Solitude and the writer

Why do writers need silence and solitude?

Surely writers can write anywhere – in public places and in cafés, for example? Why would they even need to go to workshops or on writers’ retreats? Why can’t writers lock out their family and write in a room at home? Why do they complain when people make a noise and ‘disturb’ them?

Does contrived solitude work? Do writers produce more when they are alone, or when they are surrounded by others?

Your inner creative voice

Writers need just enough silence and solitude to listen to their inner creative voice. We have many inner voices and the worst, of course, is the one that beats you up for the things you haven’t done and should do. We’ve been taught to kill that voice. We’ve been taught to talk back to it and sort it out. Remember that book by Shad Helmstetter, What to say when you talk to your self? But, when slaughtering the bad voice, we need to take care not to lose the creative one. It’s down there somewhere, and your life as a writer is so much more difficult if you can’t hear it.

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Turning down the external volume

You go out, you have fun, you surround yourself with friends, you discuss, you argue, you tell jokes. Do all of that on a regular basis and there is way too much external noise. You will never hear the voice that has come up with a memory, an idea, a what-if, the description of a character, or an opening line to some story you haven’t thought of yet. So, you need to turn down the external volume and listen out for what that voice is saying.

Abu Dhabi, home to our Abu Dhabi Writers’ Workshop, is not the best of places to be a writer. There is something for you to see and do every evening of the week: a film screening, an exhibition opening, a musical performance, a play, a comedy show, a guest speaker, a debate, a dinner with friends. And after each of those activities, you are obliged to post photos of the event on social media to show that you were there along with the rest of the in-crowd, the people who are in the places that are trending.

But what about your writing? You won’t be hearing your inner creative voice with all that going on.

Solutions

There are various solutions. Some are drastic.

  • You could stop going out and do what you originally committed to do – write. At a writers’ conference, author Terry Pratchett once gave a plenary address entitled, ‘Why are you listening to me when you should be at home writing?’
  • You could give up writing. You may need to acknowledge that you are not sufficiently committed to writing to give up your social life and spend the necessary time drafting and re-drafting your work.
  • You could go to a writers’ workshop and find enough temporary focus to hear that voice and write for thirty or forty minutes. This can definitely get you started, though it is not a permanent solution. Your workshop will provide you with input and support, and it will give you that brief period of head space that you need to get some new ideas down on paper. To be a successful writer, however, you need to be able to write independently of your writers’ workshop. Did Dickens go to a writers’ workshop? Did Hemingway?

SolitudeDo not delude yourself. If you can’t write on your own – and that means being able to turn down the external volume to hear what’s in your head – you won’t be able to write in that expensive writers’ retreat or in that romantic garret in Paris.

 Listen

So, train yourself to be silent. Limit your socializing. If your socializing is full-time and your writing is supposed to be full-time, one of those is not going to work. Decide which it is to be. Find a time of day to think and write when there are fewer distractions, and let that creative voice filter through. Listen to it and then quickly write down everything it says.

If you can do this, you will never be short of ideas and you will become your own support system.

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The Secret Life of Frank Bosco

I am Frank Bosco. Not a lot of people know that.

I invented Frank. He belongs to me. He came into being last April. That was when I entered the Winchester Writers’ Conference Lifewriting competition. I had to come up with a pseudonym and, somewhere in the deep recesses of my mind, I found Frank Bosco. His real name is Francesco Bosco but, since he writes in English, he prefers to be known as Frank. For the competition, I entered the opening pages and a synopsis of my book Veneziano. Frank likes to think of it as Wolf Hall meets The Godfather, but of course he is quite wrong. I ought to know because I am the author.

I was fortunate enough to win a prize for Veneziano in this competition, which was sponsored by The Queen’s English Society and The Joyce Morris Literacy Foundation. When, at the Writers’ Awards Reception on 23rd June , Frank Bosco was called to collect his prize in the University of Winchester Stripe Auditorium, there was some consternation among my fellow writers when I stood up. They were expecting Frank, but they got me. Frank was frankly annoyed since he believed he should have been the one to receive the award and have his picture taken with Dr Bernard Lamb of QES. I did point out to him afterwards that he was, in effect, only a pseudonym and had no real life of his own, which – I suppose –  is a strange irony considering that we are talking here about a Lifewriting competition.

Now, here’s the problem.

In due course, I will receive a cheque for my winning entry. Frank spotted this small item of information in the Winchester Writers’ Conference handbook … and now he expects a cut – 50% if not more. He will not go away. He is delusional and believes himself to be the author of this work and therefore entitled to the prize money.

If other authors have had similar experiences with their pseudonyms, they may like to advise me what to do. Did John Banville come into conflict with Benjamin Black? Did Ruth Rendell have any problems with Barbara Vine? What about Joanna Trollope and Caroline Harvey? I believe it is a common problem. Though clearly I am dealing here with a pseudonym who believes himself to be of more consequence than his creator.