Solitary Confinement: Making People Understand the Writer’s Needs
I never found a companion that was so companionable as solitude.
– Henry David Thoreau
Making art, in general, is a solitary process, and we have established that several times in previous posts. It’s an experience as individual as eating – you are a self-contained unit as an artist, and while you are encouraged to show your work to others so that you can defend it and improve it, taking other people’s pieces of advice is not required. And this is probably one of the reasons why artists – in our context, writers – lock themselves up in their rooms for ridiculously long periods of time, possibly ignoring fundamental needs like eating or sleeping, in order to hone the piece they are working on, or else collect their thoughts in solitude so that they will know how to work on things that need to be work on.
It’s particularly helpful when people around you understand your need to be alone, as a creative individual, and give you space and time to work on something. Sadly, however, that’s not always the case, and few people are blessed with understanding friends or relatives that give them time to swim in their introspection, in the light of their computer monitors, with the clicking of keyboards as the background music. The problem is not simply that there are those who don’t understand – there are those who flat out refuse to understand, because of a number of things: you’re not making yourself useful when you write, you could be doing something else – something financially productive – instead of writing, you’re not contributing anything practical.
Writing is an interesting pastime, perhaps to cultivate your communication skills, or perhaps to improve your prose and poetry skills so you can impress someone the next time you need to. And people value writing, definitely, if the strong interest in several genres of fiction – from young adult to romance to genre fiction like fantasy and science fiction – is any indication. What is not valued is the actual process, which is actually much, much more difficult than just sitting around typing.
But how do you make people understand?
The monotony and solitude of a quiet life stimulates the creative mind.
– Albert Einstein
In the most immediate, band-aid solution sense, what you can do is to flat-out tell them that it’s not easy, although of course that leaves a wide gap between you and them, whether they’re going to believe you or not. It’s easy to write. It’s not easy to write something of quality. Tell them that writing is an involved process that taps into your intellect and your emotion more than what is perceived. Tell them that J.K. Rowling did not dish out a bestselling fantasy series for young adults in the blink of an eye. Tell them that meticulously plotted thrillers had to be researched. Tell them that A Song of Ice and Fire and The Wheel of Time and Lord of the Rings took a lot of time to be written, especially with worlds as dense as those found in the series. That’s something you can do, for one.
If they still don’t understand, try giving them something to do, to experience your toil. Make them write a sestina, or a five-hundred word piece of flash fiction in the span of ten minutes. Make them write a poem – just a simple poem, even – and wait for them to try and come up with rhymes and lines that make sense. If one does not understand, give them something to make them experience it, and perhaps this will help in them understanding, and maybe even appreciating the value of what you are doing.
Of course, both sound easy on paper, but neither option guarantees the ideal result. So work hard in your writing to show that it bears fruit – perhaps submit it to a literary journal, or a contest, or perform your poetry, or get published in certain avenues. They need not be big or popular – the idea is that you have to give the people around you a sense of what kind of recognition you can get by writing. That will help, especially if you happen to get your name in a distinguished journal, which may give your family and friends a sense of pride.
It is, however, immensely difficult. The act of writing itself is practical, but it is especially valuable if it is particularly lucrative. And it’s definitely not a walk in the park, making money out of fiction. If anything, it’s one of the most difficult undertakings one can go through. If the people around you refuse to give you time, space, and solitude to be able to produce what you want to be producing, then show that you can be lucrative while writing. You don’t have to make a lot of money out of writing, but keep a job that employs your skill in writing, even if you’re employing only the very elemental, basic parts of writing, so that you’re still writing while thinking up your piece. It need not be a time-consuming job, either – something that just gives you enough time to be able to keep nagging individuals at bay.
A poet is a nightingale, who sits in darkness and sings to cheer its own solitude with sweet sounds.
– Percy Bysshe Shelley
In the end, though, it’s still going to be a tough job, making people understand that writing is a difficult process. It’s already individual in nature, when you’re actually writing, and having people disturb you every now and then just ruins the process. Arrive at a compromise, but also surround yourself with people who do understand, or at least try to. Allot a space for yourself away from anyone who might want to bother you. Carve out a slice of your time to write, or even just to prepare yourself for writing. Eventually, and hopefully, you can produce something that will make your non-believing friends and/or family understand – and perhaps, ultimately, appreciate not just the written piece, but the work that went behind that written piece, regardless of who wrote it.