Imagine being alone in a cabin, writing without being disturbed by anyone and without a cell phone or internet. The basics are there – plumbing, electricity and a land-line phone for emergencies. The cabin is as cozy warm as the ability to remember to stoke the old wood stove. Sitting in the comfiest recliner, laptop propped on the lap, flying fingers blurt out vivid scenes. You write, you sleep, you go for the occasional walk to clear your head or to work out a problem and then you begin again. Word count rises and spirit soars.
This was the greatest gift I ever gave myself – a whole month of writing, thinking and sleeping. Beyond the accomplishment of a story told, it transformed my understanding of what I need to be a writer.
We try to balance our writing life with our everyday lives which includes work, family, friends and fun in our marvelous technological society. These things are important yet equally important is the need for time to think, create and write. So we plan and eek out snippets of writing time – an hour here, an hour there, a workshop here and a two day retreat there – and we write. Yet, as important as those snippets of time are, they are not solitude for solitude is immersion without expectation of interruption or immediate cessation.
Solitude provides the luxury to explore, think and integrate. Sometimes it isn’t the word count that’s required but the ability to think, brainstorm and plot without distraction. The balance now is that I create opportunities for solitude (even if it’s half a day) and the results of being centered, free-flowing creativity and the calm from problems solved spill into those precious snippets of writing time.
On that month-long journey of solitude, I discovered that in order to achieve solitude I must walk down the path of desperate loneliness where there are no people, no events, no media – nothing exists but me and my thoughts. Junk-noise and junk-thought withdrawal can be a painful albeit rewarding experience. Now I make a conscientious effort to shut out the junk-noise and junk-thought. Yes, people aren’t happy when I don’t respond to texts or phone calls for hours but they aren’t writing my stories and the unplanned interactions dissolve the state of mind I need to be in.
I never wrote so much so quickly and I never slept as much before! The experience made me aware how exhausting the creative process is. After writing for hours, I’d inhale some food and collapse into a stone-dead nine hour sleep and then do it all over again. So sometimes when I’m reluctant to write it’s because I know I don’t have the energy it takes to be fully engaged nor do I have the time to allow the grey cells to warm up to enough to integrate ideas before creating a coherent symphony of words. Now, I’m a little more forgiving of myself in those moments and I work hard to make sure the time and the energy I need are there.
Solitude allows the brain to become more sensitive to the emotional tenor of words, to the rhythms of not only speech but of story pacing – it’s the crescendo and denouement of action and reaction, heightened and relaxed emotion, the interaction of protagonist and antagonist, the prose of world building mingling with characters experiencing the dynamics of the world. Having an extended experience of the rhythm of words, images and scenes, and having done it long enough to integrate it, I go back into that state when I write. For me, it’s meditation through writing.
I always thought that solitude was the ideal writing state and had dreamed of being sequestered in a cabin writing forever. Not anymore. Surrounding ourselves with family and friends, experiencing life, those are the things that are fodder for our creative selves. We are creatures of the pack and loneliness in the extreme can as easily erode our ability to write as can the distractions. Balancing solitude and writing with family and friends – that’s what I need. I’ll take my month of solitude again and I’ll keep finding small blocks of it in the meantime. But, I’ll also cherish my time with family and friends for solitude works best when we have something to leave and go back to again!
I totally agree with you. My most productive week ever was a 4 day writing retreat in which I wrote over 50,000 words. We need to find quiet, undisturbed time on a regular basis to really connect with the stories and characters we’re building. Not sure if I’ll ever manage to get away for an entire month, but I now do try for at least one week each year.
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