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Are You Lonesome Tonight

I apologize for posting late. My third floor attic office isn’t air conditioned, and I couldn’t face the stairwell let alone broasting up there when my daughter had just started “Dear John” On Demand with Channing Tatum, Tatum Channing, Tatum O’Neil, frankly who cares so long as he never speaks and keeps his shirt off.

What I was wondering is how some writers can’t bear to be alone and will go to great lengths to avoid sitting down. Others crave it, can’t survive without it. One of my clients nearly exiles herself with every new book, feels she has to, but struggles against it. She says she wishes her relationship to writing was more like mine: escape. Of course, I attribute her superior prose to her monastic concentration. I’m a chatty writer; solitude for me is reorganizing my desk drawer.

Not entirely true. It’s also an oasis. And, apart from movies, when I’m most happy. As a child, I hid myself away in a crawl space beneath the stairs with blankets, pillows, a lamp without a shade, and of course my diary. Writing is where I go to both escape and locate myself. (Sorry, that was pathetic.)

Loneliness, solitude, isolation. Where do you live as a writer?

26 Responses

  1. Thank God! Was in major withdrawal. You may have to invent something like Bets-o-rette to keep us going at times like these.

    I’m still new to the game so I find the isolation a bit daunting- no water cooler breaks – but when I’m really smokin’ with the writing I don’t notice so much.

  2. I usually enjoy spending time in my mind, which is what I’m doing when I’m writing. For that matter, I usually enjoy spending time in someone else’s mind, which is what I’m doing when I’m reading. (But other ways of occupying another mind can be unnerving.)

  3. It’s a zone, I think. Physically, I have the small bedroom for an office. My son’s XBox needs became too large for this room so now it’s mine. I have a tacky orange piece of taped to the door that reads “Writing, Do Not Disturb.” The deal is, when I’m not writing, I keep it folded up to the blank side.

    Except I’ve been busted many times by the people who won’t honor the damn sign anyway. They catch me reading blogs, writing blogs, fucking around on Facebook or watching stuff on hulu with the sound turned down.

    So the sign is meaningless. When I’m ready to write, I lock the door. The truth is – once I start writing, no matter what it is – I don’t hear them anymore.

  4. When I painted and drew I enjoyed ignoring the background babble of the model, like a woodland brook or bad FM radio, gently reminding me I was not really alone, allowing me to roam the space between what I saw in front of me, what I envisioned and what I was finally able to get on the page.

    Writing is a similar juggle. I need a point of departure in the world–an odd gesture, a random remark, a beautiful phrase read at the right time. Then, I need to be utterly alone. That’s when the story always starts.

  5. Alone! I start getting twitchy and grumpy if I don’t get enough solitude.

  6. As long as I keep the rest of my life social and active, I enjoy the solitude of writing and it feels like a respite. I am one who needs a balance. Too much time alone makes me morose, not enough makes me anxious and crazy.

  7. The only thing I hate more than writing is not writing. Not writing fills me with me weird, intense guilt. Also my mood goes horribly sour if I manage not to write for, say, a week. I can’t fathom people who feel that “writing a book” is some fun and whimsical process in which your characters leap off the page and tell you how the story is supposed to go. Everybody say DELUSIONAL. I force myself to write each night, though to me it’s like taking some awful syrupy medicine. I realize it’s good for me because I have this “condition,” but I often wish I were one of these blithe bastards I see everywhere who seem to feel no compulsion to write. I liken being a writer to being an alcoholic. I was born this way. And it blows.

  8. It’s a way of hiding. I’ve spent a great deal of my life in hiding, not often with great success. I remember “quick, hide; he’s coming” is one of the big phrases from my childhood. And then there’s hide and seek and one-two-three red light – I was really good at those since I mostly lived on my grandparents’ farm. My grandmother had this little closet off the kitchen where she keep jars of figs and chow-chow and corn and other things that, I think, once gave me salmonella.
    You can really get lost in a cornfield or a cottonfield or even hide behind a brahma bull….it’s true about wearing red….
    But today I did not write….I hid for a different reason…a publisher is issuing 2 million copies of the follow-up of The Secret and I puked when I saw a display of right-wing books at B&N–yeah, yeah, free speech and all that/ It’s just no display for middle or left. Okay, believing that B&N is a shill for the right-wing press is driving me into hiding. I may be paranoid but I am entitled to a world view.

    In other words, I’m turning the internet off and going to begin the second book in my trilogy as per request of my….check it out …my publisher…..
    oh, oh, quick, hide, he’s coming…..

