virginia Woolf famously wrote:
a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.
i’ve never been the biggest fan of Woolf’s fiction, if only because reading stream-of-consciousness is not my favorite. (I understand its value from a literary perspective, and have even tried writing it, but I still don’t love it.) however, like many famous writers whose books I may not always fawn over, I still admire her as a writer, a feminist, and a woman.
and she was right. a woman does need a room of her own and money if she’s to write fiction. I finally have both. my rooms are not massive nor are they great in number. my income isn’t particularly impressive either, but they’re enough.
however, ms. Woolf’s list isn’t exhaustive. a woman also needs imagination to write fiction. she needs curiosity. she needs to be able to write what she could know.
I used to fight against the write-what-you-know maxim because I found it limiting, especially as I write historical fiction. but if you take this advice at its most basic, it’s really about emotion. I can write about loss; two years ago I lost my father and it was the most emotionally painful experiences i’ve ever known. I can write about determination; I have a third degree black belt and am about to begin my final semester in my second graduate degree. I can write about privilege; i’m white and I was raised in a middle-class family. I can write about oppression; i’m a woman. I can write about poverty; i’ve had times in my life when I wondered how I would make ends meet.
I can write about all these things because i’ve lived them…but fiction involves taking what we know and applying it to situations we might not be familiar with.
for example, I have no recollection of living during the 1750s. maybe I did during a past life, but I don’t remember it. that’s when my novel takes place. but with some curiosity and tenacity, I can imagine what it felt like to live in the 1750s.
a room. check. I have three (bedroom/den and office/kitchen) though they’re combined into an open floor plan, like a small studio. money. check. it’s not much but it’ll pay my bills. these are what any writer needs, but more importantly for women, what a woman needs in order to not need a another person. I know things. i’m curious.
I will say there’s one more thing needed to write fiction: time. I don’t have that in spades currently, but I have enough. enough to scrape by on. perhaps some day i’ll have more, but in our world, the arts are not valued as much as they should be.
as a writer, I will work hard every day until my last breath. this is the life i’ve chosen. i’m coordinated; I could have trained all my youth and become an athlete and tried to pursue a career in sports. i used to work in insurance. I could have stayed there, made a lot more money, and done something different with my evenings and weekends.
but I chose writing. I will keep choosing writing every day, because not writing isn’t an option. even if I don’t have time to write fiction all day, i’ll stay up into the early morning hours and craft stories, create characters, and feed them, nurture them, encourage them to grow.
i’ll do these things because I have no choice. they own me as much as I own them and I wouldn’t have it any other way. to be writer means choosing to sacrifice some part of yourself every day, choosing to give up freedom to go out with friends, have a larger wardrobe, travel more, play video games, learn more instruments, etc.
I have one semester left of grad school. I will miss it, terribly, but at the same time i’m excited to have only two sets of responsibility: earning my money so I can have my room, and writing.