A Room of My Own

From Writer Unboxed:

I saw a photo of Alix E. Harrow on twitter recently. In it, she’s wearing a baby in a front pack and has a toddler tucked under one armpit, her eyes are glazed — probably from sleep deprivation — and she’s typing madly away. In the caption, she reveals that the manuscript she’s working on will eventually become The Once and Future Witches.

The photo made me nostalgic — I wrote my first book in much the same manner — and it also made me laugh, because–although I cannot fit my almost-adult children on my lap or under my arm anymore, nor would they be caught dead in either position–the search for a private place to write twenty years later is still ongoing.

I had an office in my first house — a loft with a tiny balcony overlooking our yard. The view was so lovely I set my desk against the wall so I wouldn’t be distracted, and I motivated myself with timed breaks on the balcony. The house had an open floor plan, which was perfect for two adults. But babies are much more distracting than views and after our first arrived, my productivity took a dive. Thankfully, we moved to another house soon after. This one had no balcony but did have the benefit of an office for me on the second floor, complete with a door that closed.

The room was large enough to hold a small couch, and often when I was working at night the door would creak open and my toddler would tiptoe in, board book and sippy cup in hand, secure in the knowledge that so long as she was quiet I wouldn’t rat her out to her dad, who had bedtime duty. I stocked the bookshelves, not just with craft tomes, but also with stuffed animals and quiet toys, and I painted the walls kid-friendly pastels. I wrote for newspapers and magazines in that room, and finished and sold my first novel from there.

But as time passed, the kids grew up and went to school. I no longer needed to barricade myself in to finish an article or chapter, no longer had to work only during nights and nap times. Oddly, now that I had what I’d longed for — a few uninterrupted hours of writing time — the office felt far too quiet. I took to wandering the house with my laptop, writing some days at the kitchen table, other times on the living room couch. When I truly felt like I was going crazy in the silence, I packed up and headed to a local library or coffee shop.

And then Covid struck. Like most everyone else, all my chickies came home to roost at once, filling the house. The two teenagers stayed mostly in their bedrooms, which left my husband. Who needed a place to work with a door that closed. A place like … my office.

On paper it made sense. He has a job that often involves discussing confidential information, whereas most of my conversations take place with people I’ve made up in my head. Even so, he was reluctant to settle in, convinced things would soon be back to normal. But as one month turned into two, then four, my beloved toys and artwork got relegated to corners where they wouldn’t show up on corporate Zoom meetings. Coffee cups and button-downs replaced tea cups and cardigans, and the aroma of lavender and scented candles no longer lingered.

My husband offered to carve out a corner for himself in the basement or the bedroom, but neither of those solutions were practical given his working hours. And even if he found space elsewhere, I wasn’t sure I wanted to go back to my office. I’m not a big believer in cosmic energy, but I could feel that the room wasn’t the same. Instead of my cozy nest, it now had a corporate feel, and it would take more than rehanging some art to change the vibe.

So instead, once again I became a nomad, carting my laptop and bag of files and notes from room to room. The kitchen table worked until lunchtime, when my fellow inmates needed to eat and couldn’t understand why I was surly about stopping my writing mid-sentence. The bedroom made me sleepy. The basement was quiet, but the lack of natural light made me irritable. The porch worked well on days when the weather cooperated and there were no mosquitoes, which meant about once a week. During the first surge, coffeeshops and libraries were out of the question.

Link to the rest at Writer Unboxed