Darlin’ I Vant to Be Alone!

Wednesday, January 02, 2008
When fall turns to winter and temperatures dip, certain mammals have what many might consider the good fortune to be able to sleep through the winter–to hibernate until spring. Raccoons and skunks do it. So do woodchucks and chipmunks, hedgehogs, bats, rats and bears and even one sometimes reclusive writer in Georgia–ME!

Over the past ten years, the more serious I became about my writing, the more I began to feel like feel like Gretta Garbo, "I want to be let alone" (a line from her Oscar winning movie, Grand Hotel). Though the commonly misquoted version has more added dramatic appeal, "Darlin’ I vant to be alone."

The act/craft of writing is a solitary activity. And I openly admit, I’m more productive when I isolate myself to write–though I can’t entirely explain why.

To date, I am by no means a total recluse–more like part-time–but, I often wonder if I’d ever be capable of entirely secluding myself as a means to wholly devote myself to writing. Other writers have certainly submitted to the tug of seclusion. But, by their very nature, reclusive writers are not readily available to tell us why they are reclusive.

So I was thinking, before I might actually find myself on the increasingly reclusive path of the likes of Willa Cather and other notably secluded writers, I’d like to clarify in my mind what it is about writers that often cause them to seek isolation. Or is it the other way around? Are writers reclusive beings who turn to writing to nurture their reclusive natures?

I welcome any and all thoughts on writers wanting and/or needing to write in isolation. Or, are you a writer who doesn’t need isolation?

And what about this thought . . .

Emily Dickinson was known to be reclusive, yet she kept up voluminous correspondence with family, friends, mentors etc. Which got me to thinking about what role the World Wide Web might play in the life of a reclusive writer. Is a writer truly reclusive if they are staying connected to other people, via the Internet, blogs, and yes, even by becoming a part of an entire community of other Women on Writing?

I don’t have the answers. But, I have found a workable compromise to satisfy the reclusive tendencies my writing life seems to have generated. For the past five years, on January 2, I have begun a three month long "hibernation" period. And just like a mother bear that doesn’t really sleep very deeply during her hibernation, taking instead series of long naps in which she is still capable of nursing and nurturing her cubs, I don’t abandon my family or friends entirely; they know I’m here for them if they need me. And it is actually very surprising how accommodating they have been during the first quarter of each of the past five years–times they know I have set aside to focus intently on my writing.

Consequently, the first quarters of the past five years have been my most productive series of writing sessions–my little naps, i.e., breaks from the excesses of the daily drain of cooking, cleaning, shopping, running errands etc. that allow me to preserve and focus my creative energy directly into my writing.

The key words of my compromise being breaks from the excesses, because I still cook, clean, shop, run errands etc. during my hibernation period. But the cooking is done in bulk and mainly in a crock pot. The cleaning is cut to the bare minimum to keep the house livable, and at least to the point where I don’t have to barricade my front door if one of my neighbors decides to return my serving platter left over from the neighborhood Christmas party. I also shop in bulk for food–and then only for what is absolutely essential. I also prioritize, condense, and try to delegate as many errands to my husband as I possibly can.

I am fully aware of what a luxury it is for me to be able to focus so intently for an entire quarter on my writing and writing related activities, like my involvement with WOW! But, it is a mind-set that all writers who seek and/or need isolation to help generate creative momentum can achieve, even if for only a month, a week, and even if just for an hour each day. It’s the same mind-set I have had to adopt during those less than perfect times of any given year–and more importantly my life–when I have felt there was no way that I could selfishly make my writing a priority, yet I still gave myself permission to write. If only for an hour.

I wrote while on a plane to Florida when I needed to help my mother plan my stepfather’s funeral. I wrote for an hour on the morning after my teenage son flipped his car into a dark ravine, and the paramedics had to repel down a pine tree-dotted ridge to reach him and his two best friends (Miraculously all their injuries were minor; though I can’t say the same for my nerves, which still haven’t recovered). And I locked myself in my bedroom and wrote for an hour after my teenage daughter drove my car on top of the fire hydrant at the front of our subdivision–which earned me the moniker of "Mother of Ol’ Faithful."

My point being . . . that throughout my near-perfect, quarterly writing retreats that I have been able to carve for myself over the past five years, I am very grateful for having had the luxury of being able to hibernate in my cozy cave to write, and today I am ever more grateful to be able to start my sixth such hibernation. But, even under less than near-perfect circumstances, all writers who need and crave isolation can choose to retreat to their caves to write, even if their life circumstances and responsibilities only permits them to theoretically hibernate from within their writing thoughts; those isolated thoughts will eventually translate to the page. This I know to be true of ALL writers.

