I've been having something of an ongoing conversation with two writer friends lately. It's a serious conversation that has important impact on our writing, although we toss in lots of jokes to take the edge off and because we tend to know ourselves and our writerly depressive tendencies well enough to be suspicious of ourselves. We tend to know that we're capable of never leaving the house, of forgetting to shower and forgetting to breath when the world seems suddenly and surprisingly either a) extraordinarily clear or b) baffling in its complexity. The conversation is about a writer's need for solitude--that tremendous gift of personal space for long thoughts (which often suggests either neglecting other parts of our lives, failing abjectly at "normalcy," either having money or not caring about money, and generally swimming against the "see me now" tide of the larger culture). I can only speak for myself, of course. But I need quiet and time alone to write. I'm a slow thinker and I need a certain amount of space and time to allow thoughts to form fully. I need contemplation. Without it, I'm sunk--both mentally in general and certainly as a writer who (don't say it!) values serious ideas. I'm painfully aware that the surrounding world is a cacophony of noise (much of it meaningless) and this cacophonous climate that too often can seem intoxicating. It is a surrounding world that wants action to happen fast, that moves from one thing to the next as quickly as synapses fire, a world that demands attention--all traits that lean against the flimsy framework required by writers asking hard questions about how humans think and work and view themselves and others.
This focus on the need for solitude is an old topic among writers, one perhaps best articulated by Virginia Woolf. I, at least, need a room of my own to work. It's the balance point that becomes difficult if one has a lifestyle that allows certain room for contemplative time, for in my experience, with such time and space it is easy to fall entirely into the work, to become swallowed by the book you are writing and largely loose touch with the remainder of the world. It's easy as well to become to caught inside the mind and all those shouting voices, those contradictions and chaotic arguments. It's important to resurface. The most important writers must also be full participants in the actual world if they are to write effectively about the human condition. We have to participate in community. Real community. Increasingly, because nearly all of marketing now falls back upon the writer individually, there must be participation in that larger, less real community of the marketplace as well. These are competing forces, the need for quiet and solitude and the need for interaction and stimulation, and they are forces that shouldn't be taken lightly. Finding balance between them isn't as easy to accomplish as the outsider might think.
I am a great believer in balance in all aspects of my life. We are a culture full of people who too easily get knocked off balance, a culture that tends to go to extremes, for better or for worse. I've always preferred finding the middle path. And in this instance, finding a balance point between participating in a culture and contemplating that culture is a requirement for my personal approach to craft. Part of the trick becomes finding working mechanisms that help me maintain such a balance, tricks that usually come down to little, common sense things like staying on a firm writing schedule, putting writing first before listening to the cacophony of noise out there, taking the long view with writing by working everyday within the immediate, choosing writing projects that can I can remain passionate about throughout, saying thanks each day for the people in my life who believe in me and allow me space to pursue this maddness called writing.