Life has changed a great deal since Virginia Woolf said that to write fiction, a woman needs “money and a room of her own.” Today, people write all over the place: the couch, the airport, on airplanes, in coffee shops, at restaurants, and more. Modern technology really helps to get around the room of her own part of the quote.
It doesn’t, however, take away the meaning. Because why do we end up going to restaurants and coffee shops to work? To get away from the people who interrupt us at home. That’s right. Writers go out in public to be able to get a little privacy to write. As much as people interrupt you at the bar to ask what you’re working on, it’s nothing compared to how much your family can interrupt if you’re working at home (and you know exactly what I’m talking about).
So what about the money part? Why do we need money to write?
Well, for one, you can’t just sit in a restaurant and write. You have to buy something. At least a drink (even if it’s only an iced tea). If you’re sitting there a couple of hours, you either need to drink a lot (not just iced tea), or you need to get some food. And you’d better tip if you want to be welcome at the restaurant the next time you come!
Is it just me, or does that add up?
Still, I don’t think that’s what Virginia Woolf was talking about. It’s not like you could take your typewriter out to the bar (I doubt you’d have wanted to). Then again, a lady might not have been allowed into the bars back then. How times have changed.
In any case, back to the quote or, more specifically, to the “money and a room of her own” part. I’m guessing the money was referring to what I like to think of as the writer’s dream: having enough money to live without working outside of writing. In other words, to be able to spend all your time writing. Maybe even, to spend all your time writing what you want to write.
Excuse me while I fantasize a moment.
Actually, I shouldn’t complain. Modern society has some serious advantages where writing is concerned. One being that there are plenty of jobs that leave enough time to write before and after work. As much as we complain about the 40-hour work week, that didn’t use to exist. You used to work all day, every day to grow your own food, take care of your own animals, prepare your own meals (on a fire or fire-burning stove), cut your own logs for the fire, make your own clothes, and so on.
Even in the city, unless you were quite wealthy, “down time” was not a common event. And if it happened, it was late enough that you would have to write by candlelight. Have you ever tried to do anything by candlelight? Good luck. It’s barely bright enough to find your way to the bathroom, let alone write anything readable. Granted, she did live in the early 1900s, so you might’ve had oil lamps. Or, again, if you were rich, gas lamps or electricity, depending on the year. Remember that most U.S. cities got electricity by the 1930s. Most cities. Most farms, on the other hand, had to wait a while after that.
Keep in mind that the quote came from 1928 or 1929. So, yes, the lives of writers in the U.S. have changed greatly in the last 80+ years. Schooling has changed (especially how women are taught). Writing styles, goals, genres, and publishing mediums have changed. The socio-political situation has changed (I know, I should’ve discussed more of Woolf’s socio-political commentary in relation to the quote, but if you want to read more about it, wikipedia’s “A Room of One’s Own” has it covered.).
My main point (Yes, I have one.) is that even with all those changes and the difference in meaning, this quote still resonates with today’s writers. We still need money and a room of our own even if we don’t mean it exactly the way Virginia Woolf did. Isn’t that interesting?