14 July 2020

The Loneliness of the Long Distance Writer —Solitude vs. Loneliness—

There's a world where I can go and tell my secrets to,
In my room, in my room,
In this world I lock out all my worries and my fears,
In my room, in my room.
         “In My Room”—Brian Wilson, Gary Usher

Writers tend to work in isolation (unless you’re a TV writer, but that’s another story). We work in our homes, some maybe at a library or coffee shop or on the beach. But ours is a solitary profession. For most of us, when we’re writing we don’t want to be interrupted. We don’t want to be part of the real world, we want to be part of the world we’re creating. We seek solitude. As such it can be a lonely profession at times.

But solitude and loneliness are two different things. Being lonely can be depressing. Having solitude can be invigorating and restorative. Solitude gives us a chance to get in touch with the world, the real world, as well as the world of our characters. It helps us get in touch with ourselves and our creativity.

Nicola Tesla said: “The mind is sharper and keener in seclusion and uninterrupted solitude. No big laboratory is needed in which to think. Originality thrives in seclusion, free of outside influences beating upon us to cripple the creative mind. Be alone, that is the secret of invention; be alone, that is when ideas are born.”

Some people thrive on noise and activity. They can write anywhere: airplanes, libraries, beaches, coffee shops. Others of us need more quiet to get down into ourselves and hit that creative nerve. The older I get the less social I get. When I started writing I had romantic visions of Hemingway et al on the left bank in Paris. Writing and sipping absinthe.  So when I started out I tried drinking while writing. Yeah, that was a good idea. Or I’d go to Joe Allen’s (the L.A. one) and hang with other writers. That was also a great idea. Not much writing got done in either situation. One day, somewhere, somehow I learned that Hemingway didn’t drink while actually writing. Good idea. And these days we live off the beaten path, so alone-time is easy to find. And if I feel the need for human “contact” I can go on Facebook or even, God forbid, call someone on the phone. Or even more rarely actually venture out to meet them. But when I’m writing, I want quiet and alone time. But I’m never lonely in those moments.

Even aside from writing time, these days I like quiet moments. Moments of peace. Solitude. I lived a “wild and crazy” life when I was younger. Sometimes it’s hard to believe what I did and all that I did. But these days I’m happy for peace and quiet.

Some people can’t stand to be alone (England even has a Minister of Loneliness). But we can even feel lonely in a group of people because loneliness is a mindset, not a physical state. Some people hide behind distractions so they won’t have to think about things on a deeper level. Some people have never learned how to be alone and not be lonely at the same time. To keep their own counsel. But it’s good to learn to be alone, to enjoy your own company and your own counsel (whether or not you’re a writer). That doesn’t mean you can’t be social at other times. When I go out with my wife to meet with other people or just on my own to have lunch with a friend or something along those lines, I enjoy it. And I’m into the moment. But when it’s late at night and I’m writing, I’m glad to be alone again. Glad for the quiet of the night and the, dare I say it, solitude.

Pepper at the creek.

When I walk our dog/s (depending on how many we have at any given moment) I like walking them along the creek near our house. That’s often a time of solitude. Mostly we don’t come across other people, but on occasion we do. Often it’s the same people I’ve seen before. We say hi and chat for a few minutes and it’s a nice interlude. But if I don’t run across anyone I simply enjoy the solitude of the walk, stopping and smelling the roses, so to speak, watching the sun glitter on the creek, listening to it flowing, seeing the way the light hits a certain tree or outcropping and how on one day it’s a whole different look than the next. Seeing how much the dog/s enjoy the walk. Looking all around and seeing the world around me. Sometimes it’s not so nice, as when we saw a dead coyote once. It wasn’t pretty and we’ve seen other, smaller dead animals. We also saw a couple of live coyotes only a few feet from me and my dog Pepper. They didn’t bother us. But another time Pepper and I were semi-surrounded by a pack of (about 8) wild dogs. That was scary. They were aggressive, much more so than the coyotes. But Pepper knew how to behave and stayed calm, but not submissive, and we made it home without a physical encounter. We’ve also come across riderless horses (as well as those with riders) and people on ATVs tearing up the landscape, but mostly we’re alone. I feel like I’m digressing but my point here is that we’re never totally alone, unless we’re truly in the middle of nowhere. So it’s nice to have (some of) these encounters, little adventures, but then it’s nice to get back to the solitude of the canyon or return home to the quiet and solitude of the house.

One of the riderless horses we came across
Eventually we found the rider and reunited them.

There’s a place,
Where I can go,
When I feel low,
When I feel blue,
And it's my mind,
And there's no time when I'm alone.
        “There’s a Place”—John Lennon and Paul McCartney

I once decided to take a driving trip up to Canada by myself (unfortunately those pix are not scanned and buried in a box somewhere so I can’t put them up here). I got in my car and started heading north. No itinerary. No particular place to go, as Chuck Berry might say. No motel reservations. I did stop and see some friends here and there along the way but most of the time I was by myself. Listening to music. Watching the scenery. I went rafting in Oregon and drove lonely trucking roads along the way. Stopped at the Log Cabin Motel in Morro Bay. And sometimes it was weird being alone, but mostly it was good.

