By Katie Lewis
We’ve all become overly familiar with isolation in the last two years. While it’s undeniable that on a worldwide scale, the vast experience tended toward the negative, setting aside time to be alone remains an essential part of the creative process.
Many writers find the act of cloistering important to their creative productivity. Shut yourself away in your house. Go to the library. Escape to a secluded mountain setting with other like-minded writers. Ahem.
The archetype of the secluded artist is one that most people are familiar with. My mind immediately jumped to Kathy Bates as Annie Wilkes, kidnapping her favorite author in the 1990 movie adaptation of Stephen King’s Misery.
In particular, I’ve always remembered the scene where she’s trying to force him to burn his manuscript while telling him, “I know it’s the only copy. When you wrote your first book, you didn’t make a copy because you didn’t think anybody would take it seriously. Now you never make copies because you’re superstitious. It’s why you always come back to Silver Creek.”
There are a few things to unpack about that statement. Firstly, Paul Sheldon always returns to Silver Creek, Colorado, to write his books. He retreats to the Colorado Rockies as his preferred spot to write. Much like Henry Davis Thoreau, the fictional author Paul Sheldon seems to gain inspiration from the solitude that being surrounded by nature provides. If you’ve read Walden, it should be obvious the kind of creativity that can spring from that writing environment.
In that scene, however, I think that Annie Wilkes hits on something even more fundamental about writers: we’re a superstitious lot.
I have developed very clearly defined guidelines for writing over the years. In fact, if certain conditions aren’t met, I sometimes won’t even attempt writing that day because I know it will feel like trying to force a square peg into a round hole. I’ll never find my flow in certain situations, and I know it.
These guidelines are ultimately reasonably simple:
- I write best in the morning. First thing, if I can. The later it grows in the day, the harder it is for me to focus.
- I write best at home. I crave a familiar setting. Trying to write in coffee shops or libraries always leaves me too distracted by the unfamiliar space to focus on my work.
- I write best when I’m alone. Whatever room I choose, it must be empty. Much like the unfamiliar spaces, I find the presence of other people distracting.
There is no correct way to go about it. I write in the morning, at home, and seclude myself. Many writers I know are night owls and don’t even get started on their best work until after dinner. I’ve dug deep and spent time writing in the evening because of time constraints, school, work, or other commitments.
Try experimenting with all times of the day—early, late, on your lunch break—to discover what works best for you.
Additionally, while I prefer to crank out words in the security of my office or even my bedroom, I know of people who find those same environments stifling. Pets, children, or partners can all serve as unwanted interruptions, to the point where a change of scenery isn’t only necessary for creativity’s sake but also to be afforded any peace.
Many people find the bustle of a coffee shop invigorating, feeding off the energy of the other patrons. Still, as I mentioned earlier, others see a spark in retreating to a secluded destination surrounded by nature, either in a lodge or a cabin. A change of venue can dam the flow of words for some and open the floodgates for others, so don’t be dissuaded if one setting doesn’t work for you. Simply try another.
Finally, there’s the question of solitude. Being alone can allow a person time to reflect.
It might feel more necessary after all of our Zoom time, in the pandemic, to turn off our phones, avoid the snake pit that social media can sometimes be, and get to writing. No matter how you do it, you’ll be writing.
Beyond that, however, the absence or presence of other people can have varying effects on writers. As with the coffee shop scenario, some people thrive off of sitting in a room filled with the sounds of clacking keyboards, scribbling pens, and the occasional whisper. Others may feel stymied or even intimidated by the idea that everyone around them is working hard and staring at the dreaded blank page for far too long. Like everything else, it’s really up to personal preference.
This brings me back around to superstition. Once you discover the magic formula that works for you as a writer, you may be reluctant to break from that format. There’s good reason for that feeling. After all, it’s worked for you before, and, as the saying goes, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Keep in mind, however, that breaking the mold now and then to try something new might be an excellent way to try and combat writer’s block.