Forum / Writer as recluse

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    James Lloyd Davis
    Sep 05, 01:12pm

    Read this quote today from J.D. Salinger:
    “There is a marvelous peace in not publishing. It’s peaceful. Still. Publishing is a terrible invasion of my privacy. I like to write. I love to write. But I write just for myself and my own pleasure… I pay for this kind of attitude. I’m known as a strange, aloof kind of man.”

    As a writer, you can be torn by the need to express your thoughts to others and the desire to dwell in the kind of solitude that writing requires, torn in the sense that reading and writing is a symbiotic process, that writing was invented as a means for communication, that it is the purest sense of human communication.

    Oh, yes, it's also data, records and such, and was used and patronized from its inception to chronicle the 'very important' lives of pharaohs and other potentates, dialogues with God, etc... but it remains the purest conversation between one mind and another, pure in the sense that it is an uninterrupted monologue ... a thing that is best practiced, on both sides, by the reader and the writer in isolation and utter solitude. Its very beauty resides in the fact that it transcends time and place.

    Salinger is the proper definition, the primary exemplar of a reclusive writer, Thomas Pynchon and Cormac McCarthy also come to mind. Most of us will never come to the point where we must hide away, so little in demand as we are, so comfortably obscure by name, but we aspire to be sought after, I believe, and would probably appreciate the 'unwanted' attention of fans and chroniclers, but if we had it? Would we really want it? Depends, I suppose, on your motivation for writing. Celebrity will change a person and a writer, by the very nature of what they do, could be damaged by the attention.

    How reclusive are you? How important is that place of peaceful contemplation, that solitude, in your own practice of writing?

    Is a reclusive nature the basis for what makes a good writer ... or is it an aberration?

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    Susan Tepper
    Sep 05, 04:42pm

    JD~ I'm such a big Salinger fan from way back. This was very interesting to read.

    How much reclusiveness?

    Turn off email and internet while writing.
    Write until you've written yourself out for that writing period.
    Hemingway used to write his brains out then go to the cafe and eat a whole chicken.
    The trick is to have "un-interrupted" writing time. Especially for beginning writers. Crucial.

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    Darryl Price
    Sep 05, 04:55pm

    There is no easy answer to this for me. Because I have been writing in my mind while driving the car. I have been in a park full of people and found inspiration that won't wait until I get home. I have been in my bed,watching the moon through the blinds and come up with a few starter lines that have to be explored right then or be lost forever.I feel responsible for such moments. They are gifts. It would be ungracious to not accept them. Still I love the stretches of time when I am alone creating at my desk. It feels so right. Hours go by like songs on a radio.And something tells me when I am finished. I've tried to get up and leave in the middle of a work before, but some part of me always questions my motive. I'll get to sleep when I get to sleep.Art doesn't save me from the world,but it does keep me company so well.

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    Marcus Speh
    Sep 05, 05:54pm

    fascinating, james, thanks for keeping the metalog going here.

    i just re-read e.m. forster's 'aspects of the novel' (1927) for the 50th time or so. he distinguishes writers who are FANTASTS (informed, say, by mythology, strange connections, the supernatural, throwing us off balance) from PROPHETS (writers for whom the extension of characters and plot dominates the work without turning into preaching: writing like song, not talk.)

    he puts JOYCE in the fantastic category (esp with ulysses—finnegans wake, which is even stronger in this way, hadn't been published yet). while DOSTOEVSKY for him is a true prophet (not a preacher), as is MELVILLE.

    i'm saying all that because, when you look at dimensions like these fantasy/prophecy (and i do strongly suggest you read the book - it's little - if you don't know it yet, no matter if you're a flash/short story writer or a genre/hack writer — melville as a prophetic writer comes through in the short story "billy budd" as strongly if not more so than in "moby dick"), then the dimension "published/not published" seems rather pale and wan.

    pynchon, salinger, mccarthy — incidentally they're all brilliant fantasts (with forster) — as relative recluses from the world (as you pointed out, they are withdrawn celebrities rather than forgotten hermit geniuses) they're only turning their back to hubbub and refuse to be dancing bears in the circus of commerce & media. they prefer to keep us in the dark about the size of their genitals and their hemorrhoids, thank god, but i doubt that this shyness is anywhere near the centre of their art.

