Last week, I decided to take myself away from any distractions and work in the library in my county town. I could have worked in the library in my village (which we’re still fortunate to have), but the chances of bumping into people I know, who would then stop to chat, would be much greater … so I decided for the relative anonymity of the larger library in town.
Shrewsbury Library is in the building that once housed the Shrewsbury School (an independent school founded by Edward VI in 1552), between 1552 and 1882. It became a library in 1885 and remained so ever since.
One of the school’s most famous pupils was Charles Darwin, and as I stepped into the School Room, on the top floor of the library, there was a strong sense of history within the room – and I’m not just referring to the history books on the shelves. (If ever you get a chance to go, check out the wonderful graffiti on the wooden panelling underneath all of the windows.)
Although the library offers free WiFi, my laptop wasn’t playing ball, which suited me just fine. I wanted to be completely focussed, with no interruptions. And it worked. Not only did I draft a 1500-word article, I outlined the next 1700-word article for my Business of Writing column, and pushed on with 500 words for the novel I’m currently working on.
The Royal Society of Literature has just published the results of a survey they undertook, where writers were asked about what they need today. Virginia Woolf famously wrote in an essay that a writer needed a room of their own, and a useful source of income. Reading the survey results today, not much has changed, it seems.
Ninety years on from Woolf’s essay of wants, the survey revealed that 80% of respondents still want a room of their own, with 58% wanting financial support, too.
When it comes to the business of writing, it’s not just a room of our own that we need. It is, instead, a distraction-free room that we seek.
I have a room of my own – I actually work in the corner of a bedroom. But it is not distraction free. Everyone knows where to find me, and despite me explaining that I am working I’m still interrupted to be told such critical-life-enhancing information, such as the dustmen have been, or one of the neighbours will be away at the weekend.
And then there are the modern distractions, of mobile phones and emails. I now only open my email programme three times a day: once first thing in the morning, just before lunch, and then again late afternoon. This helps me remained focussed on what I’m doing outside of those times.
But even so, my phone and tablet are always flashing up notifications, which I try to ignore, but I’m not always successful with that policy.
So heading off elsewhere, where the WiFi signal is not great (or not secure, which throws most of my devices into a right tiswas … even Google won’t open on an unsecured network), can be a better way of doing things, and it certainly worked for me.
Yes, as writers we all need a room of one’s own, but it needs to be the right room. A distraction-free space is probably best. Taking myself off to the library meant that all that important news about the dustmen’s whereabouts, and the neighbour holiday plans had to wait until I got back home.
If you feel that you’re writing space isn’t working as well as it could, try changing it in some way. Make the effort. Travel a little distance. I had a twenty-minute drive, followed by a fifteen-minute wait for the bus and a ten-minute bus journey. All told, it took an hour’s travelling each way. But it was still a productive day.
A coffee shop served JK Rowling well, but it doesn’t work for everyone. It’s too noisy for me. But perhaps it might work for you. There’s only one way to find out. Give it a try. Or simply drive off to somewhere in your car, park up for the day and make yourself comfortable. A fully-charge laptop can work for several hours, and when the battery is dead there’s always pen and paper.
Once you’ve found a room of your own that works for you, get settled in.