I read a short essay today by Jo Nesbø over at Lit Hub, where he describes the perfect writing room–an ideal space, which he doesn’t use, and it got me thinking about how often we put off doing something because the conditions are not ideal. Like Nesbø, I have a room which we set aside when we first moved here, where we set up rudimentary bookshelves, a couch, desk, and chair, with a lamp and a computer and enough space to handwrite at the table, if I chose. It’s bright, with lots of windows, separated from the rest of the house, and up until recently, the high door handles kept the majority of the children out, when I shut the door. There are wooden blinds and wooden floorboards, and there’s room for the dog and possibly a cat. So it is pretty ideal.
[Picture is of our ‘library’, with bookshelves around each wall, and a computer set up on a small rectangular wooden table, under a window with wooden blinds. My brown and white dog is lying on a blue and yellow sarong, on the couch]
And yet, I rarely use it. Most of the time, my editing and writing takes place on a small laptop which I balance on my knees or which I take into the kitchen, to edit while I make dinner. Like Nesbø, I visit a cafe regularly, where we’re part of the furniture and the staff know us, and there, I write or edit by hand, enjoying the bustle and community, even as I am engrossed in my own literary world.
It’s so easy to hold off on doing the things we’d like to do–especially in the creative field–because the conditions are not quite right. I know that I sometimes daydream about landing a huge book deal or winning lotto (despite not playing!), and think how great it would be if we were set up for life. We could hire a nanny, have a cleaner, go on holidays, and suddenly, it would be so much easier to find the time to write or work or study. But would it really? I’m not trying to be romantic about financial struggles; creating amazing art is exceedingly difficult if you’re not sure where your next mortgage payment is coming from. But the idea that a perfect room or set of circumstances are necessary to succeed is just another way of our putting up obstacles. It’s dreaming rather than doing.
The work that I’m most proud of, whether it’s editing another writer’s manuscript, or writing my own, has largely been completed while propped up in bed, or on the edge of the kitchen table, surrounded by mess and children, or sitting on the loungeroom floor, while music or a TV program plays in the background. I do crave quiet, and I often get it, but mostly, the work carries on within the bustling life of which it’s a part.
Is this ideal? And do we ever really know what we need? As Nesbø points out, he has realised where he writes best, and it’s not in a beautiful, bespoke workspace, but rather, in a cafe, as a part of the community. Perhaps it would be wonderful to have a quiet, private area, a ‘room of one’s own’, but waiting around for the conditions to be perfect is unlikely to lead to much creation of anything. Far better, to simply jump in, use what we have, and watch what wonders we can make, from such small and humble beginnings.