On Writing and Artistic Solitude

August 16, 2019 § 7 Comments


L-BarakerisBy 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.

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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

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§ 7 Responses to On Writing and Artistic Solitude

  • Baby-pink says:

    just started a blog and having my own silent struggles as a writer, I realize inner silence is golden, beautiful piece ma’am

  • I want to do a solo DIY writing retreat myself. I wanted to go to the beach and take my dogs and do what you did. Walk on the beach with my dogs, breathe in the salty ocean air, and then write my heart out. One day I will do just that! I’m glad yours was successful!

  • This: “If I look closely, I do have time, but I hesitate, and then weeks go by and I haven’t written.” My life is taken up with my day job, husband, three cats, friends, family, hobbies. I complain I don’t have enough quiet time, but I have to admit that when I just sit down and start writing, I always keep writing despite the distractions around me. Your DIY writing retreat sounds wonderful. A fantasy of mine but maybe someday.

  • Rae Reads says:

    I’m not a writer (just a blogger) but I need times of solitude to refresh my inner-self/soul. Sometimes I go on a “retreat” telling My Better Half that I’m unplugging and tuning out to calls, emails and other contacts. As long as I break for meals and provide those meals (which I cook the day before, then just warm up) I can read, meditate, snooze or whatever for most of a day. Another thing that works for me is the three or four hour block of time he is involved in football viewing. (He is a big time Texans fan). During that time I can come and go as I please, for he is engaged physically and mentally in the strategy of the game. Since we do not have children or grandchildren around, family responsibilities are nil. All in all, I have it good!

  • Tara Paray says:

    You are a writer simply because you write.

    I had the same fears as you, so this year, I decided to schedule three retreats. The first two found me mostly just getting out of my own head and my own way — not a lot of writing (some journaling, though). Since the second ended, I’ve been writing a lot, and I find now I am writing even in the midst of noise and chaos. So solitude works for me and also, like the one person you mentioned, I’m starting to create that space within me. I’m hoping the third retreat will be even more writing, perhaps finishing a project I’ve been chipping away at for some time.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts with us. It’s comforting to hear other writers have similar experiences.

  • Margaret says:

    Just sounds like my stage in my writing journey apart from working on my memoir. In some ways I am already writing but am concious that bits and pieces are ‘all over the place’.
    My first step in focusing has been to temporarily deactivate my facebook account which, as well as feeling quite a liberating action it has taken away unnecessary distractions sucking up my time and energy.
    This coming public holiday weekend in u.k. I have cancelled meet ups with de-energising friends (I am retired) and am trying to create a peaceful ambience at home.
    This last week I have accessed library p.c to give me one hour’s dedicated time to word press. There are too many distractions when using my p.c. at home.

  • […] I read an extremely insightful blog by Laura Barakeris on Brevity about writing and solitude. I realized how I always complain about not getting enough time to write […]

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