I live in a house of rooms without doors or whose doors, if they close, don't latch or lock. The room that was once my workspace has only curtains across its threshold. My studio now, if I can be said to have one, is a desk in a shared writers' space. It's a quiet spot, even without the earplugs that are a staple of my work wardrobe. It's a welcoming and respectful place to write. No one peers over my shoulder or riffles through my notes. But it isn't a room of my own. It isn't a desk ringed with walls and a closed-and-bolted door. The studio is ideal during times when I yearn for the companionship of other writers, but there are also times when I desperately need solitude. And more than solitude: utter and total privacy.
What is privacy, to a writer? For some, it's the knowledge that one's computer is password-protected and one's material won't be read before its time. I live in a state of low-level anxiety that someone will dig up my most embarrassing notes and early drafts, even while I know that I should rejoice if anyone actually cared.
But for me, privacy isn't just about shielding the work from curious eyes; it's also about shielding the writer as she struggles to summon the courage to do the work. When ineptitude and frustration get the better of me, I'd rather no one know that I'm crying at—or under—my desk.
Privacy is equally vital when my work is going well. When the writing moves forcefully from mind to hand, becoming so real to me that it commandeers my posture and facial expressions... when my characters' experiences flow through me in waves of pleasure or longing or pain... I'd rather no one witness how ecstatic or anguished I feel. I live for those experiences of heightened emotional channeling, but they happen only when I can focus fully and convince myself I'm completely alone.
Needless to say, I don't often write in cafés. I'm rarely even comfortable telling people that I am, at any given moment, writing—never mind setting up in public with an open laptop displayed. I've gone naked on a nude beach and ran through Christmas shopping crowds in a Speedo, but I rarely feel more exposed than when I'm preparing to sit down and write.
Hence my discomfort with desks that lack walls, with doorways in want of doors, with doors that don't lock.
I share freely on Facebook, on Twitter, in email, and in person. I've been told many times: "You're very open." Even I sometimes call myself (without irony) an open book. But when it comes to writing a real book, I batten down the hatches and seek solitary escape. I write while my family sleeps; I go on retreats; I yearn for more doors in my life—and for the courage to keep opening them and stepping through.
Of course, privacy is all in the mind. But then, so is writing itself. To have both—to have the chance to write in solitude—may be necessity or may be luxury. All I know is, I want more of it. I won't be tweeting "#amwriting!" anytime soon. I'll just keep doing what it takes to go into myself so that I can resurface, eventually, with something new: something I once held private and now dare expose to the world.
Ania Szado is the author of STUDIO SAINT-EX, "an unputdownable novel about twentieth century fashion, French expatriates in Manhattan during World War II, the miracle of creative genius and the lives of the great writer Antoine de Saint-Exupery [THE LITTLE PRINCE] and the women he loved."~Lawrence Hill. STUDIO SAINT-EX has sold to five countries and debuted as a national bestseller.
Ania's critically acclaimed debut novel, Beginning of Was, was regionally shortlisted for the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize, nominated for the international Kiriyama Prize and named a NOW magazine Top Ten book.
Ania was born in Hamilton, Ontario, and lives in Toronto. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from UBC. Visit her website at aniaszado.com.