Helena Fitzgerald of Griefbacon shares advice on where solitude fuels productivity and avoiding loneliness
I love Helena's answer so much. Solitude -- or the lack thereof -- is my greatest obstacle as a writer. I once made the mistake of renting an apartment in France after a breakup to write to "get away" from obligations. Instead, I became a tour guide for every friend who had always wanted to visit me in Europe. I gave of myself to others until I no longer had a room (or money.) Lessons learned the hard way.
Still working on the 5 AM thing.
“In most of life it is necessary to be polite; in writing it is necessary not to be.” 👏👏👏 Well done!
To avoid loneliness I remind myself who I am, where I am and why I am. I was so fortunate in many ways that I often forgot I was alone. Being born on May 20, 1950 was my first fortunate observation in the late fifties. I had escaped WW2 by five years, though the knowledge of it broke my heart. May 20 is the last day of Taurus going into Gemini. I was but three hours from the cusp. That got me to imagine the Gemini twins as part of my psyche. They and Taurus the Bull, collectively became my best friends within. Pretty pathetic on the outside but extremely fulfilling within. I was 14 in 1964, prime age for the British Invasion starting the Beatles. My mother, a devout religious person with the highest fear of God, completed the framework for my artistic future. The things I’ve since discovered were blessings beyond my imagination. I’ve written three books and am on my fourth. None published yet but I understand majestic supernatural anomalies. An old friend catching up said for me to keep aware of talking to myself, that I’d be crazy if they start talking back. I replied, “But they were the ones who told me you were okay.”
Loved this part ♥️ Spot on:
“ Working with other people makes me nervous, whether sharing my work in a writing group, or receiving edits on an essay. But these are the only ways in which my work has ever improved, or remained interesting to me.”
When we actively choose solitude, it seems right, but being forced to be isolated is where I find the discomfort lies.
I love solitude as a writer. For that reason I usually write at night. It’s wonderful to just listen to the hum of silence. But I do need community so I venture out. It usually helps me shift focus, enjoy company, and think of other interesting things to write.
I loved this. I fully agree that as a writer, it's about finding balance. In this case between solitude and interaction, but at times also between living and reflection. A lot of things in life are an artful balance. The writing process is the same. Thanks Helena for writing and sharing this!! :)
I also get bored with the conversations I have in my head. Solitude is necessary for focusing but we need to disconnect from our own thoughts and 'get out there' for our sanity.
I relate to your comment about small talk. I feel the same way. My subsstack has been dormant for a while. I need to get back to writing some.
Someone once told me there's a difference between solitude and loneliness. Solitude, we are comfortable, and just happen to be alone--our human interaction meter is filled, our relational or emotional needs are met. With loneliness, we are not comfortable, our needs are unmet, and we happen to be alone--we feel loneliness more because (almost) everyone, (almost) always, wants these needs to be met.
Isolation can be both. Isolation is more about the "alone" part of the equation, while solitude or loneliness describes the "needs" part of the equation--to me, anyway. I related a lot to being a lonely kid (even as an adult) who didn't know how to make friends. For me, writing was a way to release the pressure--I had all kinds of ideas and thoughts floating in my head, and between journaling and noting and trying to write fiction, I was able to let everything spill out and keep my focus elsewhere. Solitude is definitely something that helps grease those wheels. I haven't quite gotten into a writing "routine" since starting my substack, but I can feel it starting to take shape--I will have to be mindful of how isolation plays a role in that, and monitor my relational and emotional needs, so when I do sit down to write I can do so not because I have to let something out, but because I *want to*.
Great article, thank you! God bless!
I do my best writing in a coffee shop or outside. Not solitude but focus is what it gives me. I have solitude at home with my two cats.
I understand that other people are not inclined to solitude either as a habit or have found themselves devotees of a God who Himself oversees the isolated renunciates of India and is the architypical model for such a life pursuit (though He is accompanied by His Shakti and the wonderful Nandi, so its not true isolation) and so let me begin by saying, I realize my opinion on this will be somewhat more of an outlier as is the case in almost all things I have any opinion on at all (ask me about baseball teams, I glaze over as I have no opinion on that. I save up my energy for more niche pursuits to rave about).
Personally, I cannot imagine writing in anything but a state of isolation. Sure, I find a select group of individuals stimulating to discuss ideas with and share in a collective process of their refinement as much as the next pandit, but when its time to praise Ganesha and put the quill to the parchment, having anyone else around is just going to be a series of distractions that range from the human desire to interact with one another to the moderation of my beserker tendencies, by which I can write dozens of pages in a day if not more but mean staying up writing for 4 days in a sitting jittering from the caffeine tablets I take to chewing like candy when its time to really put the pedal down. Beyond that, the best person to bounce ideas off of that I know is myself reflected in the mirror or as I tend to my succulent garden that I hardly forget to water.
Though what I think would be best, acknowledging my own flaws in my style as well, is to take heed of the ancients suggestion about dharma when one writes. What they said was that if something is your duty, or you feel so compelled to do it as to find yourself unable to do anything but, then do it to best of your ability but with *dis*passion in its performance and without any lust for the fruits to be yours for doing it. They weren't saying this as a band of Debbie Downers from remote ancient days with no application in our times, here in the West. The guiding wisdom, as well as the specific recommendations, are still good sense uttered from ancient times and remembered for being so exceedingly wise in formulating it as such.
