How can a writer balance solitude and camaraderie?

Dear Literary Ladies,
How can a writer balance the need for quiet and solitude, with the desire for camaraderie? When I’m alone, working, I feel the need for feedback; and when I’m among colleagues, talking about my work, I feel I’m seeking too much outside validation.

If you don’t keep and guard and mature your force and above all, have time and quiet to perfect your work, you will be writing things not much better than you did five years ago. You must find a quiet place near the best companions (not those who admire and wonder at everything one does, but those who know the good things with delight!).

You need reassurance—every artist does—but you need still more to feel “responsible for the state of your conscience” (your literary conscience, we can just now limit that quotation to), and you need to dream your dreams and go on to new and more shining ideals, to be aware of “the gleam” and to follow it; your vivid, exciting companionship in the office must not be your audience, you must find your own quiet center of life, and write from that to the world that holds offices, and all society, all Bohemia; the city, the country--in short, you must write to the human heart, the great consciousness that all humanity goes to make up.

Otherwise what might be strength in a writer is only crudeness, and what might be insight is only observation; sentiment falls to sentimentality—you can write about life, but never write life itself. And to write and work on this level, we must live on it—we must at least recognize it and defer to it at every step. We must be ourselves, but we must be our best selves.

—Sarah Orne Jewett, in a letter to Willa Cather, ca. 1909


Erna Cooper October 2, 2009 at 3:43 PM  

Jewett and Cather knew only too well the necessity and compromise of art, that includes solitude. To begin, a writer must be able to see the scenes and hear the voices in her head and not too many (at best, no)intervening ones without. The writer's room must be part of her creative space; it must be pure and free of such cobwebs. But when the writer loses hold of that grasp of the centre of consciousness, that "third eye" from which we all write, she has to go out into the world again, breathe fresh air, be a part of the energy and atmosphere. Soon, as she walks through the forest or by a river, or through the city, she is reminded of what she forgot - of where she last let go of the dream in her head, and the work begins to flow again from her body.

Nava Atlas October 2, 2009 at 4:12 PM  

What a lovely comment . . . and so gracefully expressed!

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