The Log Cabin Motel, Morro Bay

I've never seen a night so long,
When time goes crawling by,
The moon just went behind the clouds,
To hide its face and cry.
          “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry”—Hank Williams

People complain of getting bored when they’re alone, but there’s so much to do. Obviously if one is a writer one can write. But if one isn’t you can read a book, listen to music, learn a language, play games, go on the internet—maybe learn something. Maybe just sit and contemplate the universe. I think it would be good if more people spent some quiet time doing that.

About the only time I’m ever really bored is when I’m trying to find something to watch on TV and nothing catches my interest, which is often. There’s always something to do, something to learn or I can play with the animals. You can also just be alone with your thoughts. Get to know yourself. See what you really think about things. Or maybe just try to quieten your thoughts and enjoy the silence.
And now that Amy’s been working from home since the quarantine, I have more time with her as well. But to be honest, sometimes I’m glad when she goes to bed and it’s quiet and still like it is as I write this. And I’m alone in my world, with my thoughts. It’s not a bad place to be, it just takes perspective.
Buster at the crik.

Solitude helps us unwind and escape from the hustle and bustle of the everyday world. It can be like meditation in that sense. It helps us discover who we really are and what we really want. It can help us reduce stress unless, of course, being alone causes you stress, but then you can try to learn to love it.

As they say, everything in balance. We are social creatures, so you don’t want to be alone all the time and you don’t want that aloneness forced on you. But it’s not bad to be alone some of the time and to learn to enjoy that time. We don’t have to be doing something every minute of every day. Time to reflect is a good thing as long as we don’t get too deep into ourselves to the exclusion of everything and everyone else. You might even meet someone you like there—you.

And just like we need sleep to rejuvenate our bodies, we need solitude to rejuvenate our souls.

And now for the usual BSP:

The Blues Don't Care is getting some great reviews:

"It’s the first entry in what promises to be an entertaining and thoughtful series --- mysteries that not only have the requisite twists, turns, surprises and reveals, but also offer a penetrating look into our ubiquitous all-too-human flaws: greed, corruption, fear of the “other” and, especially, racism."
—Jack Kramer, BookReporter.com

"This is a beautifully noirish book, set firmly in the dark days of wartime and offering a sharp insight into the life and times of Los Angeles, 1940s style. Yes, it’s a mystery thriller, but The Blues Don’t Care is so much more than that, with historic detail, chutzpah, a cast of hugely entertaining characters, a really unusual protagonist and, best of all, a cracking soundtrack too."
—DeathBecomesHer, CrimeFictionLover.com

Please join me on Facebook: www.facebook.com/paul.d.marks and check out my website  www.PaulDMarks.com


  1. Those walks seem dangerous! Take care. I agree with you about solitude and silence for writing. I couldn't possibly write in a coffee shop (even before The Covid). I would end up watching and listening and taking notes. Not writing! (I mean I DO end up doing that.)

  2. Thanks for your comment, Kaye. Most of the time the most dangerous part of the walks is twisting your ankle on a loose stone. And you and have the same problem writing in coffee shops. I'd spend my time watching and listening. I wouldn't be able to concentrate on writing.

  3. Paul,

    I think walking outdoors when possible does sharpen the brain and encourage creativity. I do like quiet when I'm writing rather than being surrounded by noise. So we agree.

  4. Thanks for your comment, Jacqueline. I agree, of course. I think walking is great. And then it's nice to get back peace and quiet for writing. Though some people do seem to thrive in busy environments and do good writing there, I guess to each his/her own.

  5. Amen, Paul! I consider myself to be a sociable hermit. I've always been self-entertaining and about the only time - in normal times - that I tend to get lonely is when I've finished my writing and other tasks for the day and am looking for R&R. (Also on long, hot Sunday afternoons, but that's a flashback to childhood.) And I take walks daily, depending on how stuck I am, more than one.

  6. I enjoyed the description of your walks; your environment is very different from mine, along the Atlantic coast. Occasionally I wake up in the middle of the night and walk around the house, when the world around me is quiet, the street empty, and everyone else inside and asleep. That's a lovely moment of solitude and thinking about the universe. I'm always glad for my solitude, and the ability to go out into the world and see people when I want. I don't necessarily want to talk to them, but I'm glad to say hello, hear a little about their day, and then go about mine. More people need to learn to enjoy their own company. Nice post.

  7. Very interesting article. I like solitude, it rejuvenates me. I have to force myself actually to be social sometimes (not that I don't enjoy it.) Guess I'm the classic introvert.

