Sunday, March 24, 2013

Solitude and the writer

A writer friend of mine (who has a live-in partner) said to me the other day, "I'd like to live alone, and just have them come over when I feel like it. That's not too much to ask, is it?" Then she laughed - a lot - as did I, and then we both sighed.  Yes, it's too much to ask, especially of a relationship where one person is not a writer and doesn't "get" the constant desire for solitude.

What happens for a writer during those solitary times? I can only tell you what happens for me, when I get them (which is rare these days, but more of that later). I find focus, for a start. When someone else is in the house, even if they are not in the same room, their very presence makes me scattered. The only way I have found to combat this is to have a list of things to do (which includes writing) and try really hard to stick to it. It does help. A bit. When I am alone for one or two whole days, it's all about writing. I think, sit in one place, focus, plan, daydream, and write. It's a flow, like a river I am floating along, with no need to dock anywhere unless I need food or sleep.

In solitude I also find ideas. That line to start a poem, that flash that might be a story, that insight into my main character in my current novel - instead of drifting past before I can stop them, or having someone speak to me and pop the idea bubble, I can grab the nearest notebook, write down what I thought and then add more to it as I sit (in peace and quiet) and ponder.

In solitude I write more poems. May Sarton (in her Journal of a Solitude, which I am about to re-read) says "If I were in solitary confinement for a time and knew that no one would ever read what I wrote, I would still write poetry but not novels ... perhaps because a poem is primarily a dialogue with the self and the novel a dialogue with others." When someone else is around you all the time, there is no mental space to have that dialogue with yourself.

In solitude, I find myself. I go inside and dream and think and my thoughts meander wherever they want to. While to other people this might sound like laziness, or a break from the real world, or a form of meditation, for me it is simply time for my brain to do whatever it feels like. Do you remember what that is like?

Maybe this is mostly why I like Facebook. I choose when to log in, I love seeing what my friends are up to, what makes them laugh (and often me, too), what family are doing, and I get to share what I currently find interesting. Then I log out and it's all gone. Peace. (Yes, kind of like that ideal spouse who only comes around when you want them to!)

But as far as solitude and my writing goes, I have finally, after two years of struggling with this and trying various solutions, come to the conclusion that solitude will not find me in opportune moments. I will have to go out and claim it, one way or another.


Sara Dowse said...

Only writers I used to think would say 'Oh, no - not another holiday!'

Nadine Gordimer was very good on this - in the introduction to her collection of short stories that I read in the 80s she wrote about the need to find balance between social interaction and solitude, her point being that a writer needs both. People to understand them and solitude to write.

Keep up the struggle.

Unknown said...

It is difficult to find the balance. If I'm in a house full of people, my work pattern gets later and later, until I almost work through the night when everyone else is asleep! Not very social, but its a natural move my body makes that I have very little control over!

And yet at other times, inspiration can strike in a plane or train with lots of noisy people, but the 'zone' is there which protects you from distraction.

We persevere because we love the craft and try to perfect it. Good luck to all of us!!

Sue said...

What a beautiful meditation on solitude.

It's such in important thing to me, and I just love the way you describe it - that river feels like a rich one made of silky chocolate to me :)

I have grappled for a long time about my inability to write as well when nobody else is around. My partner is sooo respectful of my privacy; he is so good at not interrupting me when I am writing. But still, even if we are both off in our own worlds doing our own thing, it is still like you describe. It's like even if someone else isn't in the room, their energy is in the house.

I love you, solitude. I find myself a little suspicious of some people who can never stand to be alone, hehe :)

Sherryl said...

Sara, May Sarton says the same thing - we need people and the interaction and all those other things, but we also must have solitude. The balance is the problem!

Sherryl said...

Kari, isn't it strange how late at night you do feel alone? Maybe people's sleeping energy doesn't encroach as much.
I write in cafes, but solitude in my own house is the key for me.

Sherryl said...

You're right, Sue! Even if they try hard not to annoy you, simply being there changes how the space feels.
I'll keep working on my solitude!

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