Dani Shapiro
September 21, 2009

On the Importance of a Room of One’s Own

As I write this, literally as my fingers move across the keyboard, one of my dogs is banging against the kitchen door downstairs. The reason he’s banging against the kitchen door, hurling his whole little body with all his might against the dining room chair that I placed on the other side of the swinging door, is because he has–how shall I put this delicately–a bit of an intestinal issue this morning. I have spent the last several hours on my knees, scrubbing carpets and floors.

A good way to start the week? You tell me. But it’s the price I pay for working at home. That, along with the ringing phone, the UPS truck, the FedEx packages, the occasional Jehovah’s Witness ringing the doorbell. I used to have an office outside of my house. When we lived in New York City, I worked at a place called The Writers Room, a large loft space divided into many cubicles. Cellphones weren’t allowed. Silence was the rule, except for in the kitchen and library, where a writer in search of conversation could always find a colleague taking a break. If it sounds like heaven, it really was. I loved that place, and it is the single thing I miss most about the city. It was the perfect environment for this writer: solitude without loneliness.

When we moved to the country, I rented an office in town. It was a retail space on the main road, with a picture window that overlooked a front yard and the street. I worked there for several years, wrote Black & White there, but then I gave it up. Every day, people told me that they saw me in there, through that picture window, sitting at my desk. It felt odd to be on display like that: resident writer at work. So I went back home, and over the last few years I wrote Devotion here in my small office on the second floor of our house. I like working at home–I really do. I can get up and stretch, do my yoga practice, take a shower in the middle of the day, go outside with the dogs (when they’re feeling well). Except…when it feels like a domestic disaster. When the guys show up to clean the air filters, or the exterminator arrives for his monthly appointment. Or when the sheer encroachment of the rest of my life–the school medical forms, soccer schedules, food shopping–suddenly seem like too much. And I wish, fleetingly, for an office, but not just any office–a office in a warren of offices where writers (not just any writers, but my favorite writer friends) would be next door, near a good cafe with just the right music playing, and just enough bustle, and good cappuccino and biscotti. Does this place exist? If it did exist, would it live up to my expectations? Would I be more productive here? More content?

Here’s one thing I know to be true. I have gotten some of my best writing done in less-than-ideal circumstances (on the subway, for instance) and often have had lousy writing days when circumstances are ideal. The possibility is always there for either scenario. Good writing day or lousy writing day; it almost seems as if we’re in control, as if it’s our choice. And to some small degree, it is. But to a larger degree, we writers are at the mercy of our own human selves: cranky, tired, happy, over-excited, grieving, nervous…whatever it is we’re feeling, whatever it is that brings us closer to, or farther away from, the page. And perfection of environment is only one very small part of all that.