By Lara O'Brien
The idea of a space, a room to write in successfully, is captured throughout history. Virginia Woolf’s quote 'Every woman needs money and a room of her own,' is embraced by women all over the world.
The author Angela Cartwright wrote, 'I begin to write short pieces when I was living in a room too small to write a novel' in.’
The belief that a room to one’s self - a place to think, a room with a view, a studio, a loft, a writing cabin - will deliver the magic needed to form ideas, emotions, actions - is the imagined epicenter for turning words into great stories.
When the children were young, I locked the door on a small room on the side of our house. No one, no matter how small could get in. I fought fiercely for my time to write. It was J.K. Rowling who reminded us to be ruthless in protecting our writing days.
My children will remember me as a woman who went missing for long periods of time and suddenly with the click of the lock and the swing of the folding door appeared like a fast moving dark cloud to serve the dinner, depending on the words formed, unfurled, or stuck in mud. Or maybe they will remember the singing tune itself that breezed out of that little room to greet their smiling faces, as they picked up the energy of a great writing session.
For years now, and with the children nearly raised and perhaps prematurely independent (that might be all the locked doors, but don’t judge) I have put much time and energy to write or be with writers and eventually to host workshops with small groups. Before the pandemic we wrote to prompts on life story, together seated around a table with buckets of tea and at times tissues, and writers wrote gently, or bitterly or fiercely or lovingly, and listened to the waves of each other’s life. It was to remember the dance, the curves and runs of life and see - like looking into the glass ball of our own story - how we received, how we shaped, rejected or embraced the pull, push and force of all that life tempted or threw at us.
During the great reset when we couldn’t meet in person and barely left our homes, I stopped writing, and began to observe more about my own writing habits. I took on 17 writers to coach over a newly found form called Zoom and poured over 5 days of workshops to support others in their need to write.
I loved being the host, I loved hearing how story and writing became a great source of clarity in thoughts and actions and how showing up to the workshop each week helped these writers get the work done and the process helped each one through rough times.
I noticed that when Cancer arrived in our home, (his cancer, not mine,) I held my breath so tightly that I was scared to write, for to write is to capture a time … and I wanted this time to disappear. Gone into the ether without a trace. I skipped great things happening in our life as I couldn’t put one word to them, not a stroke went into the written form. Memories of music or nights with friends and fire and song and laughter, great work in action, milestones to celebrate, were overshadowed by the darker words. Cancer, then heart surgery, selling the home, job insecurity, disconnection with a child and at the helm of all events and not to be left out of current affairs, Covid positive. All of these events froze the breath in my head. And I continued to observe, because I couldn’t sit in the empty space of my own room with the beautiful light on the open harbour, or the wind lashing waves over the pier walls, nothing could give me the space in my head to write.
Today and thankfully, due to my longstanding writers group (not a workshop, a writing group I show up to that is part of a writing support system and is heavy with brilliant writers who know exactly how to give sharp feedback, I take in their every word) I sat down to write and discovered it was never just about the bricks and sticks of a room, it’s about the head, and the heart and the breathes inbetween, and writing moves as we do, as life does, and we come back out of the tundra like a dark cloud or a song but we come out. Writing is about space; on the page, in the breath and yes ... the room, and writing is very much about the space in our heads.