    melville would have loved more publicity and publication; dostoevsky was hungry for it all his life & died a happy an because he did get it in the end; ... and do i need to talk about dickens (who started all the media tohubohu acc to jane smiley)...he couldn't get enough of the crowd. henry james: tried hard (with his plays) to suckle at the public tit (but without success)...and on and on it goes.

    so in response to your last question, i should say it's not relevant, though of course, to the individual writer - you, me (and i am struggling with that issue), many people here - how withdrawn you need to be or want to be while you create is of utmost importance.

    as i think i've said elsewhere i believe it's inhumane to ask from us to be creators, idealists, publishers, internet gurus, bloggers, tweeters, facebookians, ... and more ... all at the same level of sophistication and efficiency. i don't know anyone who can do all that and also writes something i like to read. personally, therefore, i'm currently opting for relative recluse.

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    Gill Hoffs
    Sep 05, 06:16pm

    I think Darryl said pretty much what I was going to say, except much more poetically than I would have. My mobile phone is full of 'draft messages' that are first lines or descriptive scraps that popped into my head when I was out and about and Angus had hidden my pens. Personally, I like to be alone at my desk, writing, or alone on the sofa, reading. But at a pinch, I can do it anywhere if what's in my head is shouting loud enough.

    Marcus - as ever, you've educated me. I think my writing takes turns with both classifications, but I'll be bearing it in mind with whatever I read next. And I won't berate myself too strongly when my new site [http://gillhoffs.wordpress.com/] perplexes me - I'd rather be an engaging writer than a guru of any type! Fascinating.

    As for face to face interactions, so long as I get some quiet time to recharge my inner calm afterwards, I quite enjoy a good chat about words and how people arrange them. It's all good fun - in the right amounts!

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    Christian Bell
    Sep 06, 02:53pm

    I think to some extent all writers have to be reclusive in order to write. The actual act of writing/typing words to page is solitary. Sometimes, we just need to shut the door in our house for some quiet and turn off the phone/internet, and other times, we need to go a cabin in the woods or a hotel room or an uninhabited island. I'm not sure, though, that is the same thing as being a "recluse" as we know it in terms of writers such as Pynchon and Salinger or, to a smaller extent, McCarthy or even DeLillo, where it's essentially a lifestyle choice.

    While I'm definitely the smallest of literary potatoes, I think I'm comfortable with identifying myself as a partial recluse in terms of writing. If there's a writing event in my town, I'm not likely to attend. If I've been invited to read, I'm not likely to do so. Lately, I've divorced myself from both Facebook and Twitter, and I don't really post to my blog anymore (Fictionaut is about the only place I'm appearing right now, and posting for me has become infrequent). I don't seek publication like I used to either. I'm not really contemplating putting together a book. Part of this is deliberate choice, part of it is my own hang-ups and psychology coming into play. I've tried to keep up with the social media/self-promotion angle and I can't do it and it's frustrating and unfulfilling so I've said to hell with it. As I've submitted more and accumulated more rejections with the occasional publication, my skin has grown thinner in handling the rejections (something I had not anticipated).

    So, where does that leave me? Writing, as always. Right now, it's all about the writing for me. The discipline of getting up each morning, writing for about an hour before heading off to work is where I'm at. My writing has gone inward lately, and the forms I'm working in I would describe as somewhat unconventional. Exposure, publication, credentials—these things are at the bottom of the list.

    One place where I'm not a recluse is when a fellow writer asks me for an opinion or critique or writing help. Responding to such requests is, for me, the bedrock of writing community. I do these things gladly. Now, if I've neglected your call, or not fulfilled it as you wanted it, or it's taken me forever, please don't kill me. Sometimes, I'm just scatterbrained.

    Of course, by divulging all of this, I'm contradicting my partial recluse credentials. Partially. I'd better stop before I give away too much.

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    James Lloyd Davis
    Sep 06, 06:30pm

    I hear you, Christian. Life is difficult enough without the added burden of trying to establish a 'name' as a writer. It's why I gave up writing for so many years, decades.