    In my most productive phase of my writing career (as such it is) I barricaded myself in a flat in Riga, Latvia without internet. But now it is impossible to live without WIFI in the house, so I tend to write in cafes and libraries and deliberately don't get the WIFI password to prevent me from "just checking my email". As far as crowd noise in these places, it depends on the country. In Ukraine and Latvia I can tune out the foreign language and have the best of both worlds: the presence (and inspiration) of other people, but still the mental solitude since for the most part I am not privy to their discussions. Can't do that in the States or UK, if someone is speaking English the illusion of solitude is broken and I can't concentrate. In the English-speaking world I need absolute silence usually only found at home late at night or some libraries. (Other libraries are loud as any train station.)

    Growing up in the desert I used to go on long walks as you do Paul. I've encountered large packs of 20+ coyotes without any problems. Ran into the solitary isolated dog but never a dog pack (though I have seen a few in the city here in Ukraine).

    I'm going to try to isolate myself somewhere in rural Eastern Europe for about 3 months without any internet and see how productive I can be. At least that's the hope once the pandemic is over.

  8. Thanks, Eve. And Love that expression sociable hermit. Sounds like we’re on the same wavelength in terms of being able to entertain ourselves and also going for walks. And, of course, childhood memories or feelings often come into play, don’t they.

  9. Thanks for your comment, Susan. There is something about a quiet house in the middle of the night, isn’t there? And like you, I enjoy those brief encounters, but then it’s nice to get back our days.

  10. Thanks, Bill. That’s interesting that you can tune out the non-English languages, but if you’re in a place where English is being spoken it breaks the illusion of solitude. I think 3 months of total isolation as you speak of would be too much for me. Though, as you say, solitude is rejuvenating.

  11. This article reminded me of my own lifetime of taking lone long walks, exploring whatever neighborhood or region I happened to be in at the time, working out creative issues. hormonal love issues. existential crises, or whatever. I walked miles up the towpath of Washington, D.C.'s C&O Canal; all over Flushing, Queens, from the Long Island Freeway at Kissena Park to the Whitestone Bridge and out to the Nassau County line; miles on snowy nights in DC and NYC. For years I was a solitary runner. Sometimes when I was stuck on an illustration deadline I'd screw it all, toss on my running shoes, and spend an hour in the park letting it work itself out: counterintuitive use of short time but almost always the right one. I still trek around over southern California streets, stairs, hills and trails on my own. I started doing this stuff as a kid because, well, nobody was interested in joining me. I quickly discovered I preferred my own company anyway. A lot of my own writing and art has always come out of those interludes--although, as you allude, the actual work occurred subsequently in a quiet room, using as my resource all that had been mulled over. Someone there is who gets it. Someone there is who does not.

  12. Got to this late today and enjoyed it. Nice look into what you do and how you do it. I'm an indoor guy. Comes from being a city boy, I suppose. Take care and watch out for rattlers. Someone near here killed an 7 foot eastern diamondback, one of the deadliest snakes in North America. Take care, buddy.

  13. Thanks for your comment, Tony. Sounds like you’ve really explored. And used the time well. I think sometimes it’s better to take a break from the work and do something else like walking or running (I used to go for rides up PCH when I lived closer to the ocean) and I think it helps free your mind for whatever reason and help to work out some of those writing or illustration problems. Not to mention the hormonal love issues ;-) .

  14. Thanks, O’Neil. Well, basically I’m a city boy, at least grew up in one. But these days we live more off the beaten path. And rattlers are definitely something we are concerned about. I’ve seen snakes in our yard, though not rattlers. And have seen snakeskins on our walks. We get our dogs “snake trained.” And one time when I was walking Pepper she started pulling me away from a certain area. And I mean hard, something she never did. I don’t really know why but my suspicion is that because of the snake training she knew a snake was over there and tried to get me away from it. Otherwise I can’t imagine why she wanted to go in a different direction.

  15. Sorry I didn't get to this yesterday, Paul, but I wanted to say that I agree completely about the need for solitude. It can be rejuvenating. Sometimes, when stressed, just taking a minute alone to picture solitude and think about soothing sounds, like the ocean, helps me.

  16. Thanks, Barb. The only thing better than thinking about the ocean and its sounds would be being there. There is something very soothing about water, isn't there?

  17. Absolutely, Paul, on the ocean ... in my case, the Gulf of Mexico. I spend most days there, plotting and scheming on my stories, with an occasional chat with another beach bum or bunny. Back when I was writing my novels, I'd handwrite there, sometimes speaking the dialogue out loud (especially when I was writing a character with an accent) and keyboard the stuff in when I got home; now it's just occasional notes ... and lots of observation of people and the dolphins, manatees and occasionally a shark or two. Oh, some naps, too. Never lonely, even when I can manage to quiet the characters in my head for a while ... which is rarely.

  18. Thanks for your comment, Jake. The Gulf of Mexico sounds like a great place to contemplate things. I know, I’ve been there. And I know what you mean about managing to quiet the characters in your head. Sometimes it’s just not easy. But I guess it would be worse if they just went silent.


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