May the coming year bring each of you an abundance of near-perfect parcels of time and the will to hibernate your writing thoughts onto the page to your hearts content.

Janet Paszkowski http://diaryofaliteraryfictioneditor.blogspot.com/
Premium Green Group Leader & Managing Editor http://www.wow-womenonwriting.com/markets.html


Annette said...

I think I was a bear in another life. I am such a hibernator! A winter-time hot chocolator.

If I had my way, I'd live in a thatched hut built right on the equator! LOL

In the winter, I am socially reclusive AND it's hard for me to write. I find myself nodding off at the computer and just wanting to nap the day away wearing fleece pjs and snuggling under a down comforter.

BTW, I live in Southern California and I freeze my buns off if it's less than 72 degrees in the house! LOL I'm all about the space heater and Ugg boots. Occasionally, if I'm trying to write (type), I have to wear knit gloves with the finger tips cut out so my hands don't cramp from the cold.

I'm sure all the snow bunnies in Minnesota are laughing at me right now, but I'd be Fargo-homicidal in real winter temperatures. I'm just sayin'...someone would lose a limb or two in a chipper if I ever got that cold.

I applaud your ability to carve out time to write. And actually, time to do all of those other necessary life "mundanities." I find myself being completely unproductive in the winter.

I like to read in the winter though, especially curled up in a comfortable chair by the fireplace.

Though if I could choose, I would wish for eternal summer...

Anonymous said...

First, wow! You have just made me dread the teenage years that much more.

I have found another compromise for those who like to be somewhat reclusive: writing overnight. I am very much an owl.

I need the support of my husband though: he wakes up at 6/7 and takes the kids to school so I can get some sleep after writing until 3 or 4 am.

I love the dark, the quiet, etc. It's perfect for writers like us.

Unknown said...

I have to admit, I for some reason don't like Isolation when I write, I crave the noise and the surroundings of something going on.

I think it is because of the many ideas that begin to develop even as I am writing or working on another project. I find that I develop other ideas for other stories, or even add to what I am writing just by simply hearing an off the wall comment being said by someone sitting in a booth near me in a restaurant.

But, now thinking about it, I guess I am still in some sort of seclusion, I'm not talking to anyone, just tapping away on the keys of my laptop, as the thoughts pour out of me. The more I think, the faster I type.

I have to admit, that there are times here at home, my teenage boys will going absolutely bonkers wrestling around in the living room
or screaming about the lack of food in the fridge, and I do want to holler at them "Leave me alone!!" So that I can complete a thought, or finish just one more sentence.

I'm a day person, so carving out the midnight hours don't work for me. I wish they would but, it seems the minute it starts getting dark out, I am ready to put on my comfy clothes, crawl into my warm bed with a good book and relax, or if not a good book, switch on a good movie, like Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, or how about Hatari. :) Gotta love the oldies but goodies.

I will have to say though my favorite place to be when I write, is on my laptop, in my living room in front of my big windows, curled under a blanket, with my warm fuzzy slippers on. Tapping out the next adventure for the children's mysteries that I am still working on. (No I haven't sent any of them out yet) I don't think they are ready for anyone else to look at them. I know I'm silly that way. I edit the heck out of what I write.

Or lately my favorite pass time, researching for things for our wonderful WOW! Readers/Friends.

Happy Writing Everyone!

Annette said...


Seven Brides for Seven Brothers! That is my absolute FAVORITE musical! Bless Your Beautiful Hide... Lonesome Polecat... Sobbin' Women...

What a classic! =)

J.Alpha said...

Allena T said...
First, wow! You have just made me dread the teenage years that much more.

I'm sorry, I didn't mean to frighten you. Frigthened, is never a good thing. However, being prepared is always a good thing :-)

The ugly and often neglected truth is that parents need to save and prepare for their chidren's lives as future drivers, just as much as they need to prepare for their college years.

Also, I applaud your nightowl writing pursuits. Whatever works for each of us, it is important that we identify and embrace it!

J.Alpha said...

Carrie saaid, I have to admit, I for some reason don't like isolation when I write, I crave the noise and the surroundings of something going on.

Was that you I saw yesterday morning, snuggled into that cozy chair in the corner of the Starbucks down the street from me :-) Seriously, I have several very productive writing friends who can not work in isolation. Again, that speaks to each writer identify what it is they need to do, to foster the most productivity.

J.Alpha said...

Annette said...
I think I was a bear in another life. I am such a hibernator!

and she also said ...
If I had my way, I'd live in a thatched hut built right on the equator!

Well, I found the perfect pic to illustrate what I was seeing in my mind's eye, and I just had to share it :-)


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