The reason that we should pursue our duty, which we can just safely assume most interested enough to read this article feel in some way is something akin to a duty charged them for whatever reason, is because when one feels too much passion than one looses control of the mind and will become off-balance. In war, the context by which this advise was repeated to one Arjuna by a Sri Krishna in a Gita you must have heard of, this means that if too passionate and thrusting yourself into battle you are much more likely to be lanced in your side by an opponent you did know was waiting to give you that jab for your focus was too constrained. Writing, if at all worthy of even subtle comparison, is at its worst a war with the self, no spears are involved (hopefully, though we all have our methods). Nonetheless, there is something to be gained from this analogy if we apply it to an analysis of the writing of the psychedelic scions like Leary and McKenna. To read anything those extremely passionate men wrote about using entheogenic substances to expand outside of one's perspective limitations is to be shown in excruciating detail a stream of minor topics they had explored fully in sequence while witnessing with horror that they never quite strung it all together into the bigger points they had all the arguments for already. Dispassion provides the space between oneself and the topic that enables reflective thought, itself making for a duty done more completely to the best of one's ability.
The reason we should not want for the gains to be had from the duty, either before, during or as those fruits are forced upon us by the cheering multitude has different reasons depending on one's temporal positioning in relations to this duty. Before discharging the duty to write, we should not set ourselves up to be disappointed by anticipating the cheering multitude, as it is commonly said its never wise to count chicks based on the unhatched lot of eggs we have under the basking light. We also do not want to be distracted by this lust for fame and fortune during the duty's performance as it is itself a highly distracting set of thoughts as anyone whoever bought a lotto ticket should be fully aware. Once it is done, to expect for its performance will lead us to pigheadedness with others, fuel our misanthropy already quite high if one watches any amount of cable news and worst of all cause us to inflate the value of the duty we have performed beyond what is reasonable, thus distorting our perception of everything else in the process.
If one is to write, then I advise praising Ganesha as is the custom for such beginnings, then writing with a sufficient enough barrier between you and the prose you are adding to the corpus of English already recorded as to be critical and analyze it fully as you do it. If we are to write alone, then write alone and appreciate the calm that tends to provide. If instead we are to write in a house full of screaming children, with an elderly parent stoking the flames of the chaos that resides in those children by spoiling them, during the holidays which are being hosted at that location and days before the arrival of the rest of the kinfolk, then with the same approach of dispassion, lack of concern for the laurels to come and gratitude even for the opportunity to have such a mighty challenge for its a clear sign the Gods see you capable of overcoming as much, then write. Do not allow yourself to fall into the trap, that even I will at times fall into despite my great efforts not to, of spending too much (or really any) time fixating upon how not optimal the conditions for such a duty to be fulfilled are.
A mantra of sorts that I have found one of the greatest mercies the Lord of the Meeting Rivers has ever allowed me is the simple phrase, "It is what it is. I cannot change the past, only work now in the present, little by little, to shape the future. It is what it is." I say this to myself almost as often as the actual mantra that I use as my primary means of prayer and meditation, it works well for me and maybe it will help someone out there, but if it doesn't that's ok too. I did what I felt compelled to, which the Bhagavad also makes clear is to do what pleases the Divine and considering humanity's fickle natures, that's the only pleasing I can do that really counts as its Subject is far more stable in reasoning and forgiving in nature.
May the Gods smile upon you all, may the Lord Ganesha clear the obstacles and writer's block from all of your paths. May you and your loved ones be safe, in good health and pleasing to your ancestors. Most of all, may the Lord Shiva look upon you from Mount Kailash in His meditative survey of the lands below and smile on all of your efforts presently while keeping His third eye tightly closed. Another of my English mantras I use a lot is, "it can always be worse," which if you find yourself lonesome, is worth reflecting upon and considering what worse would look like. I leave you with this quote, from a commentary on the Vijnana Bhairava Tantra called "the Radiance Sutras":
"Rivers of power flowing everywhere.
Fields of magnetism connecting everything.
This is your origin,
this is your lineage."
- Swami Kalidasa Shivaratri
What if writing makes you feel isolated and alone, but for the sake of one's sanity, they must write?
Some worthy perspectives, for sure.
Griefbacon, what can I say? I was alone when I tried it and didn't have anyone to tell that it was much more filling and delicious than shit burgers.
This works whether one is isolated or not with both fiction or non-fiction: Simply erase part of the last sentence you've written for that day. Your mind is hardwired to be working on it, so that you won't be able to wait for the earliest time to get back to writing some more. Do this every time. If your last sentence is so golden you don't want to erase it, write another line and erase part of it.
If you're stuck and haven't written in a while, go back to where you left off and erase part of the last sentence you wrote.
Your last sentence might change almost every time. Who cares because you're on your way!
IOW, you've just conquered the biggest challenge to writing for most writers and done it effortlessly.
author, "The Doctor Who Cures Cancer" and "Is There a Question That Heals Instantly?"
My folks always reminded me how timid I was when younger. They put down my introverted ways and forced me to become more extroverted. In between two brothers, and with a full social schedule pressed upon me, writing was my way to keep my sanity. I chose not to marry and have kids. During all my years, I kept wanting to be alone. I'm effective with others and yet, I kept wanting the space to hear my own thoughts and not just respond appropriately to others. I had to force myself to be alone. At first it was uncomfortable. Then, the more I was alone, the more permission I gave myself to be introverted again, the more alive I continued to feel. The pandemic came at the right moment for me. Finally, an excuse not to have to go anywhere. The longer I luxuriated in the solitude, the more exciting going back out into the world became as it was a constant message from the universe. I live in a condo in a building where there are really good people also living. I live in a community where people are interesting to interact with and people watch. Even when I'm alone, I never feel alone. I'd say I get lonely for about 3 minutes a month. I have friends from childhood and seem to make nice connections where ever I go. I'm glad I listened to the part of me that needed the solitude. I'm glad I worked through the discomfort to find the gifts therein. This was wonderful. Thank you for sharing and thank you for Substack to see how powerful this topic is for us!