Solitude and the Writer

Creative work—that miserable, wondrous, and mysterious achievement—requires large stretches of solitude. It’s fine to trawl the world for the bits and pieces that form our subjects and sentences, but quiet is the best state in which to sort out your mind, hear your thoughts, and synthesize. A state of solitude is where a writer realizes he can do more than he thought he could.

Solitude allows a writer the chance to listen, and to usher in the voices that will form his work, fiction or non. In this empty space, he can create full worlds occupied by people he brings to life on the page. And all these characters need things, day after day. They express themselves, interact, think aloud, explain themselves, pick fights with each other, compromise, and scene by scene, they advance the story. The central figures will have the writer’s undivided attention. The protagonists take on a near palpable presence. This is a lot of architecture, psychology, and narrative to build. A good writing day is exhausting, and a bad one, even more so. The job requires peering into the murk and writing toward the light. Solitude is the state in which other worlds can exist.

Solitude, then, is something to embrace. It’s not just a necessary condition to the work, it’s a wonderland of possibility. Kafka got it right when he wrote: “You do not need to leave your room. Remain sitting at your table and listen. Do not even listen. Simply wait, be quiet, still and solitary. The world will freely offer itself to you to be unmasked. It has no choice; it will roll in ecstasy at your feet.”

Comments welcome and edited to include first names only, and website, if provided; never your email. Photo credit: Horia Varlan. Punctuation on the Kafka quote mine.