On Writing and Artistic Solitude
August 16, 2019 § 8 Comments
By Laura Barakeris
Surrounded by others all day and crushed by the noise of the Internet, I often struggle to slow my thoughts and pace enough to write. Because most of my day is turned out—getting information, communicating, checking my to-do list, meetings—it is hard to turn back inwards and write about what I have to say. But if I don’t, how can the stories in my head come out? How can the solutions to the dead-ends and logical traps in my storylines reveal themselves?
“Without solitude, I can’t hear myself think or access my true voice. It’s such an essential part of creative living for me,” said Nicole Gulotta, blogger and author of Eat This Poem: A Literary Feast of Recipes Inspired by Poetry.
I know I need solitude to create too. If I have not had time be alone and write down my ideas, I get cranky and lash out at those closest to me. Like a snow-bound runner who has not been able to get out and run, I become antsy and stir-crazy if I have not had time to write.
“Solitude for the writer is hard and glorious and essential. It’s like a good marriage: The more you commit to it, never giving up no matter how difficult things get, the more grace and mystery is revealed to you,” said Ann Tashi Slater, in her HuffPost article, “Writing and Solitude.”
And what is that grace and mystery? Space to think. The ability to be in the moment—not looking back or planning forward. It is stillness and quiet, or at least nothing fighting for your attention. Reflection. It is the ability to hear the stories in your mind and to listen to what your imagination is telling you. A break from the chaos. Quieting the noise. Silencing the chatter. The gifts that solitude hold are different for every writer, and making space for them in a busy schedule requires discipline and creativity. It is a negotiation, a trade-off between silence and solitude and everything else.
“A restorer of energy, the stillness of alone experiences provides us with much-needed rest. It brings forth our longing to explore, our curiosity about the unknown, our will to be an individual, our hopes for freedom. Alone time is fuel for life,” writes Ester Buchholz, in “The Call of Solitude,” published in Psychology Today.
Unfortunately, most of us do not have long, uninterrupted blocks of time in which everyone and everything goes away and lets us create in silence. Usually, the television is on in the background, and the phone’s notifications are binging, or someone is asking something of us. We must pay the bills, feed the kids, and love the spouse. Time alone to create is pushed aside because of guilt, exhaustion, or lack of time.
“I used to wait for solitude and silence, demand it,” said Shawna Lemay, blogger and author of The Flower Can Always Be Changing. “But if I did that now, I’d just never write. So what I’ve learned to do is to cultivate an inner quiet, an inner solitude. It travels with me.”
My surroundings, schedule and mood, will never be lined up to provide the ideal writing environment and if I wait for perfection, I will never write. I sometimes have an hour or two in the evening and I can also write in the car on long road trips. I usually also have a long empty Sunday which I can fill with at least a few hours of writing—if I take it. And that may be the crux of it all. If I look closely, I do have time, but I hesitate, and then weeks go by and I haven’t written.
“Artistic solitude is a decision to turn and face these feelings, to sit with them for long periods of time,” says Joe Fassler in “What Great Artists Need: Solitude,” published in The Atlantic.
Could there be something else? I sometimes wonder if I have a fear of being alone. When I am alone, I learn something about myself, and I worry that I will not like it. What if I have nothing to say? What if no one wants to listen to me? What if the mean girls in Grade 5 were right and I’m a “Boring Nobody”? What if I submit my story and I don’t even get a rejection letter? If you send out a story and there’s no response back, are you even a writer?
One of the joys and incomprehensible mysteries of the whole writing process is the conflict of the external and internal—of going out into the world to see what is happening and to hear what other people have to say, but then coming back inside to our thoughts to figure out how we feel about them and how we fit into it all. We struggle through draft after draft; taking something out, putting it back in. It is not the final product that means the most—although, that is what we focus on—but the solo journey and figuring out how we fit (or not) into the rest of the world. And recognizing that we do have something of value to say.
I planned a solo DIY writing retreat one weekend this past winter to a cabin in the mountains. On the drive there, I wondered if I would be able to write. I was giving myself just over a 24-hour period, but with all that quiet, would I be able to write, or would I sit frozen at the computer screen calling myself a fake and a failure because nothing would come? Would the quiet silence me?
I need not have worried. I wrote 9,000 words that trip. I walked with my dog. I got closer to animals than I ever have before. I breathed in the sweet mountain air. I marvelled at how beautiful the world is. And I realized again, that I’m a writer.
Laura Barakeris is a Canadian writer and editor. She just finished an MA in Creative and Critical Writing and is currently working on a memoir about building a cabin in the woods. Twitter and Instagram: @LauraBarakerisWriter