Solitude and Writing

For me, writing has always meant a certain, daily, disciplined solitude. I get up, make an espresso, avoid the computer/phone/newspaper/child/wife, and head straight to my room, where I stay for at least five hours, if I’m lucky.

That’s a long time to be alone. And I mean, really alone–absolutely no contact with the outside world. But it’s necessary, if I’m going to write a poem, essay, or, especially, a novel.

If I were to check my email while making the espresso, or–if I had Facebook–read what my “friends” are doing at eight in the morning, I’d train-wreck the writing process. I’d get nothing done; because the world had invaded my mind, my thoughts, my ability to imagine, to create, and to put the words on paper that hopefully will come alive in the mind of the reader.

So, here’s a gauntlet I throw down to you, my students: it’s simple, radical, scary, and for some who are as addicted to social media as they are to meth, near-impossible:

Stay off the internet for 24 hours. And, for the really brave, make it 48 hours.

Now, this also means taking inventory of the importance of certain things in your life: for instance, email. I’m presuming that, as students, you have to check the email a couple of times a day for updates on a class (such as a class cancelation). So, I hesitate to say this, but, if you really think you have to do it, check your email. But heed this caveat: you know how hard it is not to click on another link, or swipe your finger just once to see what’s happening on Instagram. But, if you must check an email and have the intestinal fortitude not to surf, go ahead.

If you’re like me, who gets mostly trash emails, ones that I should really mark as Spam but am too lazy to do so; and if you can go a couple of days without looking at your email account, then go all the way–close the computer, ignore the pop-up notes on your phone, sit in a room for five hours, alone; live the rest of your life–eating, sleeping, hanging out with friends, studying, etc. Just, live. 

Once a student of mine–let’s name her Agatha Christie just for fun–took up this challenge–she went 2 days off-line. She reported back the next class, “You won’t believe it, Professor V, I got all my homework done and went to be at eleven o’clock!” This, from a woman who, every morning, picked up her phone the moment she woke and stayed on it for an hour and a half before starting her day.

A final, personal note: Sometimes I do break the five-hour silence, and get a hankering to check in on the internet world and see what’s going on. First the email, then the bank accounts; after that, oh, let’s see what’s in the New York Times, and Oh! A new YouTube of Stephen Colbert! From there, it just gets worse. I know why I do it :I am, for some reason, at that moment, deeply insecure. I’m looking for self-meaning through surfing, which doesn’t make any sense but hey, it’s like carbs–once you start eating those crazy-big chocolate muffins from Costco, you just can’t stop–especially during a session of deep self-loathing (another perk of the writing life. Writer’s insecurity, by the way, is another subject we’ll cover in class, down the road).

If you decide to take on this mission of a 24 or 48-hour techno-fast, tell us about it in class, or write a note here if’n you like.

4 comments

  1. Hi Professor Villatoro,
    I just want to say that I LOVE your blog. It makes me feel like I’m back at the Mount and in one of your classes, which by the way were my favorite.

    1. Jessica! I was hoping you’d stop by! I’m so glad you like the blog. I’m having fun with it. Let’s keep in touch.

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