Closing the Door

There’s a village in my computer — friends, fans, readers, and colleagues.¬†¬†It’s a populous, sometimes chaotic little burg always bustling with news, gossip, opinions and potential excitement.¬†¬†It’s very attractive to the writer, the quiet, semi-recluse who is often alone in her own head.¬†¬†When the words dry up and the blank page seems a mile long, this other world is a click away. In a heartbeat, I might be swept from solitude into the virtual current that is our modern world.

Of course, this is the last the thing I need.¬†¬†The business of writing a novel is a long meandering road into the self, into the imagination. And it’s a road the writer travels alone.¬†¬†In the quiet spaces, the empty moments of my life, the path often becomes the most clear. If my attention is too focused outward, rather than inward, I may lose the trail.¬†¬†I’ll have to redouble my efforts to find the way back.

As with all things, it’s a matter of balance. But the line I walk between the quiet and solitude I need to create, and the gregariousness necessary to promote my work can be particularly tricky.¬†¬†It’s very easy to get lured from the quiet into the hubbub.¬†¬†But it’s difficult to get back to where I need to be to write well.¬†¬†It requires effort to close the door and focus the mind again. A shift from Word to Mail or Safari, where suddenly I’m posting on Facebook or answering email can represent an hour-long distraction.¬†¬†One thing leads to another.¬†¬†Insidiously, these activities masquerade as work.¬†¬†I am productive, I can tell myself.¬†¬†I am writing! And maybe, in some sense, that’s true.¬†¬†I’m just not writing my¬†novel.

And now the distractions are portable. Even exercising, my best personal blank space, where all narrative problems are solved, where inspiration often lives and breathes, I can check my email or log on to Facebook.  If I am not mindful, I could fill every blank spot with something less significant than creative thought.

I love the village in my computer.¬†¬†There’s little validation in the day-to-day life of a writer; sometimes we ache for a connection.¬†¬†These days, the world is at our fingertips. The same instruments we use to create, allow us to connect in unprecedented ways.¬†¬†But as much as we sometimes want to join in village life, it’s the writer’s responsibility, most of the time, to remain in margins.¬†¬†Writers don’t belong in the town center; we’re not a part of the main stream.¬†¬†We have to stand apart to observe well, and we have to observe well to write well.

In one of my favorite books about the craft,¬†On Writing, Stephen King says that writers have to write with “the door closed.”¬†¬†When the book first published, Mr. King probably didn’t even know how hard it would become for writers to do that.¬†¬†Sometimes it feels like a Herculean, though virtual, effort — as though I’m pressing my body against a thumping door, the world outside clamoring to get in. Or maybe it’s me, clamoring to get out of my own head.¬†¬†Sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference.

When I sit down to write these days, I find it’s best if I turn off my access to the Internet.¬†Because of the mommy factor, my time to write is limited and precious.¬†¬†I’ve removed certain applications from my phone to protect the blank spaces in my life.¬†¬†There’s no phone in my office. In the moments that are pregnant with thought, ideas, creative day dreaming, the real work is done; the actual placement of words on the page sometimes feels like the last 5% of the process. Of course, like all organic processes, there is an ebb and a flow to writing.¬†¬†One does not exist without the other.¬†¬†The writer needs to be vigilant in protecting both, confident in the knowledge that the village will be there when we choose, finally, to open the door.