The Necessity of Solitude

Women are givers. Women writers are some of the most giving people I know.

We tend to have stronger relationships because of it–with babies, grown children, friends, and extended family.

But unless you learn how to balance all this giving with replenishment, you’ll find it nearly impossible to write.

Gift from the Sea

It has been a particularly busy family time the last two months, with little sleep and too little time to write. I wouldn’t go back and change any of it either–very rewarding times. But there comes a time when you realize you’re close to being drained. Pay attention to those times, or you’ll pay for it later (in your health, in your lack of writing, and in lack of patience with those around you).

This morning I was reading a bit in one of my favorite little books, Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s book, Gift from the Sea. I re-read it at least once a year. Here are a few snippets that might speak to you giving women:

  • What a circus act we women perform every day of our lives. It leads …to fragmentation. It does not bring grace; it destroys the soul.
  • Eternally, woman spills herself away in driblets to the thirsty, seldom being allowed the time, the quiet, the peace, to let the pitcher fill up to the brim.
  • Only when one is connected to one’s own core is one connected to others, I am beginning to discover. And, for me, the core, the inner spring, can best be refound through solitude.
  • One must lose one’s life to find it. Woman can best refind herself by losing herself in some kind of creative activity of her own.

Is That You?

If you find yourself feeling fragmented and agitated today, find a way to steal away from everyone for even ten minutes of total solitude (and if possible, silence). Breathe deeply. Bring the energy spilled on everyone else back inside for a few minutes. Re-focus. Relax.

If you have a couple hours, get a copy of Gift from the Sea and read straight through it. You’ll love it!

And tell us your favorite way to find solitude–whether for a day or just a few minutes. We all need suggestions for this!

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A Writing Retreat with Friends

Retreat… Just saying the word is soothing.

While it is taking some planning and shifting of events, I believe I’ll be able to carve out two or three days for a personal writing retreat. Given the price of gas and hotels, though, I’m looking seriously at Judy’s ideas for how to do a retreat at home. (I’m referring again The Writer’s Retreat Kit: A Guide for Creative Exploration and Personal Expression by Judy Reeves.)

Adding Friends

After I do a mini retreat on my own, I’m thinking about trying one early in the new year with a writing friend or two. This quote from her book is what got me to thinking:

“For some of us, much of the joy of going on a writing retreat comes from spending time with other writers. Who else truly understands our need for solitude, our particular quirkiness, our mutterings and frustrations, our joys and disappointments? Who else speaks our language and comprehends the nuances of our silences? Other writers are our creative soulmates, kindred spirits, members of the same tribe. Not all writers, mind you, but those particular few whom we’ve come to know and love and trust with our tender hearts. Going on a writing retreat with a few chosen others, or a single best writer-friend, can deepen our connection with one another and with our writing.”

Doesn’t that sound heavenly? What about you? Is there a favorite writer-friend that you’d enjoy having along for a mini retreat of one day or two?

Nuts and Bolts Practicalities

If you had it at someone’s home, it wouldn’t have to cost anything. Retreaters could even go home to their own comfy beds at night. Retreating from 9-5, with plenty of time for writing exercises, solitude, journaling, talking, eating, walking (and writing on your novel if you felt so moved) would be a rejuvenating experience with the right people.

I’m going to give this some thought and see what my writing friends think!

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A Writing Retreat Re-Defined

Last weekend I spoke at a writers’ conference, and my last talk was on self-coaching and self-care. If no one else got anything valuable from the talk, I did.

I realized as I preached about self-care for writers that my own had slipped badly. That was part of the reason I was talking armed with cough drops and hot tea with honey.

I needed some time apart to get rejuvenated. I needed a retreat.

I Don’t Have the Time or Money!

Most of us have preconceived ideas of what a “writer’s retreat” would look like for us. Anything outside that box (we think) just wouldn’t fill the bill. A cabin in the woods–alone. A week at a convent–alone. A long weekend at a hotel with room service–plus writing friends in adjoining rooms. Everyone has an idea of the perfect writing retreat. And that’s often why our internal response is, “But I don’t have the time or money for that.”

So, if that’s your situation, what do you do when your body and mind scream for a retreat? Dig into The Writer’s Retreat Kit: A Guide for Creative Exploration and Personal Expression by Judy Reeves, author of A Writer’s Book of Days. She challenges writers to think of retreats in other ways–and thus to see the possibilities around us to create such retreats. Her themed retreat ideas can be for a weekend or scaled down to a few minutes, depending on what time you have available.

