Have you ever read this Hemingway story? It’s one of my favorites, and he called it his best short story.
Although about an old man who goes to a restaurant in the evenings, and two waiters discuss why he’s there, to me it’s also about finding solace in a particular place. Especially if that dwelling is in one’s mind.
And I’ve always thought Hemingway was talking about the loneliness of writing too. Solitude, yes. But the isolation and sometimes darkness that also comes with the world of writing.
Funny thing about creating, it takes not just the time to write, but the space as well.
And that space isn’t just in the outside world, but also inside our heads.
As all writers of fiction know, we go into that “other” realm in order to create. Into a deeper, broader, heavily textured world that lives locked inside the psyche.
And I always love when science backs things up.
Ronald Kellogg, PhD, researches writing cognition at Saint Louis University. He shows in his book, The Psychology of Writing (Oxford University Press, 1999) that writing taxes the working memory system.
“The inner voice we subjectively experience when we write is showing up as a demand in verbal working memory,” he says.
Kellogg also found that our writing rituals, schedules, and where we write amplify performance.
“These practices encourage a state of flow rather than one of anxiety or boredom . . . The room, time of day, or ritual selected for working may enable or even induce intense concentration or a favorable motivational or emotional state . . . each of these aspects of method may trigger retrieval of ideas, facts, plans, and other relevant knowledge associated with the place, time, or frame of mind selected by the writer for work.”
I talked before of how no one way to write works for everyone, and how the key is to find your way.
And while yes, I know a lot of authors who say they do great work at the coffee shop, or on the train, for most, the noise level is distracting.
As Kellogg said, high-intensity noise can agitate you out of the creative flow.
You know how it is—you’re deeply immersed in creating a scene, in the fictional world you’ve fashioned with such care, fingertips chasing along at lightning speed. And the doorbell rings. Or the dog barks. Or something else takes you smooth out of it.
And how difficult it is to get back to where you were. The subconscious mind, from which we create, has just receded into the ethers.
Milieu, for a writer, is key. As Bob Dylan said, “put yourself in an environment where you can completely accept all the unconscious stuff that comes to you from the inner workings of your mind.”
Hard to do when life brings distractions.
The take away?
We all have life distractions. But, we can all find that space and time where those are at a very minimum. Even if that is in the basement after midnight.
Protect your writing world like a mythical guardian at a gate. Whatever works for you, allow nothing to come in to distract you.
You’re writing a masterpiece, no? Or, at least it will be.
Honor it as such.
As Hemingway said in a rare 1958 interview with George Plimpton:
“When I am working on a book or a story I write every morning as soon after first light as possible. There is no one to disturb you and it is cool or cold and you come to your work and warm as you write. You read what you have written and, as you always stop when you know what is going to happen next, you go from there. You write until you come to a place where you still have your juice and know what will happen next and you stop and try to live through until morning when you hit it again.”
Ahhhh . . . words for writers to live by.
I wish for all folks creating upcoming masterpieces, your own clean, well-lighted place.