The Idea of the Writer in Isolation is a Myth

Writing sheds are great but human engagement is better

This is the third in my series on SFF writing craft.

This isn’t the post I planned to write next in this series, but a recent Twitter dust-up got me thinking about my previous post and my next. Finding story ideas demands time and turning them into stories takes energy. We must also allow our minds to wander. But how much time do we need for all this? And once we begin our work, do we need long stretches of isolation?

The Twitter conversation I mentioned started here. I won’t go into details, but basically, there’s a long-held belief that artists and writers must work in long stretches of uninterrupted time and shouldn’t be bothered to participate in basic life activities like shopping, or child-rearing. The article delves into the privilege wrapped into that belief.

On a practical level, yes, we need mental space and mental time to create. It is important to establish a writing routine and habits that signal to others we are in writing mode. But that is not always physical space or linear time. Do we need a dedicated writing shed where we disappear and our partner slips meals under the door? No.

Photo by Dan Ritson on Unsplash

I know a writer who wore a special sweater to signify to her partner that she was in writing mode because their apartment was too small for her to have an office. I know multiple authors who wrote entire novels on trains during their commutes.

I wrote much of my first novel while on walks during my day job lunch hour. I found deep insights into theme and character during revision periods that came not while sitting at the keyboard but in flashes while doing something else like the dishes.

What we need as writers are inspiration, insight, and flow-state. None of those things equate directly to time or isolation. They can benefit from both, but are not required. We tend our garden of inspiration by consuming other works of art and information. Our insights will come when we allow our minds to play, rest, and focus on things that aren’t writing. Multi-tasking is a myth, there’s only time-slicing. We can achieve flow-state by avoiding time-slicing. We must make the best use of whatever time we have to put words on a page. Work better, not harder or longer.

Whether online or in-person, human interaction fuels stories, both in terms of ideas and in the execution.

Photo by Rajiv Perera on Unsplash

Fiction writers need to participate in our families, friend circles, and communities. Whether online or in-person, human interaction fuels stories, both in terms of ideas and in the execution. How else do we inhabit characters different from ourselves, who have a range of experiences, and react to situations, stress, and relationships in believable ways? Writing is a solitary activity, but productive writers cannot live in isolation.

I suspect this lack of engagement is why so many Great Dead Authors wrote books about writers. They only knew themselves, and even then, they didn’t have the insight they believed.

<a href="">Kevin Fellows</a>
Kevin Fellows

I’m a poet and author of fantasy and speculative fiction. My debut novel At the End of the World is available now. You can find my poetry in the Star*Line Summer 2020 issue, and at Free Verse Revolution.

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