What the Hell is a Garret, Anyway?

There are rules for garrets, you know. Such as: only artists may use them, and the only activity allowed inside one is “toiling.” Except if you believe that, you’re a moron, because this notion is outdated—or so I’m repeatedly told. The only thing I’ve ever heard about garrets, in fact, is how my notions of them are wrong, despite a complete lack of said notions in the first place.

If one googles toiling away in his garret, the first three pages of results include 3 original usages from the late 1800s to early 1900s, 8 genuine usages from recent years, and 12 assurances that we don’t do that kind of thing anymore, meaning that at this point it is more cliché to point out how cliché it is. Adjust the search to “away in his garret” -toiling, and you get a few more approved activities: slaving (4), hiding (2), pining (2), and one each for struggling, scratching, wasting, scrying, writing, slogging, scribbling, and daubing… as well as solid testimonials on the effectiveness of their doors: locked (4), stowed (4), tucked (3), bolted, secreted, packed, shut. Again, there are at least as many insisting on the falsehood of these scenarios as there are describing them with sincerity.

The point is this (I know, you were waiting on tenterhooks1): The most modern of all clichés is to point out how cliché things are, which I have now just done against my will. Like Heisenberg’s photons, you can’t acknowledge it without participating in it. David Foster Wallace had a number of things to say on this subject, anticipating that the next wave of culture would (or at least should) involve a rejection of irony and rejection itself, instead embracing earnestness and sincere admission without fear of ridicule. Then again, Wallace was also mentally ill in a number of ways, so grains of salt abound. Not to put too fine a point on it3, there are no rules for how writing gets done, and that includes how writing doesn’t get done. Lin-Manuel Miranda spent time locked away in a number of old historical places. Truman Capote routinely toiled away in a dingy motel room. A friend of mine sold his home and wrote in a van for a year, not from financial but from artistic need. Me, I do think I’d write more productively in something sufficiently garret-esque, but it’s not reconcilable with my current reality. I split what writing time I have about 40-40-20 between a big chair in my bedroom (when no one’s home,) the living room couch (when my night-shift husband’s still sleeping in the bedroom,) and the passenger seat of my car during my kids’ myriad extracurriculars. But I could see a garret working for me. Just get the work done in the way you want to get the work done. If you think garrets are cliché, obviously don’t rent one for the summer. Be all hip with your Macbook in a noisy coffeeshop, or write from a moving bicycle for all I care. But if you want to work in a garret, if garrets work for you psychologically, no one should discourage you. Just write, for crying out loud. Don’t waste your time writing about how other people should, or shouldn’t, be writing.4


1I will refrain from following up this old-fashioned cliché that no one knows the meaning of anymore with “see what I did there?”… but only because that joke itself is now a decade old, and super cliché.2

2See what I did there?


4Oh for the love of…

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