Edith Wharton and Virginia Woolf, despite having friends in common and despite both being talented and respected female writers working at the turn of the 20th century, apparently did not admire each other’s work. Woolf’s new-fangled modern stylings (stream-of-conscious, no distinct plot-line) didn’t resonate with Wharton. And Wharton’s style (structured storylines) was representative of writing which Woolf actively sought to reconfigure.
But, whether Wharton wanted to admit it or not, Woolf — in her 1929 extended essay “A Room of One’s Own” — pointed out two necessary things for all writers (two necessary things that women writers have lacked throughout history): money and a room of one’s own.
Edith Wharton was born Edith Jones — the daughter of the “keeping up with the Joneses” Joneses. (Apparently.) She was the child of Kardashian-level wealth.
This doesn’t mean that Wharton was without the struggles that confront many a writer — struggles I’ll explore a little later.
But she had that other thing we rarely talk about when it comes to writing — and the arts in general.
This November article from Vox explores the very effect cold, hard cash has on the creation of art. In it, writer and teacher E.J. Roller explains how her father sold his second company and how, from the millions he received, he gifted her with $28,000/year — and $28K, while practically a fortune to someone like me, is pennies compared to what Wharton inherited. (Please do yourself a favor and read this insightful article.)
Look, Edith Wharton was an amazingly talented writer. The money she lived off of later in life was almost entirely from her phenomenally successful writing career. I don’t want to diminish her accomplishments. But it creates an unrealistic portrait if I were to say that “she pulled herself up by her bootstraps.”
Wharton was born into a position where she would never have to go hungry, she would never have to worry about whether she could buy new clothes, she would never have to make the choice between the utility bill and gas in the car. Even today, it’s hard to comprehend the level of wealth she was born into.
She had more than a room of her own.
Time to be straight: We can’t all be so lucky. Most of us artists never will be. A lot of us are in debt. We have to work full time jobs and dedicate our tiny stores of free time to the surviving-of-life and, hopefully, our art. We count ourselves blessed if we have a corner of the kitchen counter to call our own, let alone an entire room.
I don’t know about you, but I read stories like Stephen King’s and J.K. Rowling’s like the wannabe Cinderella I am. I think they did it, so I can too! But, the reality is, even though they worked their butts off (typing in the corner of a trailer or government-funded flat), a lot of us work our butts off and will never have their careers or their castles.
But, since I’m kinda dumb and insist on doing this writing thing anyway…there are some things I’m trying to do to help myself.
- Work. The 9-5. The grind. I must accept that this is something I have to do. (This is harder for me than you would think. I hate work that I don’t put on myself.) One must eat. One must have clothing. And (apparently) children need those things too. So I must make adjustments for the 40 hours to be dedicated to executing someone else’s dream. I’ve determined that, on my worst days, I have enough energy to dedicate at least 10 minutes to writing. Sometimes the push forward is just a nudge. But forward progress is forward progress.
- Pay off debts. As Elizabeth Gilbert says in Big Magic (a book I highly recommend for all your artsy folks out there) “debt is the abbatoir of art.” Abbatoir means slaughterhouse. I don’t want to be slaughtered. Paying off debt, like writing whatever I want, is a slower process than I would like. But I don’t use credit cards anymore. I’m paying more than the minimum on my car payment. Nudging forward. In 2018, I finished paying off my second student loan. Only two more to go. Ugh.
- Find a space. I kicked my children out of a so-called “playroom” that they’d both outgrown and NEVER used anyway. Quite frankly, I’m very, very lucky in the space I have. I’m surrounded by books. I have two desks that I refurbished. I have a printer that works about half of the time. To get this room, I had to remember that I’m allowed to have a space to follow my dreams. Hie thee to a corner of your trailer, your government-funded flat, or your favorite computer at your local library.
There is a space for you. It might not be a castle, but it is yours. Claim it.
What have you done to make space for your writing? How often do you worry about cashflow and does it impact what you’re doing and how you do it? I’m interested in any tips and tricks that I can steal.
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