Friday, October 30, 2009

Writing in Solitude

by Jean Henry Mead

Now that I’m living on a mountain top, I can call myself a solitary writer. Compared to my fomer life in Los Angeles, it’s like living on another planet and I enjoy it immensely.

Gregg Lavoy said in his book, This Business of Writing, that “solitude gives us our best connection to the world, since writing is the way we connect, and writing for most writers only happens in solitude. It is, in fact, the fountainhead of a writer’s creativity, the silence out of which the art is born.” Or as the poet Rainer Rilke once said, “Love your solitude and try to sing out with the pain it causes you.”

I wonder how that applies to those who write on the train while commuting to work or on a plane during an intercontinental flight. It certainly doesn’t apply to news reporters who write to daily deadlines before the paper is put to bed. I can certainly testify to that. I’ve always said that journalists can write in the midst of a traffic jam, but how much would their work improve without the general chaos of a newsroom?

Andrew Storr wrote in his book, Solitude, “that for creative people their significant moments are those in which they attain some new insight, or make some new discovery, and those moments are chiefly, if not invariably, those in which they are alone.”

Some writers have created books while in prison. Sir Walter Raliegh, for example, penned his The History of the World while imprisoned for twelve years in the Tower of London. But too much solitude can result in a disconnect with society at large. Writers need feedback and that doesn’t happen until someone reads their work, whether or not it’s published.

If a fledgling is unable to gain feedback from even friends or family, Lavoy says they can give it to themselves by placing the manuscript in a drawer for a week before taking it out to read as though it were someone else's work. “When you come back to it, with renewed objectivity, you can see where it leaks.” Good advice although I feel a month is even better.

The lonely writer has benefited greatly since the birth of the Internet although too many writers forums, blog sites and social networks can cut deeply into one’s writing time. Communication with other people who speak our language is important, if carefully scheduled.

An old Hebrew proverb says that God created people because He loves stories. He may even have created support groups because these stories can’t be told to just anyone. Writers’ support groups are comprised of people who can empathize and “swap juices” as Mark Twain once said. But, as Lavoy warns, “Make sure it’s your own work that emerges from writers’ support groups and not a group effort."

We're currently snowed in with an accumulation of two feet on the level, if you can find a flat area, and up to six feet of snowdrifts surrounding the house. I now know what novelist Loren Estleman meant when he said that he did his best writing when the snow was deepest around his old Michigan farmhouse. There are certainly few distractions.


Mark W. Danielson said...

Solitude is great, Jean. I get far more done on the road than I do at home. No matter how time I have, there are always too many projects and distractions.

Jean Henry Mead said...

Mark, solitude is great until it's forced on you. We're literally snowed in until Monday morning when the county snowplow make it's run up the mountain. We tried leaving by chaining up the Hummer but didn't get very far. Getting caught in bumper high snowdrifts during a ground blizzard makes you think about your mortality (in more ways than one).

Helen Ginger said...

Sounds like you will get lots of writing done - your winter has already started!

Straight From Hel

Jean Henry Mead said...

The Farmer's Almanac predicts an unusualy cold winter in the Midwest and northern states. So much for global warming.

Sheila Deeth said...

I remember being snowed in in Salt Lake. Funny how the solitude becomes less desirable then. Of course, the power was out too, and the kids were home, so it wasn't exactly solitary.

Jaden Terrell said...

Several years ago while on a 6-week business assignment in Maryland, there was a huge snowstorm. I was snowed into my corporate apartment for a week. Fortunately, I had food, water, and my computer. Best of all, I'd left all of my work at the office, so I couldn't have worked if I'd wanted to.

While I missed my husband and dogs (as I always do when I travel), it was a wonderful week. I gave my novel a major revision and made a nice start on a new manuscript.

Not that I'm anxious to repeat the experience,mind you. I'm not a girl who likes the cold.