by Kathleen Ernst
I was in the middle of an exercise class a few years ago when I heard someone nearby say, “She’s not very friendly.” The speaker was talking about me.
I thought about protesting: “I’m a very friendly person! I’m quite nice! I’m just working!” But since I was working, I didn’t engage. I’d been writing that morning, and would soon go back to writing. While going through the motions of the class, I was working out story elements in my mind. I hadn’t come to the class to socialize, as pleasant as that would have been. I was on deadline and needed to stay focused.
Like every other writer on the planet, I have a million distractions. And it’s quite possible to write books in tiny snippets, snatching whatever few minutes might be available among family time, day jobs, etc., etc. Kids, partners, spouses, and friends can usually understand that when a writer is sitting at the keyboard, or scribbling in a notebook, they should be left in peace.
What can be harder to convey is that “writing time” can also happen while washing dishes, tossing laundry in the machine, going for walks. And for me, having time and space to think about a novel, without interruptions, is just as essential as having time to peck at the keyboard. Maybe even more so.
That’s why I started setting aside a couple of weeks a year where I can leave home, go someplace quiet, and work in solitude. Sometimes I get on a tear and stay up until 3 AM. Sometimes I go for long walks and simply think through some ideas. However the time works out, these are incredibly productive periods.
I’m lucky enough to have friends who are willing to loan me their cottage for a week every spring. I’ve found a couple of other places where I can go in the off-season, hunker down, and get to work. I take my cat and my laptop, whatever reference books might be relevant, an empty notebook or two. Throw in a bag of groceries and a few CDs, and I’m good to go.
I know this is a luxury. If I’m not staying at my friend’s place, I’m paying for a week of cottage or cabin rental. And my absence from home can present challenges. Still… as I juggle writing Chloe Ellefson books with my children’s writing projects and promotional efforts, these sabbaticals also feel like a necessity.
On the day this is posted, I’ll be driving to Door County, WI, and settling in for a week’s retreat. At this time of year, the place I stay is usually deserted and silent. My only access to Inkspot will be via my phone, so forgive me if I don’t respond to comments promptly.
How about you? As readers and/or writers, do you ever crave solitude?