    I am writing full time now, but forego the Facebook, Twitter thing ... haven't the slightest idea how other writers maintain so many outlets simultaneously while working a day job, but I do see the political angle that motivates and sours so many people as a result.

    I love writing, but it's overwhelming at times, hard work if you are serious, and a full time job that no longer provides a living for most practicioners.

    I suspect that many people go into periods of withdrawal such as you describe. I hope you come out the other end of it with the confidence that the quality of your writing deserves ... but I suspect we'll hear the name of Christian Bell again, and often.

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    Marcus Speh
    Sep 06, 07:47pm

    i discovered a rather sweet article on the topic (and on other topics, as per usual) by none else than jonathan franzen - NYT in may, <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/29/opinion/29franzen.html">here is the link</a> — where he says:

    <blockquote>«When you stay in your room and rage or sneer or shrug your shoulders, as I did for many years, the world and its problems are impossibly daunting. But when you go out and put yourself in real relation to real people, or even just real animals, there’s a very real danger that you might love some of them.»</blockquote>

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    stephen hastings-king
    Sep 06, 08:14pm

    Speaking as another tiny speck in the literary universe...I'm not particularly reclusive. Somehow I've fashioned a way of writing that's a lot like practicing on an instrument, except i work in the morning. I make initial drafts as emails that I send to myself. Sometimes I look around at stuff like fb or twitter and lift little things that I like. But not always.

    I like being out in the world, taking stuff in. I like sounds. I like looking at things.

    Because I've spent far more time involved with music than with writing, I think in terms of performing. I usually make my pieces to be read aloud. It turns out that folk regard what I'm doing as kinda experimental so I don't do many performances. But they're fun to do when the chance presents itself.

    But I suppose the way in which I might be a type of recluse, though, is that I find myself almost an observer of people and situations when I'm hanging out with people or in situations. Inside and outside at the same time.

    I know a lot of stories about writers I admire who were inclined to hole up or do as Pynchon does and order a kind of negative space around themselves as a form of inverted branding. It'd be interesting to have a more public persona to manipulate like that, I think. A speck can do all the manipulation he or she likes and it matters naught, I think.

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    Bobbi Lurie
    Sep 06, 08:38pm

    I sometimes forget how much I've neglected my social life, my face to face meetings in favor of writing incessantly, befriending people on the internet I'll never meet. It gives me a false sense of life, perhaps, or else it clarifies the fact that we live alone, inside our head and, expressing it on paper is more satisfying than small talk, meetings, phone conversations etc.

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    Darryl Price
    Sep 06, 08:50pm

    Speck up, er, speak up..is this thing on? Ah, there we go. The world is made up of an infinite variety. What? Oh, yeah, you know..anything..shells,leaves,crests,poets. I remember the outrage and controversy that John Lennon caused when he ended I Am the Walrus with a bunch of people chanting or shouting,"Everybody's got one." over and over again.Years later he would say in an interview he meant one self, one asshole, one bag, one life,one death, one anything you can think of to insert there. I don't know what this has to do with what we were talking about. Oh yeah, the solitary vs. the what? the gregarious? the zealous? the the? I'm just saying, labeling is easy, but it more often than not misses the mark. How can you label the experience of being a writer without doing it an injustice? There's always more than meets the eye. When you're alone with your thoughts are you really alone? When you are alone in a room without any other people are you free from their influence on your life? I write for freedom of expression. I love to be alone. I also love being with people. I would write my poems anyway. As is every now and then someone actually likes something I write and tells me so. They could be on the other side of the world.But we connect through the written word. I think that's pretty cool--all in all.

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    Marcus Speh
    Sep 07, 06:18pm

    ...and another recent attack on the writer as recluse: amazon @author.

    see <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/laura-e-kelly/kindle-social-media-feature-_b_950334.html">article in huff post books here</a>:

    <blockquote>
    ...With <a href="http://www.amazon.com/gp/feature.html?ie=UTF8&docId=1000714331">@author</a>, readers can ask questions directly from their Kindles while they are reading a book, and the questions get sent to authors' Twitter accounts as well as to their author pages at Amazon for all to see. Anyone who has purchased items from Amazon.com can reply to an existing question or ask a new one, and all visitors to Amazon.com can read any current question or response...
    </blockquote>

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