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Writer’s Craft # 84 Changing My Brain: Writing Alone

August 6, 2012

Marcy Arlin

Marcy Arlin

MARCY ARLIN is a new-ish writer, and an old-ish director, Fulbrighter, theatre internationalist and Artistic Director of the OBIE-winning Immigrants’ Theatre Project. A member of Broad Universe, Brooklyn Spec Fiction Meetup and Theatre Without Borders, she has written flash fiction for Abandoned Tower and the Broad Universe Sampler, short stories, an sf play (Man.In.Fest theatre journal), and blogs about immigrant theatre artists for tcg.org. She recently returned from the amazing Center for the Study of Speculative Fiction in Kansas. She lives in Brooklyn with the husband and the cats.

I am convinced that there is a personality or part of the brain that makes it easier for a person to sit alone and create. Whatever it is, I don’t have it. Yet.

Even if absorbed by the piece, I only type for about thirty minutes, then look up. I ask the room: Whatdoyouthink? Silence. So I stop writing and wash dishes.

I am not lazy. But the bulk of my main work as a theatre director is done as a social event: casting, rehearsing, production meetings. Alone I may write grants, read a script numerous times, or do research. But my most creative time is spent in rehearsal. Craft and inspiration are reflected immediately in the actions of the actors. The show’s designers collaborate on the look and feel of the show. I thank the lonely work of the playwrights always!

At a recent writing workshop, the participants, often in the same room, wrote and revised intensively for two weeks. Social creative energy! Now back home, alone, I go to the well-customered café, but I can consume only so many cappuccinos before my head explodes.

How do you do it? How do you sit there for hours and not drive yourself crazy? Don’t you miss other people? Are you a hermit? Do you chain yourself to your desk? Do you hire assistants to stay in your room/office/nook and nod encouragingly?

Could you call me up every thirty minutes and say “well done”, and then hang up?

8 Comments leave one →
  1. August 6, 2012 7:22 am

    I’m happy with the company of all my imaginary friends. Not that I’d become a hermit or anything, but I love writing and can do it for hours on end when the stories are flowing. My frustration comes from husband and kids demanding social interaction more than once a week…

  2. August 6, 2012 7:45 am

    *snort* I’m with you, Jaleta. The nerve of them, expecting me to actually take a break and sit down to a meal or something with them, and then having to talk to them about something that doesn’t have to do with writing!

    Seriously, I’m afraid that I WOULD become a hermit if I had the chance. I know that probably wouldn’t be healthy for me, and I do need those social interactions — in fact, my writing would be all the poorer without them. A lifetime spent studying other people and how they interact socially is what gives characters and dialog the sparkle of believability.

    But I think a lot of us do not particularly treasure our social time, and that’s precisely why the solitary occupation of writing appeals to us. I, for one, do not do well with people, especially working with them in committees and cooperative creative endeavors. As much as I loved acting, I washed out of community theater because I didn’t play well with others. Not that I am bitchy or difficult (those who know me will testify quite the opposite). I simply don’t read social cues and constantly make mistakes, inadvertently pissing people off. It’s so much easier just to stick to the keyboard and interact via words without all that other subtle stuff. I envy people like you, Marcy, who are so tuned in to other people, and feel relaxed and happy interacting socially. Folks like you make it seem so easy, knowing the right things to say, instinctively understanding the give and take. You are very, very lucky!

  3. August 6, 2012 7:50 am

    You refer to writing as “lonely work,” but I never find it so. I can get lost in my own story, interacting with the characters I’m creating and not even missing the “real world.”

    I would guess, Marcy, that you’re an extravert, someone who gets her energy from interacting with people (flesh and blood people). You love working with the people you’re directing, which stimulates your creativity.

    I’m an introvert, which means I get my energy from within. In that quietude, I find story and can work it out in my head and on paper. My energy comes from that process, and although feedback from others is helpful after the fact, I create best when my thoughts roam without interruption. Sometimes I put on music as I write, but never anything with obvious lyrics — some classical, Enigma, Lesiem, some soundtracks, Gregorian chants — that kind of thing. Because voices singing actual words will pull me out of the place I go to write.

  4. August 6, 2012 8:45 am

    I’m an introvert and so I can spend hours working on my writing–don’t get me wrong, I do like people, it’s just that I like them in small doses! some days I can’t concentrate and that’s when I take a walk, clean the house or whatever…it sounds like your creativity lies in theater and I couldn’t do what you do…casting? directing? no way…

  5. August 6, 2012 12:42 pm

    Hmm. Fascinating! Thank you all so much! I’m getting a bit exhausted by all the interpersonal theatre stuff..hence more writing. It’s the transition that’s a killer (as always). I love all your responses!

  6. August 7, 2012 9:33 pm

    I think I cheated. I got started in childhood straight out of playing make believe and just moved on to writing back and forth with my first co-author. It’s true that I wrote the majority of the Okal Rel saga solo, in the end. But by that time the characters were talking to me. And I got to read aloud the week’s work to my family and fans at home. So it’s all been a very interactive experience and continues to be so on my blog, Reality Skimming. http://okalrel.org/blog

  7. August 11, 2012 3:26 pm

    I think most writers are introverts. The really awkward thing is when you get a bunch of us together for a party and we all sit around waiting for someone else to start the conversation.

    But writing is not really a lonely activity, at least not in my opinion. You’re working with a bunch of characters, often based on real people, and if you’re doing it right you’ll feel like you’re interacting with a group. Because of my background in film and theatre, I like to picture myself as a director working with a bunch of actors. That moment when I stop, look up, and realize I’m actually alone in the room is kind of creepy to me. Makes me wonder about my sanity.

  8. Sandy permalink
    August 15, 2012 10:52 am

    The voices in my head keep me plenty company as do, like others have said, the characters I write about daily.
    Having too many people around offers too much distraction and I typically can’t focus as much as I need to.

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