A Room of My Own: Ando McDonnell


A room of my own.

I have no room. No office. No studio. No desk. 

No home.

For the past ten years, I have been nomadic. 

For the past five years, I have lived mostly in the forest. Occasionally in a monastery. Other times in a forest ashram or private hermitage.

A basic, simple, essential life.

Sleeping in old canvas tents in December. 

Graduating to wooden huts, just big enough for a bed, and space to enter and place down your clothes, and stretch in the morning. 

…and back to tents, and tiny caravans.

No electricity.

The floor has long been my desk. 

Often, the forest floor.

Today, my desk, by chance, is twelve foot long solid oak dining table in a Georgian listed building, with full length window opening out onto stone steps down into three acres of grounds. I have been gifted this opportunity for three months.

It’s a long way from the life in a tent, notebook or iPad on the forest floor. 

But it’s no different for me. Except, perhaps, lacking in simplicity. 

I appreciate the luxury of it, whilst knowing it is temporary.

What isn’t?

The funny thing is that whilst sitting at this table, I crave the forest, a place to walk and sit under the pine trees. To listen to and watch the wind flowing through great swathes of eucalyptus trees. My old teachers, the trees.

Instead, I have new teachers. A tall old failing cedar. A fresh young magnolia. Grand old horse chestnut trees, their folded unborn leaves containing hand like leaves, bursting with strength and life force.

How do I write?

There is no how. No method.

Should there be? 

I don’t believe in definitions.

Or frameworks. 

If I believe in something, I believe in being empty and free.

I believe in Zen. 

In poetry.

To write poetry, the truest, most living poetry, is to be empty, like the bamboo.

When the bamboo is empty, hollow, only then can the wind play it’s song through it.

A Zen poet is like this. 

An empty thing, like Chuan Tzu’s Useless Tree.

What purpose do I need to write Zen poetry?


I need to be purposeless. 

Truly purposeless.

And in my case, deskless is part of that.

So today, I write this article from a 12 foot solid oak table in a grand house. 

But in three months, it is scheduled to be a 3 foot tiled cast iron table in a tiny Portuguese villa. 

These places, regardless of shape or size, are always my hermitage.

Because true hermitage is an attitude, not a location.

Do I crave a room of my own?

Yes, sometimes.

But the lack of one has given so much power to the poetry. 

I would like a room of my own, but I don’t need one. 

Just something to write with, when I wake before dawn, with words taking shape inside the hollow bamboo of my being.

The song of the wind.

The song of the wind needs no place of it’s own. 

It’s the movement that creates the song.

Ando is a Zen poet and writer, a former lay forest monk.




A Room of My Own: Alice Penfold

A room is far more than four walls.

It is only the combination of physical room (a calm and creative environment to encourage words to emerge) with emotional room (time and space of mind to allow ideas to flourish) that a writer can truly begin to be.

That phrase, ‘A Room of My Own’ inevitably makes me think of Virginia Woolf: her passionate essay, ‘A Room of One’s Own’ (1929) remains one of my main inspirations, as a feminist, a writer and a feminist writer. Her ‘room’ was a cry for women to have the physical space and financial means to pursue writing careers, as well as the metaphorical room to become writers in the context of a patriarchal society.

Although my definition of a writer’s ‘room’ is extends beyond Woolf’s twentieth century context, I still draw inspiration from her magical way with words. Like Woolf, I need a literal room of my own. A designated physical space will not be the same for every writer; many writers (myself included) may write in multiple spaces, from silent desks to chatty coffee shops.

What is essential is that a writer sets aside these locations to give writing a chance to grow away from the pressures and pace of everyday bustle.

Woolf’s inspirational nature imagery, peppered throughout her essay, helps me to understand the more abstract meaning of a room. Writing, Woolf believes, allows us to “dream over books and loiter at street corners and let the line of thought dip deep into the stream Woolf’s “stream”, like the concept of a “room” itself, is both literal and conceptual; we must allow time and space to fully observe every colour and detail of our natural world in order for creativity to fully flow.

A mind extends beyond four walls. A story is like a human; it needs air to breathe and the opportunity to develop. We can wander through the natural world, soak up every sensual detail, before returning to our physical, designated writing locations.

A Room of My Own is a place to physically play with stories and sentences, as well as a metaphorical place, giving the mind time and space to properly see the inspiration of our surroundings, setting aside the distractions of modern life so our writing can blossom. Fiction is, in Woolf’s words, “a spider’s web”: easy to break, hard to make, yet undoubtedly worth the work.

A Writing Room of My Own: Diane Woodrow

When I was feeling lost, scared, depressed or any of those other things that make it impossible to sleep I would dream of having a room of my own; a room I could just be me in.

Not somewhere with another function but just where I could sit and look. I have had many rooms of my own but they were bed-sitting rooms or even just bedrooms of my own; always rooms with other functions. When I would dream of this room it would always come with a view of something beautiful, of something that would hold my eye and take me away even from this perfect place of perfect room.

I gave my room away one day.

I shared my safe place with a friend who was suicidal. For me that dream of the room of my own gave me hope and solace. I wanted to help him find that hope and solace too. He killed himself when he was in the his house on his own. For four years I struggled to regain my dream as I struggled with my grief but the Lord is good and now my dream no longer a dream but has become a reality.

We sold our house and moved over two hundred and fifty miles away and now I have my room of my own which has no purpose other than to let me be. Yes I do things in it, write, read, keep in touch with friends, build a website to set up my new venture, and it holds my stuff; those things that are inherently mine – pictures, quotes, books, that I do not want to share with those who pass through the rest of my home.

But mainly this room is for me to watch the seasons.

I am blessed by having a large sycamore tree on the verge opposite and then a view to hills beyond. I can sit and look, watch the seasons going past. Today my view of the Victorian mock castle is obscured by the sycamore in full leaf but in not too many months the tree will be bare, my view will change, but the constant will be that this room is mine and mine alone.