Wednesday, June 07, 2006

The Writer's Cave

Yesterday, I read an interesting piece on the National Geographic website about a prehistoric underground cave discovered in Israel. Cool in and of itself, but the cave is also home to eight never-before-seen animal species, including a few crustaceans, some land invetebrates and some bacteria. They evolved without eyes, because who needs eyes when you live in an underground cave? (Darwin smacks us on the head.)

Fact is, those new beasties would've been less interesting if they'd mingled with the rest of the world; they probably would've become another crab or been chewed up by dinosaurs eons ago. Time and solitude are what enabled them to evolve into their singular sensation selves.
Time + Solitude = Unique Product
Hmm. Might we improve the Unique Factor of our own work by holing up in a writer's cave?

Take a second to consider your own writing habits:

TIME: Do you give yourself ample time to craft unique characters, concepts and plot points; to evolve your voice and to edit your work? Remember that it took Audrey Niffenegger four years to create the fabulously unboxed Time Traveler's Wife. (Missed our interview with Niffenegger? Read it here!)

SOLITUDE: How much do you mingle with the outside world--with people, the 'net, phones, etc...--when you're trying to develop, solidify and craft unique thoughts and concepts? Are you careful with critique? Too much critique, too soon, can be like a hundred pickaxes having their way with the chunk of marble that is your work-in-progress. End result: dust. And dust isn't very original, I'm afraid.

My personal cave needs to be comfortable, and there should be chocolate lining the walls; after all, I want to encourage myself to visit often and for lengthy periods of time. It needs to be free of distractions, given a wide berth by children and husband alike. (Not that I'd mind sharing my space with a few prehistoric crustaceans. As long as they remain quiet. And caged.)

My cave also needs to be kept free of other people's books.

I know not everyone is like this, but I can't read fiction--at least not much of it--when I'm trying to write fiction. If I'm writing about heart disease or pilates or whatever, I'll welcome a good book; otherwise just toss it onto the bedside pile, please. Maybe it's because I'm a slow reader and the other writer's characters seep into my skull and settle there like a stain. Or maybe it's because another writer's voice or story structure may distract me from--or muddle with--my own plan. (An aside: work that piggybacks off another too closely isn't just boxed, it's boring...and rarely well received.)

The only other point I want to make about caves is that it's important to emerge from them eventually. Stretch, socialize, read a book, know the market. As National Geographic's new critters illustrate, too long in any cave can lead to sightlessness, and that's a very bad thing, indeed.

How about you? Cave or no cave? Books or no books? Welcome mat? Clock? Reading light? Oreos?


Blogger Tess said...

Hmm, definitely a cave for me. I'm a total hermit. Can be alone for days before it really bothers me with only my dh for company when I'm not working. And the cats.

I read fiction while I'm writing, just usually not stuff set in the period I'm working on.

12:14 PM  
Blogger Therese Walsh said...

That's a great point, Tess. If you read fiction, it's probably best to read fiction that's quite different from what you're writing.

10:47 AM  

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