“Without great solitude, no serious work is possible.” ~Picasso
When I was a kid growing up on a cattle ranch in the panhandle of Texas, I had a tumbleweed for a friend. Seriously. Miles from the nearest neighbors and school, our home was surrounded by thousands of acres of natural buffalo grass, cattle, and yes—weeds. To keep my tumbleweed from blowing away in the never-ending wind that swept the plains, I tied it to our back porch with a piece of yarn.
My mother negotiated a deal with the public librarian in our closest town: we could check out all the books we wanted as long as we brought them back each month when we made the trek into town for groceries. So, while friends were sparse during those days, my inner life became rich and fanciful. (How else could a child enjoy the companionship of a tumbleweed?) My parents and teachers often called me to task for daydreaming. Little did they know that I was a young writer in training.
Writing is a lonely business, but that loneliness can be countered with the right friends. (And many of these friends should be people.) Find fans—or at least one—who love what you write; mine are my adult daughters. Fans don’t have to be writers, but it’s helpful if they love to read, and it’s best if they like to read in your genre. The fan role is to encourage you along the way, cheering you on when you want to give up. They read your work, tell you they love it, and then answer your specific questions about characters, plot, and scenes to tell you how they think it could be improved. After a fruitful visit with these friends, you need to return to the solitude of your writing space and revise.
Then take your work to another group of valuable friends: your critique group. This group of friends must be made up of writers. They will give honest feedback on the work; pick apart grammar, plot, and character development; scribble “show, don’t tell” in the margins; and sometimes leave you wondering why you ever attempted to write in the first place. But what’s most important is that these friends will help you improve your writing.
Showing your work to your friends requires that you have written something. It means we writers need to shut out our friends and abandon our tumbleweeds on the porch so we can enter the solitude we need to complete the serious work referred to by Picasso. Most of us don’t have the luxury of an office or studio to write in. We eke out a creative space in the back bedroom, den, or basement. Some people have an extraordinary power of concentration and can write in coffee shops or while sitting with family in front of the television. I once saw a seasoned writer sit in the hallway at a writing conference for hours, surrounded by people, tapping away at a keyboard. (No, I didn’t stay to watch him; I merely observed him every time I came out of a session.) I admire that type of focus, but I don’t have it. I write in the back bedroom at a desk surrounded by photos of friends and family, motivational greeting cards, and inspirational sculpture and posters. I light candles made by my daughter before beginning my writing sessions.
So it’s okay to embrace your tumbleweed, but beware the prickles. It can be fun—dare I say great fun—for writers to mingle with friends in coffee shops, in online chat rooms, or on social media talking about their characters and ideas for all the wonderful books they’re going to write. But at the end of the day—or better yet for me, at the beginning—we must write! We must be alone to create our masterpiece. Fight for your own space within the house; hang up that sign that reads, “Do not enter—murder and mayhem reign behind this door.” Balance friends and fun with the solitude of work, and do the work until you finish. You’ll be glad you did.
Who are your writing friends? Where is your creative space, and why is it perfect for you?
Margaret Mizushima is the author of Killing Trail: A Timber Creek K-9 Mystery to be released December 8, 2015 by Crooked Lane Books. After earning a master’s degree in speech pathology, Margaret practiced in a hospital and her own rehabilitation agency, and now she assists her husband with their veterinary clinic and Angus cattle herd. Her short story “Hay Hook” was published in the 2014 Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers anthology Crossing Colfax. She enjoys reading and hiking and lives in Colorado on a small farm where she and her husband raised two daughters and a multitude of animals. She can be found on Facebook/AuthorMargaretMizushima, on Twitter @margmizu, and on her website.