Why A Writer Should Be Locked Up

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As a writer, you’ve got no excuse not to write – unless you have four toddlers crawling around your living room, creating havoc. I suppose that I can be forgiven for not writing because firstly, it really is a hobby, and secondly, I’m spending most of my time cancelling appointments, and worrying about the rest of humanity.

But this week-end, away from the crowded beaches of Scheveningen – they will be deserted, won’t they? – I have promised myself to continue to write about the existential dilemmas of my main character, Sergei Romanov, without hesitation, deviation and editing. The latter being the most important.

I admit that I have been lax of late. I have gone from writing 500 words per session to having no sessions at all. And that’s not even writer’s block because my story is mapped out. I just have to write.

Are there distractions that are stopping me, apart from half the world going down with the flu? No. My son is who he will always be – connected by an umbillical cord to his Playstation. My wife is also faithful to who she is, spending more time on the phone to Peru than she has ever done. Just lucky that I’ve got a phone subscription.

No, the real reason why I’m not writing is because I’m not locked up somewhere – I mean, really locked up, away from the Internet and the front garden.

 

I have often thought that the best way to live for me would be to settle down with a lamp and what it takes to write in the heart of a large, isolated cellar. They would bring me my meals, and they would always drop them off far from my place, behind the outermost door of the cellar. Going to get my meal in a dressing gown, passing under all the arches, would be my only walk. Then I would go back to my table, eat fervently and get back to work immediately. – Franz Kafka

 

French literary prodigy, Marcel Proust, lived for 2 years as a recluse, in a second floor apartment in Paris. Cutting himself from the outside world, with not even daylight to indicate that he was still alive, he blocked his bedroom from outside noise, by covering the walls with cork. Not only did he manage to forget about the vicissitudes of the outside world, but also about inserting comas and full-stops in his “In Search For Lost Time.”

As writers, we must all be jealous of Boethius, who fell victim to roman ineptitude and preconceptions. With nothing but pen and paper, enclosed with the 4 walls of his prison cell, and awaiting a certain death, he managed to write a philosophical masterpiece – “The Consolation of Philosophy.” What would he have said if he had known that his “Lady of philosophy,” dressed in white, who appeared in his prison cell, would also appear, under the name “Ashina,” in my microscopical attempt to write a fiction that will never be read, 2000 years later?

Of course, there is a difference between voluntarily locking yourself away in a cellar, and enduring a lockdown in order to limit the rampage of a virus. We live in troubled times and, whether we read it or write it, literature is here to save us – at least those who can read, and those who think they can write.

Like with all things in life, there are no guarantees that being secluded from the outside world, and being all by yourself, will turn you into a better person, yet alone writer. French philosopher, Gilles Deleuze, wasn’t too impressed with how solitude transformed Robinson Crusoe from a bourgeois capitalist, into a cast-away who just recomposed the outside bourgeois world, based on capitalism.

Be that as it may, the fact remains that even writing blog posts is a lonely business. With nothing but a motionless keyboard separating you from the central area of the computer screen that remains blank so long as you haven’t thought of anything worth writing, the absence of an “other,” defies you to write.

No excuses, then. No distractions. And I won’t even bother turning my head, because there’s nobody there. It’s just me, the passing of time, and – if I feel like it –  the apparition of Ashina.