Make a Mental Shift

Chew on this quote for the weekend and see what you come up with.

Much as I believe that the idea of a writing retreat will always include Time Away Alone (I expect secluded mountain cabins or pri­vate, distant seashores will also remain in our writer’s mind’s eye), I also believe it is possible for each of us to create other, less extensive writing retreats that can refill and restore us, that can be containers enabling us to produce new work and to open us to creative expres­sion and that allow us to dip into the solitude we need to communi­cate with our inner selves.

  • Consider that a writing retreat is not necessarily a place, but a concept.
  • Consider the word retreat not as a noun but a verb.
  • Consider time not as a measure in length, but in depth.
  • Consider the idea of being alone not as being distant from people but as not allowing others to intrude on your solitude.

Get Practical and Make It Happen

In other words, let loose all those old ideas about what is nec­essary for a writing retreat to be “real,” and open your mind and heart to another way of giving yourself this gift of self-care. Get out your notebook and begin listing retreat ideas that last fifteen minutes, an hour, half a day, and a weekend. Brainstorm ideas that range from free to a trip to a European hide-away, if that’s your dream retreat.

Then choose several ideas and put them on your calendar as important appointments with your writer self. I added one ten-minute retreat idea to my daily routine this week, and I’m loving it. That tea and pumpkin spice candle does it for me.

How about you? Do you have mini retreat ideas you could share?

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Jealousy: Conquering the Green-Eyed Monster

Last weekend, I went to a 75th Anniversary showing of “Gone With the Wind” in a local theater. It was a treat! After the Civil War ended, Scarlet OHara nearly starved with her family on their broken down plantation while she burned with jealousy toward anyone who still had money. Later, after marrying Rhett Butler, Scarlet built a gaudy mansion in Atlanta to make her enemies “pea-green with envy” in return.

Unfortunately, she found (like many writers) that having people jealous of her success caused her as much heartache as when she was jealous herself.

Private Pain

Jealousy. Envy. The green-eyed monster. Call it what you will, it attacks writers on a regular basis.

We don’t talk about it much. Sometimes it’s just a twinge, like a side ache. Other times it’s a full-fledged cramp. It can strike when someone in your writing group sells a story or book, when someone on Facebook posts a glowing book review, when we see that someone’s book (that we started and couldn’t even finish) just landed a major movie deal: any of these can bring the sting of jealousy.

On the flip side of the coin, if our story just sold or garnered the starred review or landed on the short list for a big award, we can find ourselves stunned, in the position of receiving cold shoulders, raised eyebrows, rejection, and backbiting. This can happen if you finally sell your first manuscript, but your friends haven’t sold anything yet. As Bette Midler once said, “The worst part of success is to try finding someone who is happy for you.” Frankly, both types of jealousy present challenges, but the second type feels like betrayal, so can be more difficult to handle.

I’m not sure why, but I only had to deal with others’ jealousy very early in my career, when I decided to break out of the farm wife mold and write on the side. I think it’s when you first do something different than what others expect that you run into the most jealousy. Oddly enough, there was nothing much to be jealous of back then! After people in the family and community got used to my being a writer, I don’t recall any more catty remarks or put-downs, even after winning awards and being able to write full-time. If there was jealousy at that point, they kept it to themselves.

What’s a Writer To Do?

If you’re jealous–or others are jealous of your success–there are a number of ways to deal with it. 

First, here are some methods for dealing with others’ jealousy.

  1. You can call a spade a spade. Tell them they’re jealous and to knock it off and let you enjoy your success. This only tends to aggravate the problem though.
  2. If the person listening to your success story is a struggling writer—one genuinely working to write and sell—be sensitive to her feelings. Do share. Be happy, but don’t gloat. Don’t spend the whole critique period talking about your success. Keep it in balance.
  3. Find a writer who is more published than you are, then shout your success from the rooftops. Do you have an instructor or mentor who’s helped you in some way? Those are great people to share good news with, and you can pull out all the stops. They’ll be as excited as you are. I love having a former student publish, then write to share the news.
  4. Brace yourself with certain family members. Jealousy coming from nonwriters (including your family) is trickier, and often the most painful. Family members who were super-supportive while you played the Rejection Slip Blues can turn cold and rejecting themselves when you begin selling. I’ve never understood this type of jealousy, but I’ve seen it in my own life and other writers’ lives often enough to know it’s real. Writers tend to withdraw and shut down when their success stories fall on the deaf ears of family members. Be sensitive to your family issues, but don’t let the nonsupport go on too long. Confront it. Your sale or good review is an achievement, and it should be recognized, just as you recognize their accomplishments. [And be sure you are developing supportive friends outside your family circle.]

