Thursday, 1 August 2013


Do you need a Brooker break too? Journalist Charlie Brooker will not be writing his weekly opinion column in the Guardian for a while.

Private Eye said that Charlie wanted the comments box below his column turned off but that his editor wouldn’t agree. Charlie himself says that it’s because he wants a break from contributing to all the jabber, jabber, jabber he hears around him. Seeing how swiftly inane remarks appear “argument” in comment boxes, I have some sympathy for Charlie’s point of view.


Then, yesterday, I glanced at Mslexia online. A contributing blogger was having a bad time of it with Week Four in Julia Cameron’s  “The Artist’s Way” Course. This is the infamous Reading Deprivation week. For seven days, you do not read at all, not even cereal boxes or emails. Also, I’d guess (in a more modern edition) twitter, face book or blogs like this – no, please don’t go! - or, I suspect, the whole world of audio-books, podcasts and all sorts of screen watching.

Julia’s Rule recognises that reading can be a form of escapism and act as a block to your own creative thoughts. (After all, the book is subtitled a Course in Discovering and Recovering Your Creative Self.) So – having trawled the net a bit -  it seems that, people get so desperate to fill the reading gap that they turn to the kind of practical tasks that leave the mind free for other thoughts. 

Both Charlie and Julia are responding to the same problem. Just now there are so many email demands, so many distractions and so much emphasis on staying connected that turning away feels somehow rude or anti-social, no matter how much we’d like some quiet back to get on with our work.   

We want to know about other people, don’t we?  We need them to connect with us, notice our platform? Yes, yes, but not all of the time. In fact, for quite a small part of the time.

Writers and artists of all kinds need the solitude that feeds them and their work. The solitude can come in many forms: the silence of a rented cottage, the peace of a writing shed, the laptop among the friendly buzz of a café, the studious atmosphere of a quiet library or the security of the kitchen table while the family is busy or asleep. We need somewhere where the daily nags and niggles or calls to meetings or requests to respond won’t shout louder or more strongly than our own ideas. We need time to be in our own deep space, time to get the words down.

As Charlie and Julia suggest, wherever that necessary space is – the place where your words rise to the top of your head – do all you can to find and use it. Be determined, even if it is simply creating silence by shutting a book and avoiding social networks for a while.

Ssssh! That’s better.

Wishing you good words!

Penny Dolan



Pippa Goodhart said...

It makes so much sense, and yet is so hard to do! I searched for quiet and solitude just for an hour or so, and instantly became aware of a hissing tinnitus in my own head that I couldn't escape from!

Joan Lennon said...

I agree with every word, and Pippa's as well - and isn't it strange HOW HARD IT IS to give ourselves the thing we so desperately need! The equivalent for my cat is sleeping, and she gives herself over to this heart, soul, and four furry paws for hours of every day. Why can't I be like her? (I don't mean asleep, though that's quite nice as well. I mean, utterly and exclusively engaged in the thing that makes my fur glossy.) (Which would be writing.) (I feel this metaphor may have become over-extended, but I hope you know what I mean.)

Why are we so strangely stupid?

adele said...

Agree on the whole but know that if I had to have even a single day without reading, I'd go mad...quite loony and that's speaking as an avid tv watcher. Just could not do it! I think having spent eight years at boarding school helps one to work in a certain amount of noise/distraction etc.

Dianne Hofmeyr said...

lovely, wise post Penny. I never did all those things artists should do in the Artist's Way but I always intended to and they were good reminders to tune in to yourself.

Penny Dolan said...

I think that was/is my method, Di! Lots of useful reminders.

Adele, I agree, but reading is so much easier than writing. most of the time. Like viewing a sport instead of participating, if it eats up too many hours. Having said that, there are times in life when reading can be the only way (or the best way) to keep going.

Yes, Joan, the fur definitely feels tousled, grubby and ditinctly ratty after too long without good writing times.

Pippa, that kind is quiet is definitely not nice or wanted. I do hope the tinnitus was a temporary patch.

Note. After I'd written this post, my computer had to be taken to bits and my workroom dismantled. I can tell you this did NOT give me good silence as I was so full of frustrations and annoyance and irritation, including worry about whether the scheduled post would appear. Aggh! No! Silence when I want it. One can never win, but today I am back in - for now - my peaceful room.