Does a room of one’s own really help the author write the great novel? A Guardian blogger asks us to put the glamour aside for a minute and look at some “realities”: the writers of our great books didn’t do their work at cushy author residencies or out in idyllic cabins. They wrote in whatever wee shithole they could find/afford/drag the squatting bums out of.
Here’s the thing: comfort breeds complacency; rural bliss breeds The Lost Symbol. In Dan Brown’s case, his enormous beach house has only worsened an already deep malaise: Robert Langdon jolted upright in his soft leather seat, startling out of the semiconscious daydream. He was sitting all alone in the enormous cabin of a Falcon 2000EX corporate jet as it bounced its way through turbulence. In the background, the dual Pratt & Whitney engines hummed evenly (chapter 1, page 1).
Real writers need frustration. They need embarrassment. They need cold, uncomfortable rooms, miles from a mobile signal. There should be an infestation of at least one parasite, a backlog of warnings from the Student Loans Company and just enough coffee for what Don DeLillo calls “an occasional revelation”.
Woolf wrote standing up at her desk. So did Hemingway, Dickens, Philip Roth. John Fante starved through Wait Until Spring, Bandini. Orwell coughed blood in the coldest winter on record to finish Nineteen Eighty-Four. “Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle,” he wrote, “like a long bout of some painful illness.”
So, what he’s saying is we should trade the quiet romanticism of Tuscan villa/NE USA artist colonies in for the quiet romanticism of dank garrets and consumption. I get it.