This is phase 2 of my metamorphosis from miserable author-caterpillar to happier butterfly-writer. (For those just tuning in, phase 1 involved reducing social media exposure.*) I have recovered much of the time I had lost to inefficient authoring and bad online habits. Now I need to build up my lost tolerance for doing nothing with those precious minutes.
It’s time to make my peace with peace and quiet and let myself enjoy solitude again.
Solitude is a delightfully nuanced concept. It embraces the idea of isolation but sidles away from loneliness. I like this definition best: “being in a state of aloneness, usually by choice.” (Source) Aloneness as a state of being perfectly describes the headspace I inhabit when I write fiction. It’s about mind, not matter-action, not location.
Since my solitude has no physical element, I can write anywhere, under any conditions. I can stand in a crowd surrounded only by the characters inside my head, seeing only what my mind paints on the canvas of my closed eyelids. I can hear my inner voices while surrounded by the babble of a thousand others.
I love the purity of it. I am addicted to the singularity of focus only found in that private cone of silence. The act of creation in solitude is what keeps me hooked on art.
I can create anywhere, but only when I’m in the right state of being: only when I have solitude in my soul. Getting to that state has always been tricky. Achieving solitude is the act of escaping from the outside world to that lonely spot in my mind where ideas are born. Dodging the figurative thickets of life’s distractions and demands takes a lot of mental agility. The tendrils of everyday necessities tug at my concentration, keeping me from my self.
To beat up a different metaphor, I could say creativity requires paddling across calm waters of thought to marvel at the flashing ideas below, but the responsibilities of daily life kick up monster waves and muddy up the depths. Either way, reaching solitary stillness is is the golden ring on the creative merry-go-round. (See what I did there? A third conceptual image. I do love me a blender cup full of macerated metaphors.) Solitude is the simplest of states, but it isn’t an easy one.
It’s always been tricky, but the journey got got even harder once I no longer had full-time outside employment to define the path of my life. Two reasons: habit and inertia.
Inertia and I have a complicated relationship. All my life, I’ve been impossible to derail once moving. I can’t easily focus on a single task, but once I do, I have a tremendously difficult time dragging myself away from that thing to do another one. Once I’ve fought my way to my center, where I’m happy, quiet and alone, I never want to leave.
The need to earn a living shaped my habitual solution to balancing inner and outer life. When getting to work late would mean loss of a job and roof and so on, i learned to avoid consuming leisure activities unless I had lots of time for them: far more time than I needed for the actual work. Just in case.
During this past Year of Authoring I had to monitor my own time when it came to juggling business in tandem with writing. I stopped letting myself write unless I knew I would have tons of time to spend on the words. Writing was what I wanted to do, it had to wait. Then, once I settled to a story, the world would loom over my shoulder, poking me with reminders that I could be, should be doing something else. Something better. Something productive. Marketing. Networking. Advertising. Businessing.
The worldly tentacles would poke and poke and poke at my conscience until aggravation and guilt drove me away from words. And so I started disliking the writing itself, because I resented the guilt. That made for a vicious downward spiral.
I put my time in, every day. I have kept my craft edge honed. It was only the joy that went missing most days. My path to the dark stillness of solitude disappeared entirely.
It’s taken me a while to find my way again. At first I thought it was the time lost to online shenanigans that had sucked the joy from writing, but that was mistaking symptom for disease. Time isn’t the problem. It’s the excuse.
Giving myself permission to use time for me–on things that bring me joy and fulfillment but no worldly recompense–that’s what I denied myself in my determination to master authoring. Learning to value the joy of solitary labor above all other recompense is the key to reclaiming my solitude and getting back to full-throttle writing.
At least, I think so. There’s plenty of supporting evidence. Only when I am wrapped in aloneness can I do these things properly:
- Explore unreal landscapes
- Eavesdrop on imaginary conversations
- Trace lines of possibility
- Contemplate life, the universe, and how everything fits together. Or doesn’t.
- Listen to the ways past, present, and future resonate in my characters lives.
- Examine my themes and biases, choose and change my messages
For me to put together a novel or any form of narrative writing art (as opposed to simply crafting workable prose like I’m doing here) I need a lot of solitude.
I intend to give myself more. I haven’t decided on a single strategy yet. What worked 4 years ago won’t work today, what works tomorrow won’t work in a year. I’m at the “collect other peoples’ tricks, throw everything at the wall and see what sticks” point.
So far, the most successful tactic is one that’s worked all my life when I’m faced with unwelcome activities whose results I love (like
visiting the grown-up playground working out, cooking from scratch, weeding the garden, brushing the cat…that kind of thing)
I lie to myself.
“Five minutes,” I tell the worldly tentacles as I tiptoe past them. “I’ll work on this one project for five minutes, and then take care of all the other important stuff like checking sales or applying for reviews, looking for a second cover artist, or whatever.”
It’s my magic shield. An hour later, or three, my conscience tentacles prod at me hard enough to be noticed, but by then I’ve made progress, and I’ve reinforced the idea that making that progress is enough. ( Which it is, but there’s reality, and there’s convincing myself of a reality. The damage done by letting myself get tangled up in authoring will take time to repair.)
So anyway. That’s my big plan. Lie to the parts of myself that get between me and solitude, and doggedly keep plugging away, embracing joy when we stumble across each other in the dark.
Did you notice the Merriam-Webster example sentence for solitude behind the source link way up top? Here it is, in case you didn’t click: She wished to work on her novel in solitude.
I wish to work on my novel (and my short story, and my novella, and my formatting, and my….my everything creative) in solitude.
So I will.
*Haven’t seen much change in my social media presence? Much of my time online was spent surfing articles and agonizing over phrasing for posts and comments. I’ve cut back on obligations, automated some contributions, and set up minimum-contact access points for others. The strategy behind the tactics: reduce my exposure to the mesmerizing information flow. My discipline is imperfect, but persistence is more important than perfection. The marketing and business-related routines