One of my favourite books is Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own, which I have loved since it appeared on my reading list in my second year at uni. With elegance and light, dry wit, Woolf examined the historical conditions that kept women from writing, and which needed be put in place for a woman to produce good writing. ‘A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction’, she famously concluded. There are counterarguments. Alice Walker, in In Search of Our Mother’s Gardens, refers to Phylis Wheatley, a highly educated black slave who wrote poetry in the mid-1700s. This woman didn’t have money or a room of her own and, being a slave, she didn’t even own herself. Yet she still managed to write.
A friend also referred me to this article, which humorously contends that the more comfortable the writer, the worse their writing (the case in point being Dan Brown with an enormous beach house). Therefore all writers ought to live in a dank basement in Lewishham to feel desperate enough to write well.
I didn’t really buy this. Having lived in a house with two kids, two dogs and a hyperactive sister for a year, and having migrated to the tranquillity of a place of my own, I find I am calmer, I am sleeping better, my thoughts are more coherent, there are less distractions and, consequently, I am writing better. My friend neatly suggested that perhaps you need to get to the point where time and space is a welcome escape instead of a distraction, which I do agree with.
I also concur that writers do need some kind of personal distress to provoke them to write. In my case it is an egocentric impulse to turn my psychological contusions into writing (which stemmed initially from the need to express my frustration with deafness and then became as necessary as breathing) and it is also, as befitting a writer, because I am completely impoverished. This is partly because I have chosen to work part-time so I have enough time to write (after all, I was put on this earth to write, not to make money). However, there is another reason. Thus:
(And this doesn’t include the shoes that wouldn’t fit in the frame nor the seven pairs of boots in my wardrobe).
As I lovingly put my frocks in the cupboard and laid out my shoes, I was reminded of one of my favourite scenes in Sex and the City, where Carrie realises that with all the Manolo Blahniks she had bought, she could have had enough money to put a deposit on a house. While my shoes are worth only a fraction of Carrie’s, I find myself in a similar predicament, viz., with all the money I could have saved from those shoes, I could have bought some furniture with which to furnish my flat.
But then, where would I find the untold pleasure of looking at those pretty shoes every day, and of slipping into a silk frock that nips in at my waist and flows out just so? And where would I find the desperation I need to write so that I can buy a red velvet lounge, and chairs for my guests to sit on and, heaven forbid, more stilettos?
Perhaps if Dan Brown had an addiction to shoes he would write better prose.