The Writer's Cabin: Soliciting Solitude

by Ashley Williams 

 

‘There are voices which we hear in solitude, but they grow faint and inaudible as we enter into the world.’

Ralph Waldo Emerson

 

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You don’t have to be an author or a poet to want your own writing cabin; there's a part of us all which craves the bliss of temporary solitude. However, in your particular case you're not talking about want anymore. You've come to the conclusion that you need to find your own space. Yes, from now on space has to be defined; boundaries marked. It doesn't have to be a fancy cabin; in fact, you'd make do with the broom cupboard if you could be certain of remaining undisturbed therein. You need your own space because you're going to write a book.

For years some of your friends have been encouraging you to write, having seen tantalising glimpses of your ability. Sue said she suspects you to be sitting on potentially huge unproven reserves of untapped talent, while Andy thinks the novel you've been 'going on about forever' will explode out of your chest like the Alien baby unless you start putting pen to paper. If you have your own space, at least you'll be able to give it your best shot, and you're hoping the new sanctum will facilitate your creative endeavours.  

So you're standing in front of the bathroom mirror, rehearsing what you're going to say to your partner tonight before you both settle down to watch The X Factor. You know the most efficacious approach: calm but candid, relaxed yet resolute. But what should you say? I know, you think to yourself, I'll say: 'I'm going to have my own creative space whether you like it or not, and if you and the kids don't leave me alone while I'm in there, I'm going to pack my bags and check in to the nearest mental health facility.' Yep, that should do it! 

The discussion went well. You're going to have your own creative space. You've even agreed on its location. You're too excited to concentrate on The X Factor, so you get up off the sofa and take a peek inside your new den of inspiration. You don’t know what this room is called but 'a study' would be really stretching the definition. You're convinced that a burglar regularly enters your house but only ransacks this room. You put the kids’ toys, bags of old clothes and books you’ve never had the time to read into the remotest semblance of orderliness. At least you can actually see the desk and chair now. You sit down and wonder what it must be like to be a full-time writer.

So now it’s Sunday morning. You're twirling a pencil through your fingers as you stare out of the window. You imagine Bertrand Russell’s view of Snowdon and the Glaslyn estuary from his retreat. You wonder what Dylan Thomas could see from his writing shed (before he got through his daily crate of gin). 

Your view of the neighbour’s garden fence isn’t optimal so you're looking around the room for visual stimuli, but neither the instruction manual for a car roof-rack, nor a half-naked, one-armed Barbie doll with red paint on its neck is doing it for you. You wonder if the latter is what first inspired Stephen King. It isn't long before a kernel of an idea for the opening line of chapter one starts waving at you through the mist. But then, just as lead connects with paper, the army invades your fortress; one has a noisy gun, one has sticky fingers and the other is crying. 

That's when reality slaps you across the face and tells you: 'Either you find somewhere away from the house or forget it!'

'But where?' you ask.

'How about that wooden shack?' replies reality. 'The one at the bottom of the garden.'

'Yes, I could convert the potting shed ... but then I’d have nowhere to put the lawn mower and all the other stuff.'

'Forget it, then!'

'No, wait! I’ve got it! ... It’s time to get a writer’s cabin.'

Scholarly interest in the world’s greatest writers usually consists of analysing the historical context as well as the personal relationships and life experiences which influenced their work. However, it is often claimed that the huts, shacks and cabins to which they retreated also played an integral role in their artistic development – and ultimate success.

Perhaps for many literary fans, a peek inside the places in which their heroes and heroines lived, breathed and worked is akin to catching a glimpse of their very souls. In modern times the creative cocoons of legendary scriveners have become popular tourist spots (perhaps even a fetish for some). But surely, for most writer's cabin aficionados, they've become a culturally potent image of the possibilities enabled by the marriage of a magician’s pen and semi-detachment; a marriage which has the power to create brave new worlds. Indeed these unions have done just that, many times in the past.