Sunday, April 21, 2013

Writing with Room Service

© Orlando Florin Rosu | Used by Permission

Let me say, first off, I love my family. And the smartest thing I ever did, hands down, was have my children. But the thing is, I have always written best in total solitude—and solitude is not an easy thing to come by, when you have a family.

Which is fine. I don't believe in ivory towers, and on most days I can find enough hours while the kids are off at school, or after everyone's asleep, to get some writing done. It's just that every now and then, I grow nostalgic for the days when I could just get lost within the writing of a book—when I could sleep and eat and bathe (or not) in rhythm with the writing, staying up till 3 or 4 a.m. if words were flowing well, because there wasn't any need to wake at 6 and get the household on the go.

It's pure nostalgia. I'm not yearning to return to those days. While they were productive, they were also Very Lonely, and I'm happy with my life as it is now. But in the middle of the writing of The Firebird, I stumbled on a compromise that lets me have the best of both worlds, really: I lock myself into a hotel room for a weekend.

My hotel of choice is the Royal York, in downtown Toronto, but it also works in a Holiday Inn, or a Motel 6, or whatever you've got near you (not too near, mind—you don't want to be so far away that you'll waste all your writing time travelling there and back, but you don't want to be so close that people will feel they can call you back home for "emergencies").

I leave home on a Friday night, having stocked up the fridge and made sure my husband and kids have enough DVDs and video games to keep them all entertained, and I pay for an extra half day so that once I've checked into my room I don't have to come out again till Sunday suppertime.

And for the time in between, I just write. 

I can't do it too often, of course. All that room service doesn't come cheap. But it's well worth the effort of saving and planning, to just feel that wonderful feeling of total immersion—no TV, no Internet, nothing to pull you away from the book. And no dishes to wash.

My Canadian publishers, Simon & Schuster, were so intrigued when they found out that I did this, that they even made a short video trailer about it, which I'm sharing here. (Full disclosure: my hotel room doesn't look that neat when I've spent a day in it, really, and I'm much more likely to order a salad from room service than chocolate cake, but the cameraman liked the cake better).

For someone like me, who can sometimes spend two weeks just writing one chapter, a four-and-a-half-chapter weekend's a Very Big Deal. And I'm home for the hugs from my kids Sunday night, and to take them to school Monday morning. The best of both worlds.

How do you balance work and your family and time for yourself? 

(Come back Thursday, to find out what Julie's been up to...) 


  1. That sounds like a great compromise, Susanna! And the hotel looks lovely - I love olde-worlde understated elegance :-)

    When I need solitude to write I get my husband to take our dogs and go stay in the country. I find it hard to write when regular dog walks interrupt me right in the middle of the flow so when they're gone I get a lot more done.

  2. Oooo that looks like such a great idea. As I live on my own I don't have the excuse to take myself off to a hotel. I get as far as Starbucks

  3. I've been to Toronto twice but stayed places much cheaper than the Royal York. I stayed at apartment hotels; I think one was called the Royal Alexandra and the other was the Grange. I live in Toledo, Ohio, which is about five or six hours away from Toronto. I also took a day trip from Toronto to Niagara Falls and Niagara-on-the-Lake.

    I like Brigid's idea about going to Starbucks. I actually go to the library to get away and use the Internet because I don't own a computer.