Sometimes what you’re reading and listening to conspire against you...or for you, telling you what you should focus on, what your next story should be, or in this instance, what your next blog should be about. That’s what’s happened to me over the past week.
Maya Gonzalez’ blog last Friday was the beginning. Maya wrote of how Pam Grout, author of E-Squared, took a writing seminar to improve her writing prospects. “But instead of learning plot treatments or creating strategies to get an agent, the entire workshop centered on her inner world and addressing herself. And this changed absolutely everything”
Then I came across Susan Cain’s Ted talk, a beacon for introverts and solitary book-lovers everywhere. She reminds us that Dr. Seuss did his amazing work alone in a bell tower office behind his house, away from the madding crowds. “Introverts feel at their most alive and their most switched on and their most capable when they are in quieter, more low key environments.”
Seth Godin’s email arrived a day later. “The sound of a small bell during a dark night is louder than the din of traffic outside your window during rush hour. Surprise and differentiation have far more impact than noise does.”
Today I discovered Alex Mar’s hysterical, or should I say horrifying, New York Times essay, One Hundred Seconds of Solitude, where he writes about the challenges of woodsy artist colonies and wonders how to “manufacture the kind of truly blank, mind-clearing, inspiration-inducing procrastination that existed before the advent of the Internet.”
So at this time of year, when it’s our nature to move inward, I’ve been called to write about the solitude we all need, but especially the solitude creators need.
I’ve been lucky for most of my life to live in a place that nourishes me daily. Solitude is easy to find here.
But you can also find solitude in a city or an apartment. On the roof of a Brooklyn row house. Near a fireplace or a lit candle. At your desk viewing a photo of your favorite wildscape. Or simply by closing your eyes.
The quiet allows us to arrive in our place. There we are away from the constant gaze of others, away from their cries for attention. There we can learn to know ourselves. And we must know ourselves first, or we do ourselves and our readers a disservice.
Some writers insist they can write brilliant words with a hubbub around them. But could they write even more brilliant words in the embrace of quiet? Words not just for a moment’s entertainment, but words that move deeply into our minds and hearts.
So may I suggest that today you do not need to socialize on Facebook, nor post a brilliant tweet, nor plan your writer platform. Consider instead a walk in the park or the woods. If you can’t find a park or woods, hug a tree or kiss a blade of grass. Look out your window at the sky. Light a candle and watch its glow.
Pablo Picasso told us, “Without great solitude no serious work is possible.” Go find the solitude you need to create your best story, your best character, your best work.
There’s another aspect to a writer’s solitude. It’s the relatively new idea that writers do their best work by being in critique groups or even writing a book together. As Susan Cain says, “We have a belief system right now that I call the new group think, which holds that all creativity and all productivity comes from a very oddly gregarious place.”
Critique groups can be wonderful. I’m in two myself. They are especially wonderful when you’re just learning your craft. But once we’ve done that, beware. If you’re not careful it’s easy for your individuality and style to be misshapen by suggestions from a critique group. And what of the new fad of writers writing books together, following the team approach so popular in business? I’ve written a picture book with a friend and, though it was an interesting endeavor, I doubt I’ll do it again. Emily Dickinson, after all, didn’t become a prolific, insightful poet by working on a team.
Don’t worry. I’m not asking you to be a recluse like Emily. Next month, we’ll begin our outward reach once more and I’ll have lots for you to think about and do surrounding picture books and great characters. But for this moment, may I suggest a bit of solitude. Take your lead from the brilliant inventor Nikola Tesla: “Originality thrives in seclusion, free of outside influences beating upon us to cripple the creative mind.”
Called a “born storyteller” by the media, Marsha Diane Arnold wrote the award-winning “homegrown treasures” column prior to penning eleven award-winning picture books. Marsha recently contracted with Neal Porter Books for two new picture books and Kate O'Sullivan of Houghton Mifflin for another, coming out in 2016. She grew up on a Kansas farm, but today creates imaginative worlds and wacky characters in northern California surrounded by her garden, deer, hummingbirds, turkeys, oaks, and redwoods. Marsha's course Writing Wonderful Character-Driven Picture Books has helped many published and aspiring writers to write stronger characters. You may read about her books, school and Skype visits, and life at www.marshadianearnold.com.
12/13/2013 04:18:31 am
I need that solitude to keep my thoughts trained on my projects. It is sometimes hard to find quiet and I appreciate the many ways you have described in this post. Thank you, Marsha :)
12/13/2013 04:32:51 am
Although sometimes on a noisy airplane suspended above earth, I'll find the muse and write. But on a daily basis I turn to the classical music station and let the words flow in my quiet office. Well, generally quiet , if I ignore the cat and dog interruptions. Thanks for the
12/13/2013 04:57:27 am
Excellent piece, Marsha! Might I add that from your photos, your home looks like paradise?
12/13/2013 06:15:51 am
Thanks Marsha. I love peace and quiet, but it doesn't appears as often as I would like. I do the best I can with interruptions - stop and go writing.
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First Fridays will feature Bryan Patrick Avery, published writer , man of mystery, and professional magician among other things.
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