• The Dark Room

Where I Write Part Five with Catherine Ryan Howard

Writing.ie | Magazine | Interviews | Where I Write

By Catherine Howard

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Catherine Ryan Howard, one of Ireland’s most successful self-publishers told writing.ie,

“For many years, where I wrote was extremely important to me—more so than having an idea of what to write about, which soon turned out to be a rather crucial mistake. I tried sitting in bed with my laptop balanced between my stomach and my drawn-up knees (because I’d heard that Marian Keyes wrote in bed and if it was good enough for her…), a variety of desk styles from the Argos catalogue (trying each one out in a variety of locations) and even sitting at the kitchen table in a little holiday cottage by the sea I’d rented in the off-season just to write in (because I’ve read an interview in which Alex Barclay said she did just that, and any excuse…) But when I self-published and then, began to be a writer full-time—meaning that my job became a mix of writing, selling my writing and writing about selling my writing—I did it in my bedroom, right at the end of my bed.

I didn’t have a choice in the matter—neither the writing in my bedroom or doing it right at the end of my bed. Becoming a starving artist was great in many ways, but the way in which it was not was that I was advancing at great speed towards thirty and still living with my parents. They didn’t much like this either, as so, as a form of punishment, I suspect, I was sent back to the smallest room in the house, the “box room” which had been my first bedroom growing up. (Being the eldest I regularly announced that I was moving rooms, without advance notice, and everyone else just has to shuffle around, like musical chairs without the chairs or the music, and with a lot of packing and Blutac marks on the walls.) Boasting approximately the same floor space as the inside of a Mini Cooper, the only spot for a desk was right at the end of my bed. That left just enough room for a chair in between, and there you had it: my home office. It was a squeeze, but on the positive side I could go to work in my PJs and claim to have the shortest possible commute. (About three steps, give or take.)


It worked for a while, but working at home is extremely distracting. I’m a gold medalist in procrastination, and there’s hours of it to be done when you’re still at home. Books that needed reading, DVD box sets that needed re-watching, clothes that needed putting in the wash (but never hanging out on the line; I didn’t want to procrastinate that bad). Then there was the people, and the noise they made. Just going downstairs to make a cup of coffee could turn into an hour-long absence, and with my infamous wolf-like hearing I was privy to every conversation that took place in the house throughout the day. And that was only what happened if I found the motivation to get out of bed—when no one is going to admonish you for being late or even check that you’re at work, the temptation to sleep through cold, dark and raining mornings is frequently too great.

But after two years of this, it wasn’t the distractions that were distracting me. I missed being in the city centre every day. I missed having somewhere to go. I wanted to get out of the house, and have a place to go to work where I wouldn’t be disturbed. I wanted to work when I was in this new place, and relax when I was at home. And then I remembered something: the recession.

Ireland, if you don’t already know, owes money to everybody and every where. We have no money and if we had any, we’d have to give it to the people we owe it to. Therefore, our city centre is filled with empty spaces: retail units to let, car parks that are no longer needed, empty office space…

I wondered if perhaps I could rent a cheap office somewhere. (Oooh, an office! How would I decorate it? What kind of coffee machine would I buy? Potted plant: real or plastic?) And I could’ve—except on top of the rent I’d have been paying service charges, electricity bills and contents insurance. There was no way I could afford it. But one of the places I called told me about their “hot desking” service: you rent a cubicle in a shared office, have your own desk, chair and storage, can use their broadband and install a phone line if you like, and you have access to it 24 hours a day. In this particular building—which is modern, shiny and with a sunny atrium at its heart—there is also complimentary coffee on tap all the livelong day. It costs €200 a month, excluding VAT.

If they let me put a cot under the desk, I’d live here if I could.

The thing is, writing—and all the other stuff connected to it—is now “really” my job. I get up in the morning, put on something other than sweat pants and catch a bus to the office. I walk through the city centre early in the morning, find a sandwich place for lunch. All the hours I’m in the office, I’m working on something. There’s still the internet, of course, but I don’t have books, DVDs or other people to distract me. (Or my bed, which had a terrible habit of forcing me to take mid-afternoon naps.) My productivity has shot up. And best of all, when I go home, I don’t feel the slightest bit guilty about curling up with a book or settling down in front of the TV to fall into a semi-coma for the evening, because my work is done.

My only regret is that I didn’t do this ages ago.

And although I didn’t get to decorate anywhere (it being a shared office), it does give me an unlimited license to buy stationery supplies…

About the author

(c) Catherine Ryan Howard March 2012

For more on Catherine Ryan Howard, check out her own blog Catherine Caffeinated or her Self Printed Blog here on writing.ie


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