Beware the Virtual Sitting-Room

The spring semester has begun for my husband and son, I don’t teach until this afternoon, and I am alone in the house for the first time in five weeks.

Even as I type these words, I feel a twinge of guilt, hoping that if my family reads this post, they don’t think I didn’t treasure our long holiday vacation together. A part of me is sad that life is now business as usual.

And a part of me is so very happy to be home alone, even if only for a few hours.

In 1928, Virginia Woolf wrote in her extended essay “A Room of One’s Own” of the conditions common to nineteenth century novelists:

“If a woman wrote, she would have to write in the common sitting-room. And, as Miss Nightingale was so vehemently to complain,—’women never have an half hour . . . that they can call their own’— she was always interrupted. Still it would be easier to write prose and fiction there than to write poetry or a play. Less concentration is required. Jane Austen wrote like that to the end of her days. ‘How she was able to effect all this’, her nephew writes in his Memoir, ‘is surprising, for she had no separate study to repair to, and most of the work must have been done in the general sitting-room, subject to all kinds of casual interruptions. She was careful that her occupation should not be suspected by servants or visitors or any persons beyond her own family party.’ Jane Austen hid her manuscripts or covered them with a piece of blotting-paper.”

How many of us still search for that half hour to call our own, for the private space—both physical and psychological—where we can leave out our works in progress and have no need to cover them with blotting-paper?

When our son was born, the room that had been my study became his bedroom. The room where I work now is what would have been called a general sitting-room in the nineteenth century. While my family is extremely supportive of my writing (see? there is that need to reassure them that I am not complaining about them), I do work amidst the general hum of daily life, a hum that sustains me, but a hum nonetheless.

So, now that I have the general sitting-room and beyond to myself, I must face one more source of “casual interruptions” unknown to Ms. Austen and Ms. Woolf, one that I have complete control over: online connectivity.

Something I learned last fall from my experiments with new writing habits is that the initial effort to disengage from email and Facebook and general web browsing pays off many times over in my own productivity and, consequently, feeling of accomplishment at the end of the day. When we do have a room or house or even half hour of our own, we must be more careful than ever to protect it, not to let it turn into a virtual sitting-room where everyone can drop in, more often invited than not, with their casual interruptions. Having this kind of room to ourselves requires no contractor, no costly estimates, no furniture rearranging. Just a simple click to sign out and log off.

Nuf said. Time to write.

8 thoughts on “Beware the Virtual Sitting-Room

  1. I’m a Jane Austen fan and I had no idea. For some reason I had the impression she wrote on a desk in her bedroom.

    It encourages me because this is exactly my situation at the moment. I write on a desk which is in the common area of our apartment. I’m an introvert and a single tasker (opposite of multi-tasker) so this poses unique challenges. I conquered the online bug some time ago. I just walk away from it all. And I have no internet on my cell phone.

    One thing I am learning is that we do adapt over time to our situation and that consistent effort pays off — not only in results but in the way it trains us to be productive in our particular setting.

    • Isn’t that information about Jane Austen amazing?! I know she was also often ill.

      I have no internet on my cell phone, either. Glad to find someone else, lol! Thanks for the wisdom and encouragement. 🙂

  2. This definitely hit home with me today — it’s all of our first days back too. And I get the house to myself this afternoon for a bit. Thinking of cracking some Virginia Woolf. I love that book!

    • I love “A Room of One’s Own,” too, and have gone too long without re-reading it! May your spring term be a terrific one, Rebecca. 😀

  3. How I recognize what you’re writing about Lisa!
    Apart from creating my own writing haven, I’m getting up at 6 AM to have an hour for my writing, while the rest of my family is still asleep. I totally LOVE it 🙂

  4. I love that description, that when we’re online we enter into a virtual sitting-room and fall prey to the pop-ins. It’s so hard to resist!

    I just spent a weekend away, offline for the most part, and though I didn’t get much writing done, I felt somehow grounded to life again. Strange, but understandable I guess.

    On another note, I’m glad I was online this morning so I could read your inspiring post! I suppose it’s all about balance 🙂

    • Christi, how right you are! I do love aspects of this virtual sitting-room. In fact, just the act of replying here to all of you makes me feel connected. I just wish the balance were easier to find at times. I’m working on it. 🙂

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