Who has not fantasized about the books they would write if only the right conditions could be found! I have carried around just such a dream, sparked by a weekend alone in an austere mountain cabin in the Austrian Alps when I was a boy. Rumination was unstoppable, and poetry just poured out.
So says David Wood in The Lure of the Writer’s Cabin. I admit to being guilty of thinking that if only I had the perfect writing space I could be, not just any writer, but a great writer. I’ve even imagined what that space might look like, where it might be, and yes, it usually ends up as a little hut at the edge of the woods overlooking a sunny meadow. It is a small and basic cabin, but oh so beautiful. There is a shelf of necessary reference sort of books and books for inspiration. There is electricity because I need to be able to plug in my computer and make coffee. Other than that it is just my desk and a chair.
Forget all the writers who are famous and wrote important books at the office, their kitchen table, or a gloomy basement. They overcame. They were obviously made of sterner stuff than I am. I have delicate sensibilities that require quiet and no interruptions. The only acceptable intrusions in my writing cabin are the wind in the trees and singing birds.
Returning from fantasyland, Wood wonders why it is we are so fascinated by writer’s spaces? Thoreau’s cabin in the woods for example? What is it we hope to glean from visiting them? They aren’t cabins, but even The Guardian got in on it with their series on writer’s rooms a few years ago. I poured over those photos and whenever I come across writer’s rooms/ desks I have not seen before I stare at them too, hoping to discover what?
The secret of course.
Oh, I know there isn’t really a secret to be found. Good writing comes from hard work and a little talent. But I want there to be a secret, a magical item maybe that all the writers have and if I look closely enough I might spy it somewhere in the room and then I will know what it is I have to set out in search of, what magical item that if I possessed it too I would find myself in the ranks of great writers.
But maybe it isn’t an item, maybe it is the room itself, that little cabin. Maybe that’s the magical thing? If only I could figure it out!
The cabin is one culturally powerful image of that semi-detached space in which those creative discontinuities are spawned. It seems to hold a secret, but behind the first there hides another. If the first secret is that to write, one needs a blank sheet of paper, or a blank screen, the second secret, the secret of the cabin, is that one does not strictly need a mountain or a shack at the end of a trail, off the grid. Rather, a table, a chair, somewhere simple, free of distraction. For some, even a cupboard in an office building no-one is using that day will do. But bring your noise-cancelling headphones just in case.