A Shed of One’s Own

“. . . a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.”
—Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own

Right.  Fair enough.

But what about men?  What must guys have to write fiction?

A shed.  Money wouldn’t hurt, but definitely a shed.

The American novelist John Gardner states in The Art of Fiction that when writing a novel, an author’s goal is to create “a vivid and continuous dream.”  For me, at least, dreaming the dream requires almost complete isolation.  A Himalayan cave would do nicely.  An off-season shack on a beach near Tulum might have possibilities.  An 1840’s-era farmhouse in Vermont comes mighty close.  But even in our calm rural setting, distractions of any sort are a threat to the process.  Even the ordinary activities of my nearest-and-dearest (Edith making business calls downstairs, for instance, or our son, Cory, listening to Tudor polyphony while he writes computer code) can pop the bubble and jeopardize the process.  I lose track of the plot.  My characters stop talking to one another.  The spontaneous, intense, sometimes torrential flow of words from the mind to the page—what I call “white-water thinking”—slows to a trickle.  To dream the dream and, especially, to get the dream down on paper:  this requires solitude.

The answer?  Purchase a cheap ready-made shell, have it transported to our property, and fix it up.  This is exactly what I did this past summer and autumn.  The project coincided with many other tasks and family activities, so the work ran long, but the time and effort will surely pay off in the long run.

Here’s how it happened.

 ◊    ◊    ◊

First, two local carpenters, Alfred and Eugene, constructed the shell in nearby Chelsea, Vermont.

01 - building #2

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On the Fourth of July, Alfred and Eugene towed the shell to Hyland Hill on a flatbed trailer and carefully backed into our meadow.

02 - arrival #3  ◊    ◊    ◊

Winching the shed off the trailer got kinda touch-and-go for a while . . . but somehow it all worked out.

02 - arrival #4

  ◊    ◊    ◊

The result:  an austere little shack with lots of potential.  Jacked up on cement blocks and properly shimmed, the shell was now level and stable.  Not ready for prime time . . . but it certainly possessed the virtue that realtors tout:  location, location, location.

03 - early work #1

◊    ◊    ◊

Then my work started in earnest.  The goal was to create what Hemingway called “a clean, well-lighted place”; and, first and foremost, that meant installing lots of windows.

03 - early work #2

◊    ◊    ◊

Properly inserted and trimmed, they would let in the sunshine but keep out the rain and the cold.

03 - early work #3

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I wanted the shed to be comfortable year-round, so I added a thick layer of insulation to retain the warmth from a little heater I planned to use during cold weather.  Rigid foam insulation three inches thick seemed adequate and affordable.

04 - insulation #4

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A series of intricate tasks followed:  1) adding circuitry for two electrical outlets, 2) paneling the walls with tongue-and-groove wainscot boards, 3)  trimming the windows with sills, 4) sheet-rocking the ceiling, 5) adding a pine floor, and 6) painting the whole interior.  Like a Pentagon battleship, the project ran late and over-budget.  The payoff, however:  a cozy space conducive to turning inward.

05 - almost done #3

◊    ◊    ◊

Putting down a rug, moving in some furniture, and plugging in a heater completed my labors . . .

05 - finished #1

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. . . just in time for winter.

05 - finished #2

File this whole experience under:  “If I’d Known What I Was Getting Into, I Never Would’ve Bothered.”  Still, the deed is done.  The little shed sits out there in the meadow.  It’s cozy even now that the temps have plummeted.  And although it’s certainly the result of my own obsession, and though I hope to go out and work there several times each week, it’s an equal-opportunity shed—accessible to any member of the family and to our guests.

Now comes the hard part:  writing books.

2 thoughts on “A Shed of One’s Own

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