Sunday, 18 November 2012

In Praise of Solitude (by Jane Flett, published in Oh Comely!)

I moved in with my boyfriend a year ago and it's still a surprise to wake up and not be alone. I don't mean this as a Mills and Boons hyperbole. I mean physically, tangibly, literally: not alone. Another person in the vicinity. Another person, all the time. Most of the time, this is a delicious, squidgy thing, full of red lightbulbs, baked bread and duck-down duvets. But it's been useful for my ability to write.

In the first moments of waking, I used to loll across the bedsheets, tottering through the glorious corridor on the cusp of unconsciousness. I'd remain very quiet so as not to disturb the flitting thoughts, hoping if I did they might seep inside. I'm a fan of the morning's first ideas and their peculiar, elbowy, dream logic. They make for good fiction. But they're never tangible. They dart in and away again like mayflies not long for this world: one chance to mate. One chance easily scuppered by alarm clocks or coffee or conversation. Or kisses. I'm not complaining. But by now, I thought I'd have written my book.

The truth is, I'm terrible at writing when company is an option. The thoughts - which if alone, I'd leave to percolate - bubble from my mouth long before they're ready. I no longer roll over ideas on my tongue like oysters; instead, I talk, I vocalise every thought that enters my brain, and notions that might have been interesting sink like soufflés at the behest of the oven door. In truth, the only time when I stop talking is when I am alone. And then I start to think. And then, eventually, I write.

This was why, last month, I looked at my wads of half-written stories and missed deadlines and decided to take myself to a writing retreat. I couldn't afford a real retreat, so I signed up to trade labour for accommodation. In the countryside near Reading, I ended up with a small flat annexed to a manor house, the keys to a trailer tractor, sprawling grounds of fallen wood to clear, and a door that could firmly close.

My phone had no reception and when they asked if I wanted the modem brought within reach, I declined. I didn't speak, aside from the occasional 'whoosagoodboy,' and I waited for the responses to all the endless chatter that bounces around my head. For the first day there wasn't much, except for a persistent earworm rendition of Disney's Under the Sea. Then, somehow, things started to slow down. My thoughts found other thoughts and coalesced to form stories. They could be as ridiculous as they liked because there were no eyes to read them.

At night, I stared at the four walls and wrote things down. In the morning, I lay supine at hypnotised until all the sleep had drained away, eking out that moment for as long as possible. Then I sat up and stretched and went looking for a rake. I'd like to say that I finished my book and it's with an agent now, waiting for the next thing to happen. Well, no. I did , however, rediscover the pleasure of solitude. The quietness of a date for one; the silence of a room without my voice always talking. I'm already planning my next trip alone. Maybe this time, I'll get things finished.

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