Virginia Woolf Reminds Us to Write

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By Josh Bondurant

Exalted modernist author Virginia Woolf (To The Lighthouse and Mrs. Dalloway), is largely known for her novels that focus on patriarchy and gender roles. But Woolf’s writing also covered other critical topics—such as women’s rights to an education. Woolf called out to female authors to make time for education, and to write. However, she noticed an unsolved problem that persisted with women writers of the day.

Woolf had written in her seminal essay, “A Room of One’s Own,” to some of the challenges women faced in writing fiction.

 “All I could do was to offer you an opinion upon one minor point—a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction; and that, as you will see, leaves the great problem of the true nature of a woman and the true nature of fiction unsolved. I have shirked the duty of coming to a conclusion upon these two questions—women and fiction remain, so far as I am concerned, unsolved problems,” —Woolf

Progress has been made in closing the widening gap between male and female writers, but reports suggest that the issues diagnosed in Woolf’s essay still exist. Examining the best-sellers throughout 2014,  The New York Times Best-Sellers List reveals that male authors not only take the lead, but also dominate the majority of the top 20 books sold. It would seem that readers could benefit from more of a variety of authors of all genders. So, let’s fix that and get to writing!

One answer to attaining gender equality in fiction may be simple: Education. Studies indicate that women are still lagging behind in literacy rates, a statistic that persists the world over. Women and men ought to have equal access to educational opportunities.

Woolf delivered a message that spurred awareness to empower women writers. I believe Woolf’s message desperately requires another visitation, through the act of encouraging and supporting women authors.  One way to encourage writing, as Woolf argues, is to make time and space to write. We may not live in situations with our own “room,” so to speak. But writing takes time and it often takes solitude—especially for fiction. So, in today’s society, how do women writers achieve this? Simple, they need to write.

Writing, I think, demands concentration, and fiction writing requires a place that allows the writer to do away with  barriers so that the author can achieve intimacy with their work. The tips below are things to keep in your mind as you pick—or create—a specific time and space for you to practice your craft.

Virginia Woolf's Room in the Monk's House
Virginia Woolf’s Room in the Monk’s House

How to create a Woolf’s Den:

  1. A designated room is preferable, but that may not be a reality for you. You do not actually need a “writing room.” You need peace and space. This space can be shared.
  2. Do not over-burden yourself with perceived matriarchal roles. Share the burden of parenthood, careers, and mundane-household upkeep with partners and others who may share your living space.
  3. Communication is key. Inform anyone who shares your living space of your writing goals so that they can assist in being a part of the peace, space and privacy you need. If they do not respect this communication, your immediate goal should be to seek a new living space with more understanding and compassionate individuals.
  4. Wi-Fi is indispensable for research—it can also become a debilitating distraction. If you are not researching; turn off the Wi-Fi.
  5. What makes you feel comfortable? Soft lighting, art prints on the wall, looking out a window, perhaps your favorite incense wafting in the air, or maybe just easy access to the wine cabinet? Adorn your writing space with elements that make you feel comfortable and free.
  6. Don’t underestimate the ergonomic benefits of a decent chair.

The point I advocate in a nutshell is this: Create an environment that allows you to drop your physical guards to free your corporal awareness, so that you may practice your craft unhindered. We should all try to honor Woolf’s message, and find the time and space to write fiction, or anything else for that matter.



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