a shack of one’s own.

Neil Gaiman has one.

Roald Dahl had one.

So did Mark Twain, George Bernard Shaw, Dylan Thomas, Virginia Woolf, and a bunch of other famous inkslingers.

I am, of course, talking about a writing shed. The idea for one (or the obsession with it, however you want to look at it) has been firmly planted in my brain for a while now, and my desire for one of my own grows stronger as the distractions in the house get more frequent.

I have the main computer set up at the standing desk in the living room, but I can’t really do any work there that requires focus. Not only am I in the middle of all the house ruckus generated by two kids and four dogs, but I’m also accessible to everyone. So a little writing shed on the property away from the house a bit sounds more wonderful with each passing year. I mean, I put up an 8×10’ chicken house, and we had the handyman attach a 10×12’ run with a proper roof. If the chickens can have such a spacious condo, why shouldn’t I be able to mark off a flat 8×8’ patch of ground somewhere on our ten acres and then put a little private hut up in that spot? No plumbing, no Internet, no electricity—well, maybe an extension cord for a space heater for the winter—but otherwise nothing but a desk, a bookshelf, and a spot for ink bottles and such.

Two weeks ago we went over to some friends for dinner. They have a little 8×8 playhouse on their property which our friend built for his daughter. It has a properly high ceiling suitable for adult use, it has a proper door and windows, and it’s just big enough for a couch and a play rug—the perfect size for a little writing den free of distractions and cat-waxing opportunities.

I asked him how long it took to build that little playhouse.

“Oh, that just took me two days,” he said.


I told him about my desire for a writing hut of my own, and lamented my lack of carpentry skills. He said he’d be glad to help me with it. So I offered him all the beer and pizza he cares to consume in exchange for his assistance. Now I just need to stake out a suitable spot on the grounds of Castle Frostbite, and then sell an extra freelance article or short story to get together the play money for the lumber, but then Project Writing Hut is a go.

18 thoughts on “a shack of one’s own.

  1. If I may suggest….while you may not choose to include it in the original build, you might want to plan for insulation, given the normal winters you’ve experienced at Castle Frostbite. That probably means wall 2X6 studs rather than 2X4, and some form of lighting in addition to a generous window. Given that it’ll be about 8X8, building the floor on top of a couple of skids (pressure treated 4X4s will work, 6X6s would be better) allows for some insulation in the floor, as well as being able to drag it to a different place on the estate should the mood strike. I suspect one’s handwriting would become rather shaky and hard to read when one is shivering.

  2. Think woodstove. Think windows with views, and thermopane. Think eaves to keep the summer sun out and let the winter sun in. Think about facing to the south for the winter sun. Think about good insect screens. Think about where you put the snow boots and parka in the winter. Think about a deck where you can sit and watch the sun set.

  3. Funny, as I was reading, I’m thinking “I should go visit Marko for a couple days & build him a l’il cabin”. Seems I don’t need to.
    I just built a deck on “Dek-blocks” (http://www.deckplans.com) & they were easy to work with.
    A deck is just a cabin bottom, no?
    (Before any master builders start arguing with me about that, the answer is “yes”).
    Forget wood heat; you know how much “safe room” they need around them. I built a bike shed for my MC’s at my last house, & scrounged up a propane heater once used in a travel trailer- worked great for an 8×16′ cabin. A 20# grill tank will last a long time. (I may still have that heater around here, if you want it.)
    But yeah, insulation. Board insulation between the rafters & under the deck works pretty well.
    Ooooo, project time…

  4. Forget the 2×6’s, IMHO use 2×4’s and put foam on the outside with an outer layer of something cheap and cheerful to keep the weather & sun off the foam. at least two windows that open ( a door = window for this purpose. As cold as it gets, you’ll need the breeze in summer. A vent at the top peak can help a lot too.