When You’re the Jealous One

Oops! Your claws are showing! What should you do if you’re the jealous one? Here are things to try:

  1. Try to distance yourself from the jealousy. Put some space between yourself and the other writer for a moment, and view the event objectively. What can you learn from this writer’s success experience? How did she find the right market for her book? How did he help promote his novel so that it got such great publicity? Did they do something you could use to boost your own success? Find the lesson in the experience. And then if you really want to nip the jealousy at its roots, smile and congratulate the writer on her success. Fake it till you make it!
  2. Choose to make that “enemy” into a friend. Rachel Simon, in The Writer’s Survival Guide, talked about one of her friends, Marianne, who was having great difficulty dealing with the success of another new writer. “The extreme heat of Marianne’s envy made her see just how much she wanted to succeed. So Marianne set herself to combating envy with harder work and, instead of seeing her friend as someone to revile, saw her friend as a pioneer leading the way. And so Marianne turned the object of her envy into an object of inspiration.”
  3. Don’t focus on someone else’s success, if it brings down your own self-esteem. Instead, get to work on your own manuscript! Your mind can only concentrate on one thing at a time, the experts tell us, so turn your attention away from the object of your jealousy and address your own writing. Bonnie Friedman agrees in her article, “Envy, the Writer’s Disease,” that the remedy for jealousy is focusing on your own work. “Not the thinking about it. Not the assessing of it. But the doing of it.”
  4. Develop a sense of humor. Probably one of the best ways to handle jealousy, if you can muster the courage, is to laugh about it. I challenge you to read Anne Lamott’s chapter on jealousy in Bird by Bird and not laugh out loud. She doesn’t pull any punches, but her honesty about the not-so-nice feelings we can harbor about others is so refreshing. “Jealousy is such a direct attack on whatever measure of confidence you’ve been able to muster,” Anne says. “But if you continue to write, you are probably going to have to deal with it, because some wonderful, dazzling successes are going to happen for some of the most awful, angry, undeserving writers you know—people who are, in other words, not you.”

So the next time the green-eyed monster takes a chunk out of your hide, remember Scarlet O’Hara’s other famous line: “I’ll go crazy if I think about that now. I’ll think about that tomorrow.” And by the time tomorrow comes, you’ll be so involved in your own writing project again that the envy will shrink to its proper proportions.

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Writing Fast or Writing Slow: Which is Better?

I’ve always been a fan of writing rough drafts at high speed. Turn off that internal editor! Get those words down as fast as you can! Don’t read anything till you get to the end.

And after absorbing Anne Lamott’s classic book on writing, Bird by Bird, I gave myself permission to write really rotten rough drafts as well.

So Now What?

Today I was reading a couple short chapters in writers in the Spirit by Carol Rottman. Something she said struck an inner chord with me, even though it isn’t actually what I believe. But it’s stayed with me all day, and I’m beginning to wonder. (And I’d like your reactions to it.)

First she talked about how writers used to write: slowly, on paper using a pen or pencil, thoughtfully. That regimen went out the window with the introduction of typewriters, although typing still required white liquid to cover typos. The computer came along and even eliminated messy corrections, and writers were encouraged to create right on the screen. Later, fixing and revising would be a snap.

Then Ms. Rottman said: “There may be a downside to easy writing on computers. More of us are writing, but most are not writing very well. I speak also of myself: I have become a sloppy typist and sometimes, I fear, a sloppy thinker. Knowing how easily words can be changed or rearranged, I don’t give my whole self to the first draft. I am less careful, thoughtful, and creative than I plan to be in the end product. Where once my internal editor ruled,  inhibiting all but the choicest words and  phrases, the antiperfectionist has muscled in, convincing me that anything will do.”

I know I am the same way, chanting “just get it down, just get it down” when hurrying through a rough draft. I’m beginning to wonder how wise all that hurrying is.

Is Writing Speed Everything?

Later she adds:

“Those imperfect first drafts need the clear thought of a devoted writer if they are to be salvaged by revisions. The creative front end of writing is our first drive for truth-telling. Authentic. Passionate. Perceptive. Not perfectly formed but potent.”

In the interest of not letting our internal editor stop us in our writing tracks, have we perhaps shut her up too much? What do you think? Where’s the balance between slow enough writing to capture what you want to say–and enough speed to build momentum and get the story down?

There are no right answers here. What has your own experience been?

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