Friday, January 14, 2011

Think Time

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?


Elizabeth Spann Craig/Riley Adams said...

I think I prefer to be alone, most of the time. And I've met you before and you were VERY friendly!

Lisa Bork said...

I'm not too keen on deserted and silent, but I'm happy alone. And like Elizabeth said, you're very friendly!

Your kitty looks so cute!

Alan Orloff said...

You are friendly! When we sat next to each other on that Malice panel, you didn't kick me more than three or four times.

"do you ever crave solitude?"
Frequently. Usually when the kids are around.

irishoma said...

Solitude is a gift I enjoy whenever I can.
Donna V.

Beth Groundwater said...

Yes, writers need huge doses of solitude, and I'm happy that my tolerant spouse understands that. When I emerge from my basement writing office, he knows that's when I'm ready to have a conversation with him.

Sue Ann Jaffarian said...

Since I live alone, I have the luxury of being alone and forcing my focus when I need it. Still, there are many weekends when I turn off the phone, the TV, even the internet, and hibernate with my writing. On those weekends, I may not even emerge from my apartment until Monday morning, not even to empty the trash. They are like mini retreats. With a deadline looming, next weekend will be one of those. I can feel it in my bones.

And I add my vote to your friendliness.

Darrell James said...

Kathleen- I have the luxury of having a lot of private time. I have to take breaks to be social.

Kathleen Ernst said...

Thanks for the "friendly" votes. But Alan - be fair! I only kicked you twice!

Sue Ann, when I lived alone, I did the same thing. I'd tell myself I had to stop writing at 1 PM to go get groceries...OK, 5 PM... OK, tomorrow... Next thing I knew it would be Monday morning.

Alan Orloff said...

Sorry. After the first two kicks, I lost feeling in my legs...

Keith Raffel said...

Even Superman had to go to the Fortress of Solitude every so often to recharge his batteries. (A nice shot of the Fortress is at:

G.M. Malliet said...

You are very friendly!

Writers live inside their heads so much - people may not understand we're just preoccupied. We don't even SEE them standing there when we're in the zone, right?

If we were different, we'd be salesmen, and wouldn't that be an interesting if noisy world.

Julia Buckley said...

I do crave solitude by nature, but so do my children and spouse, so we like being together because we all like being alone. Contemplate that paradox. :)

What sort of person says "She's not very friendly" right in front of the person they're talking about? Rude.

Kathleen Ernst said...

Well, I'm all settled in! It's supposed to snow tonight, and there's no place I need to go. Thanks for your comments--it's always interesting to get different perspectives.