I doubt there’s a writer alive who can’t relate to Carpenter's words (at right). Even the most gregarious among us, the most talkative, the most social—and I count myself in that number—need that quiet time to work, or think, or plot, or plan.
At parties, for example, I’m the one circulating and working the room. At conferences, I’m the one chatting with other writers and handing out business cards. I will yak your ear off, but essentially, I am an introvert. A friend who’s a family therapist put it this way: “Extroverts need other people to recharge; introverts need solitude.”
Listen, I love my family. I cherish my friends. I have strong bonds with my colleagues and students at work. But at a certain point, I need them to all go away so I can decompress, be alone with my thoughts, and write.
Public domain image courtesy of www.oldbookillustrations.com
As writers, we crave those hours when it’s just us and the desk and the pen. We need that time and space for our work. In fact, there’s lots of research that suggests that solitude is essential to our psychological well-being, as this article makes plain. But I’ve found that it’s far too easy to get lost in that place.
Writing is a solitary art, but we are social animals. We have spouses, partners, parents, and children, and those relationships can sometimes be at odds with our work. Because even when we’re not actively writing, we’re often thinking about our characters and plotting our stories. When I was writing my first novel, I would sometimes get a faraway look on my face that my husband and sons grew to recognize. “You’re thinking about your book, aren’t you?” they would ask, and the answer was obvious. Even though I was with them, I was not with them.
I know that the worlds we build in fiction are as real as the ones in which we live. That the characters we create live and breathe and talk inside our heads, and we love them. But they can’t hold our hands or shoot us a smile or share a joke with us. More importantly, they don’t lose out if we can’t spend time with them, unlike the real people in our lives.
And even if we wait for the times that “everyone has gone,” we want them to come back to us. For that, we need to be present ourselves. As important as our work is, it can’t—and shouldn’t—take the place of our human connections. There are times we need to leave our fictional worlds behind and live fully in this one. We owe that to the people who love and support us in this crazy pursuit of ours.
So now let me ask you: as a writer, how do you balance your need for solitude with the needs of the people in your life?
A Jersey girl born and bred, Rosie Genova left her heart at the shore, which serves as the setting for much of her work. Her new series, the Italian Kitchen Mysteries, is informed by her deep appreciation for good food, her pride in her heritage, and her love of classic mysteries, from Nancy Drew to Miss Marple. Her debut novel, Murder and Marinara, will be released October 1. An English teacher by day and novelist by night, Rosie also writes women’s fiction as Rosemary DiBattista. She lives fifty miles from the nearest ocean in central New Jersey, with her husband, two of her three sons, and an ill-behaved fox terrier.