    Look into scrounging if you have time, Your local town hall has the building permits on file, anything local that might involve demolition might get you free stuff ( doors, windows, sometimes much more ) for the polite asking and speedy hauling away, also the fire department might get given old structures to practice “burn it down” and might be convinced to allow you to “liberate” windows and doors and “stuff” for a truly minor donation to the beer and pizza fund before they start.

    Final suggestion, overbuild, no one ever regretted a nicer shed. Some (white) paint inside can help things look nice and clean too and provides a better than you think vapour barrier. Home Despot and paint places sometime have “returned” paint in the odd colours for VERY cheap.

    If you have a propane heater, think about getting a little burner so you can make hot water too. :-)

    Oh and 8×8 really is quite small once you remove the space the walls take, 8×12 gives you a lot more volume for a little more cost. ( in my stupid opinion) and makes the shed potentially more useful for other purposes in a few years.

    A couple of pallets make a fine stoop.

  5. Besides lots of insulation, I would suggest a vestibule to keep the outside cold outside. To avoid a separate roof setup, make one side of the building for this. Put the door in the outside (small) end, and the internal door at the far end. This will be your cloak room, for winter stuff. Essentially, you are putting up an internal divider wall, but don’t forget to stuff it with insulation. You will still need a separate outer door for direct access, for moving big stuff in and out, and maybe for summer use?

    Hmmm, mounting it on skids might be useful. You can orient it for seasonal weather changes, perhaps. Also, if it is not a “permanent” structure, you may be able to legally use an extension cord to power it, instead of paying for an electrician to run underground or overhead power lines, etc. You might also be required to have plumbing if it is a habitable, permanent structure. Plus building permits!

    I wonder if you could make it rotate on the skids. Be neat if you could sort of track the sun with a window, or spin it around to keep an eye on the kids playing. Heavy duty rollers following tracks laid on the skids. An electric motor, from a treadmill, driving off the center pivot, or one of the rollers.

    You could drive the local wildlife bonkers if it had a random activation at night! Or hook it up to a security light sensor when they go near the chickens.

  6. Following the other comments here, it occurs to me that I have several friends who have purchased (relatively inexpensively) prefab wooden yard/garden sheds of various sizes, which might easily be adapted to your needs. The sheds are available numerous places, and in a variety of trim. Some have windows, some have double doors (which may or may not be more pleasant in warm weather), any of them could easily be insulated for heat and/or properly electrified for a light and outlet for your writing machines, and ones I’ve seen in perhaps a 8’x10′ range are available for around $1000-$1500. My guess is, you’ll be close to that range for materials to properly build one as nice, plus beer and provisions for your builders. They’re delivered on a trailer and can be (as someone mentioned above) moved around if desired, and are on skids, so no building permits are necessary (if that’s a concern in your area – don’t know if it applies). Just further food for thought. :)

  7. Lucian Cary famously cleared a garden shed to make a writing office separate from his home. Noticing a groundhog eating his garden he decided to make a little bench to shoot from. As it was unsteady, he figured, saw a couple holes in the floorboards, then set a couple posts in concrete, for a rock hard shooting bench. He was digging the postholes when his editor showed up, wondering when he would be getting back to work on the book for which he’d received an advance. If I recall correctly this was from “Almost a Gun Crank” from “The J.M Pyne stories and other selected writings” by Lucian Carey. Good reading if you are into the history of fine shooting

  8. Regarding power/light, solar panels in the 40-100 watt range can be gotten fairly affordably these days, and charge controllers are pretty cheap, too. Get yourself some batteries and a desulfator and you’ve got a usable 12v source for lights or an inverter.

    Of course, this is all moot if you buildclose enough to the house that it’s cheaper and easier to run power.

  9. oooh ooh, I forgot, it needs…ARMOR. A turret, a sally port, barbed wire, a great honking moat… wait, what was the question?

  10. A periscope, it’s gotta have a periscope. Life is unutterably dull without a periscope.

    Gerry N.