  9. I love being alone–probably too much. Reading (not writing) is my favorite escape. As long as I have a good book I can tune out the world. I can’t write in cafes (except blog posts) or places with lots of people and activity. I need a long stretch of quiet and solitude at home.

  10. i write new material best in a busy, loud coffee shop with my earphones in and iPod blaring. dunno why.

    i am an iPod island.

  11. I do best with a locked door, curtained windows, and earplugs. If I could write in one of those isolation tanks like the one that turned William Hurt into a neanderthal, I would. I think that if I went blind, I would go insane, but if I went deaf, I’d just write better.

  12. My secret: I don’t write on a chair or at a desk. Too uncomfortable. Instead, I lay on my really comfortable sofa, put a nice pillow on my stomach and put my laptop on the pillow. Then I tap away. Windows open, the sound of distant traffic and the odd bird in the background. Espresso within arm’s reach. And snacks.

    This only lasts about 2 hours though…that’s how long it takes for the laptop to heat the pillow up to near-combustion. When I smell melting pillowcase, it is time for a break!

    • I do the same on my floor cushion 🙂

    • You write in a great tradition. Walker Percy wrote lying down, or reclined at least. He was in a sanatorium for TB for a while and was forced to rest quite a lot, so he developed a habit of writing from his bed with the paper propped on his lap.

  13. I don’t think I live in one separate place as a writer. I work best when it’s very quiet and when I’m alone, but I live in an apartment in the inner-city – you’re never really alone here… damn noisy neighbours. I’m an introvert, so I need a lot of time on my own to recharge.

    However, I’ve learned to write wherever inspiration hits. I wrote 90% of my last novel at my desk at my old work and I once wrote a short story standing up at the counter of my old old retail job. I’ve written a lot and done a lot of research at my desk at my current job (especially on those long boring night shifts!). It’s possible I might even be thriving off the energy of a busy room. Or maybe you just get better at ignoring people when you get older…

  14. I’m a big fan of public isolation. I go to a cafe or library area where I won’t know anyone and sit there for hours. I don’t do this all the time (that much coffee doesn’t agree with me), but it’s kind of refreshing. At the same time, I can people watch and get ideas for characters and dialogue, unless my fingers are on fire. When I stay at home, I curl up on my couch like Gabriella, though I normally have the added “benefit” of a twenty-pound cat on my legs.

  15. My sister always says “I need my ‘me’ time with just ‘me’! I’m right there with her. I love solitude. I also love human interaction. I balance the two to the best of my ability.

    As for me, my partner works nights, I work days, and our moments together during the week our brief at best. So, my alone time for writing is in the evening when he goes off to work and on Saturday morning while he’s sleeping. Those are my ‘me’ times whether writing, reading, or vegging out in front of the TV.


  16. Alone, no iPod, no music, no nothing. Laptop on my lap, feet on the ottoman, and two Newfoundlands snoozing in the corner (pets don’t count when we’re talking about alone…).

  17. I’ve got to be at home to write: the same place where I live, cook, read, watch TV, and eat. I don’t want a separate place that I “go off to,” because when inspiration hits I’ve got to write it right down and not race to the “studio” wherever the hell that would be. I’m a homebody and home is where I write, even if my partner is watching football on TV in the same room and I hate football. I’ll sacrifice Mozart for white football noise to have my desk in a corner of the big, main room in my life. Maybe, precisely because I’m a loner so much of the time, I need to feel my connection to the domestic life that I AM connected to.

  18. Do you think they airbrushed his abs?

    Did you say something?

  19. In loud coffee shops in West LA with lots of grinding noise, and aging hippies with boundary issues asking inappropriate questions about what I’m working on and people talking loudly about their failed relationships, screenplays, and raw food diets. I tune it all out and time flies.

  20. I just had two days to myself for the first time in… years. I wrote for eight hours one day and five the next. I ignored all the huge things that are waiting to be done because we’re always moving, Daddy’s always on his way somewhere important, or someone is sick, or really sick, having a crisis. It was so quiet. I could think in a straight line. And although I can write around chaos and orgasm in the everyday world it was definitely the g-spot.

  21. Years of writing in a newspaper office made me able to write anywhere. It’s all about focus. That, and a deadline.

  22. I echo Irene on this one. It’s all about focus. I am fortunate to be able to be at home with my two kiddos, 4 and 2, but I’ve learned how to carve out my focus even in the midst of utter chaos–five minutes of writing is five minutes of writing and I make the most of every opportunity. (Yet I can’t write a word if there’s music with lyrics in the background. Doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, does it?)

  23. Texas

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