It smells of wet dogs outside, and I'm utterly exhausted. My eyes are dry as sand, and my head wants to fall off my shoulders, and my sleep has thinned to nervous dozing that gets interrupted by every noise, be it a bark, a honk, or the insistent gurgle of my bladder.
These last few weeks I have expended my energy on other things besides writing, and I'm paying for it dearly. I'm judging a writing contest on Wattpad (for 13-19 year olds, so of course I agreed) and I'm overseeing the production of The Badlings audiobook (Yay! A blog post about it here.) and the kids are here (Royce's Wyatt and Josey with their wacky summer schedules, and my Peter, and my Anna who came to visit with her beau) and we're doing dinners and playing Settlers of Catan, and I went to see fellow writers at Molly Moon's Ice Cream (which was fantastic) and to listen to John Scalzi read at the library, and every day the energy I spent on writing was nibbled away by these harmless and no doubt precious activities, and so now my body is telling me:
FUCK YOU AND YOUR WRITING, I WILL MAKE YOU SICK.
It's strange how I haven't noticed this as acutely before. I used to write to very loud music and with that induced in myself a semi-delirious state that could be called "drugged." I suppose that's why some writers drink while they write. As soon as I switched to silence, I began wanting more and more of it, and every interaction, every effort to open my mouth and talk has robbed me of my solitude.
And my solitude is everything. It gives me tools I need to create with, and I don't need anything extra. My crutches are falling off. My fears are dying. And with that all that's left is me, and I don't embarrass myself anymore, I'm not ashamed of me. I love being me. I want to be me more and more, and the only way to do it is to be alone.
There is so much peace in this feeling, I cannot adequately relay it.
Writers must have known this secret for millennia and sought solitude for this precise reason. No wonder there are so many wiring retreats. Many of us can't afford silence. Hell, even when it is silent, it bloody isn't. Some asshole will honk in the street, someone will yell. Some cat will decide to caterwaul in protection of his territory, or sing long mating songs, or annoy the neighborhood dog, and the idiot canine will announce to high heaven its distress in a volley of yowls.
I once came across a study by acoustic ecologist Gordon Hempton who recorded silence. He was in search of a place where there were no disturbances brought to you by our interminably capering civilization. He found it in the forest, deep in the woods, absolute silence.
Think about it. We're bombarded by information 24/7, and then we wonder why we're tired and blocked and can't write shit. Of course we can't. Whatever daily energy we had stored up by sleep in the morning gets squandered the moment we wake. The fucking alarm starts it all. Then the phone. The ping-ping-ping of emails. Breakfast (which means taking to people). News (which means watching people talking at you or to each other). Traffic (which means yelling at people or being yelling at). Christ, by the time you're at work your nerves are shot. And if you're lucky and can write full-time without having a job on the side? Same shit. Maybe not to the nth degree, but as awful. Enter Internet, the biggest sucker for energy of them all.
I figure, you have about 100% of creative energy or emotional capacity or whatever you want to call it each morning. That is, if you're lucky and you slept well. To write your need to feel extreme emotions. I'm not talking getting pissed here. No. I'm talking getting pissed to the point of killing a character. The resources such act consumes are enormous. Well, where the hell will you get them if you're already depleted?
I'm watching my minutes like a hawk now, I tell you. I'm not kidding. Seconds. I know that if I spend more than 2 hours talking to people, be it online or in person, my writing suffers. I can only produce 1K words or so, as opposed to 1.6K or even 2K. Granted, this is the second draft and I'm thinking more than when I write the first draft, but the pattern has slapped me in the face. Man, it hurt. It hurt bad.
I did the math. If I lose every day about 500 words, that's 182,500 words lost a year. Holy fucking mother of God! That's like two fucking novels! As soon as I saw this number, my poor old eyes bugged out. You bet I'm watching my time like a hawk after this.
Ans that is the cost of the loss of solitude. That is what eats away at you day after day without you ever noticing it.
If only it were easy to practice. Got small kids? Impossible. Teenagers? Even worse. Old parents? Pets? A job? Several jobs? Now add to this the necessity to let the world know about your books (interaction again), especially if you're self-publishing. What's left? Not much.
How do you get solitude, then? Fight for it with your teeth. Every day cut out quiet time, your time, and even if you produce squat in that time, keep at it. It's for your sanity. Once your stress has time to dissolve, you will start producing. It's inevitable. Your energy will return because you will stop squandering it left and right.
As to complete silence...if you're lucky and can arrange it, do it. You're one of the few. I'll be lucky again come September. The school will start, and I'll have guaranteed quiet from morning till about 3 p.m., by which time I'm usually done writing anyway.
Until then, I'll snatch it away everywhere I can, even if it means hiding out on the balcony and smelling wet dogs and drinking cold coffee because there are people in the kitchen and I don't want to come in so as not to disturb my inner silence.