A Writer Befriends Solitude
It is a typical Friday night. I get home from work just before six. The house is empty at first. I turn on the television or the radio to fill the space. I look out the window. I notice the way the last ray of sun reflects off the house across the street. I feel relieved and worried that I have not made any plans. Lately, the weekends I enjoy most are the ones when I am alone.
It is comforting to sit in a quiet house, but not at first. Entering solitude is not as simple as walking through a doorway. It is more like waiting at the station for a train that does not keep to a schedule.
Saturday morning I awake saddened that my home is still empty, overwhelmed by the vastness of a blank day after a busy week. I watch television while I eat breakfast. Around 9:00 am I check in with family via phone or email. Then I tidy the house, make the bed, have a shower, and start the laundry. The idea of writing trails me like a kid sister from room to room.
It is lunch time. The need to write begins to hum a gentle tune as I prepare a salad. After I eat I turn on the kettle. Before the water is boiled my laptop is ready, the writing song is stronger. I close my eyes, take a deep breath, glance at the page, and type.
The words are slow at first, forced. Long pauses sit between words and sentences and paragraphs. I wait patiently for my train of thought to move forward. I breathe into the pauses. I let the words rise onto the page as if they are emerging buds in springtime.
Each pause is like stepping onto a new stone toward solitude. The words do not scroll across my mind’s eye as they do when I am walking. The words bubble up from a place deep within my creative spirit.
As I write this post I am trying to be aware of the meditative journey to solitude through the writing process. I am surprised that when I write from this place I am not aware of logic. I am not conscious of what I have written in the previous sentence or what I will write in the next sentence.
I spend hours writing in solitude. Suddenly, it is night. The afternoon’s sun has faded, dusk has turned to darkness. It is time to prepare dinner. Once I arrive at a state of solitude it is with me until I leave the house for work on Monday morning. I feel peace. It is in this place that I do my best work.
I am blessed to know a writer’s solitude. I am blessed to have a home and a lifestyle that affords me the luxury of waiting for solitude to arrive and for being able to linger there when it does. Sometimes I wish I could stay in this place of quiet and connection and introspection. Once I arrive at a state of solitude I want to stretch it out, make it last, hold onto it for as long as possible.
Solitude can represent the ideal writing life. Thoreau went into the woods to write Walden. The idea of a writer toiling away with a manuscript in isolation is a romantic notion. But is an inclination for introversion a pre-requisite for the writing life? Is seclusion a portal to brilliance or to eccentricity or to a hermitage? What does it mean when a writer prefers to spend quality time with words on the page?
For nearly twenty years solitude has been an integral part of my creative process. I remember surrendering to creative meditations on long car trips as a teenager. I remember going into my dorm room to dream for hours in university. I remember waiting for the phases to pass, knowing that if I made it to the end I would feel peace.
First emptiness, loss, insecurity, fear. Then sadness, sometimes sobs of longing or aches for change. Darkness. Nothingness. In this phase it can feel like light has disappeared forever. Finally, surrender. I shake hands with pain and regret and sorrow. ‘Stay as long as you need,’ I whisper. I sit patiently on that cold hard bench waiting for a train, hoping for a schedule. Always when I least expect it solitude arrives, greeting me with a warm hug like an old friend.
Years ago it might take three full days before I entered my ideal writing state. Now it varies. It can take from ten minutes to twenty-four hours for me to move through the phases. Practice helps. Regularity helps. Living alone helps.
Whether I am writing an academic paper, a play, a poem, or a novel writing is an act of meditation. Writing is an opportunity to attune to my higher self. Writing is a spiritual experience.
Here is today’s audio clip:
What is your ideal writing state? What is your relationship with solitude? What does it feel like when you are writing? What was the longest period of time you have spent on your own? Was it a positive experience? Imagine you are given a fully stocked cabin in the woods for seven days. There is no phone line, Internet, or cable. It is just you in the woods with your writing. What would that experience be like for you?