Writing is a solitary pastime.
Picture this: the words are flowing- pouring really- out of your imagination and you're frantically trying to keep up. Or imagine that you're the only one who knows this story but it will only reveal itself in little glimpses even to you so you have to grab onto wisps of it and somehow turn it into something solid. You have to coax it out one painful word at a time. Sometimes even that one word won't come. And all the while real life is distracting you or coming between you and the keyboard.
Writing is a solitary pursuit because it demands so much focus.
That's probably why writers dream of retreats in secluded places. If real life could only be held at bay so we could focus. Yet every writer I talk to dreams of these retreats as a group event, which seems like we don't know what we want. Fellowship or seclusion? I think what we seek in this writer's nirvana is understanding more than anything. We want to be around people who get it when your mind is so deep in layers of your story that you don't talk or notice that they're there and won't be offended, or people who will respect that do not disturb sign on your cabin door. But we also want to gather around a table when we're not writing so we can talk about writing with someone who gets it.
Living with a non-writer is difficult at times, even when they're supportive. They truly don't understand the drive to write. It's not as if you can explain it to them.
Writer's retreats do exist, but I know few people who have been to one. We feel guilty enough about stealing our writing time. Imagine the guilt of taking a weekend or a whole week just for yourself! just to write? Oh, the madness! Women are especially conditioned to believe that's too selfish. It isn't, but the force of guilt is strong within us.
Since we don't ever dare go on retreats, we do the next best thing - we meet online. What did we ever do before the internet? I live in a city of seven million people and I can't find a little writer's group to meet in person, but I have a community spread across the world that I can reach out to. Isolation is a choice now. That's one strength of the internet over meeting in person. You can mull over an idea for months before you reply to someone, and the conversation will still "be" there, waiting for you.
The writer's discussion that currently intrigues me has been going on for several years in fits and starts. Bits and pieces of this dialog jump around between Twitter, FaceBook, and blog entries on many sites, so it's not easy to keep track of where the conversation is or even what it is. I've mentioned parts of it in this blog, and you can find more of it on Remittance Girl's blog. (Don't know about her? Although I loathe the idea of muses and will mock writers who go on seriously about them, she's the closest thing I'll ever have to one. She's more like an intellectual slap of the gauntlet across the chops than a demigoddess in diaphanous clothing.) What we're talking about at this rather leisurely pace is literary erotica and the language of sensuality.
I'm not sure if we're even after answers in this languid, meandering discussion. I don't think there's such a thing as resolution. The questions might be all we ever have, and they might be enough. At least they're being asked. One point in the future though I'd like to meet the people who have contributed to this dialog. Maybe somewhere off in the woods, a cabin with a big communal room and a table big enough to hold the weight of the conversation. Although we'll probably talk about anything but the art and craft of writing. I've learned that from hanging around with writers at cons. Writers gossip. We talk about the business, publishers, and agents. We talk about Doctor Who and trashy TV. Because writers write. Our best words and thoughts are mulled over, crafted, and revised in our own time, not blurted out over dinner. But the retreat idea is still wonderful. After all, who else but a writer would stay up half the night debating modern portrayals of Irene Adler with me and not think it weird that we're so passionate about a fictional person? Oh, that's right. Readers would totally get that too.