.

People always seemed a bit stunned since the rest of my place is kind of nice.

I got used to working that way. I had a mental filing system and knew, for instance, that somewhere in a certain pile I could locate a certain thing. Such as the phone number to a woman at Amazon who actually is a live being. That alone is worth about a million dollars.

Then one day this past winter, I decided to clean up the room. I chucked the plastic drop cloths and got a huge garbage bag and threw away every single sheet of paper (including the phone number of the live Amazon woman). Something had “switched” in me. I was five books into the writing scene and I suddenly needed a nice space. Go figure.

Miraculously the pale yellow walls were still in pristine condition and the floor is old, scraped wood which I like. When all the junk was removed, I dusted off the teak office furniture and stopped to look around me.

The space was stripped down to its essence.

I believe that our intuition tells us what we need at all times if we pay attention to it. The space, stripped to its essence, spawned a series of poems about itself. The space became a character, a narrator. I found this very soothing during last winter’s endless cold weather. The poems also opened into spring and warmer times, for the room, though those seasons hadn’t yet sprung for this newly sprung space.

Does a writer need a room of one’s own?

Yes, is my personal answer. But it can be in any form. Filth and disorder worked quite well for me, through the writing of four books and multitudinous other writings. (I also bought less clothing during that five book span of time).

During that time, it was myself in alignment with the computer. All else in the room felt insignificant. I also had a kind of crappy wardrobe, though I never let down on my haircuts or color. Writers and their hair. A subject for next month’s Let’s Talk?

Now with the new space all cleaned up and actually sporting a lovely red, fake-leather desk chair, a turquoise metal cage-type of bookcase for holding my own books, an oil painting of a thatched roof post office in Ireland, and some other nice things, it’s a wonderful feeling to enter this space.

Nature or nurture (self-nurture) determined the switch. I just hopped on for the ride. Glad I did. But I’m not sorry about the other, more rocky ride, either!

susan (2)Susan Tepper is the author of four published books of fiction and a chapbook of poetry. Her current title, The Merrill Diaries, (Pure Slush Books, 2013) is a novel in stories. Tepper has been nominated 9 times for the Pushcart, and one time for a Pulitzer Prize in fiction. She is also a named-finalist in story/South Million Writers Award for 2014. FIZZ, her reading series at KGB Bar in NYC, has been sporadically ongoing for six or seven years now. Tepper writes the author/books Interview series UNCOV/rd at Flash Fiction Chronicles. You can find her online at susantepper.com.