Virginia Woolf said that “a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction”.
I often come across this quote on social media, and it always stirs something in my chest. Perhaps because I had very little money for many years (which is often what happens when you have children early, and I regret nothing) and I still don’t have a room of my own. In addition, for the last ten years I have moved five times, of which 3 have been to another continent, and four to another country. I have lived in the US, Sweden, Indonesia and now, Malaysia, and I am tremendously grateful for all the experiences I have gained, thanks to my husband’s work, which takes us across the globe.
The way this expat-life works, is that our contract has to be renewed every year, and we consequently never know more than, and often less than, a year in advance where we are going to live. Of these past ten years, we have lived two in our native Sweden, and close to seven years in Asia.
Often have I felt a yearning for my own space to create in, a place that is constant. I dream of writing in front of a window with a view to a meadow, or the ocean. I can certainly understand why Virginia Woolf felt the way she did in her day, long before laptops and internet.
And I feel there is more to a room of one’s own, than the physical space. I feel that Virginia probably meant that we need peace of mind, the kind of peace that money and a room of one’s own can give, that will let the writer immerse herself in her work completely.
But unless we become John Donne’s famous “island”, we will always have things on our minds, important things, and less important. Life is a constant change, full of anxiety, worry, uncertainty, health issues, I guess even with “money and a room” of one’s own.
Even writing itself is full of uncertainty. Will this piece of writing fulfil my expectations? Will it find a home in the publishing world? Will people like it?
I have found that when I focus on writing for myself, I can concentrate better on the work, and it becomes more enjoyable. It is also easier to shut out the anxiety that is inherent in writing, as well as the uncertainties that come from living in a foreign country. When I feel passionate about a writing project, I let that passion guide me into the text, where I can forget all worries, and just create. Then creating becomes a refuge, something constant amid the ever-changing. All these years, no matter how little money, or how little space I’ve had, I have always had writing, like an anchor in a turbulent sea. And for this I am so very grateful.