White Noise, Solitude, and Writing

As I have mentioned, one thing I enjoyed about the last six weeks of working on Finch was not being connected to the Internet, or to much else. It’s been a long time since I’ve had solitude. The lack of it can eat away at your center. In a writer, it can shorten attention span, make it difficult to get into that deep, submerged place that your power comes from. Instead of allowing things to come into you, you are continually projecting things out from you, if that makes any sense. It will seem as if you are in a sense accumulating more power, but in fact you are diminished because nothing is flowing into you. It creates fatigue, and a certain amount of irritation.

Now that I have perspective and more balance, I can also see how much white noise I’ve allowed to accumulate around me. Except it’s not really white noise–it’s more of a dark noise, a noise with a substance and texture like an electric shock or sandpaper. It’s a barrage of positive reviews, negative reviews, good vibes from a contact made, bad vibes from a contact made, anger and irritation and satisfaction and fondness and love originating from a hundred glimpsed or participated in electronic conversations. Taken separately, it’s harmless enough, but all bundled together it equates to a hundred received ideas trying to get into your skull.

The total immersion on Finch has allowed me to “reset”. When I start to seriously get back into various writing projects next week, I’ll again be off the internet in the mornings. I’ll use afternoons for nonfiction. I’ll use evenings for edits to Finch and to read the Penguin Classics. A highly structured schedule will be imposed on my days…in order to have the time to write effectly. The 60-in-60 continues to be useful, too, in making me stop and focus on something serious every day. Although I’m sure I’ll be sick of it some days, I also welcome the ways in which this exercise makes me become patient.

Whenever I’m at the end of either writing a book or a tough, long campaign for a book I’ve written or edited, I begin to turn away from it–it’s just a husk, a skeleton, dry and brittle–and I turn toward this kind of space that is not yet filled or complete. It’s dark around the edges. It might contain a horizon, or it might just be a field of stars. There’s a sense of something coming down from above, from a distance, at a great speed, but so far away that even if I saw what it was it would appear to be moving slowly. I can sense the need to become receptive to what’s coming.

But now, as a full-time freelancer, I have both more and less freedom. On the one hand, I am writing all the time. On the other, I am writing all the time. I also have an addiction to the internet, and I have to be careful to manage my time there.

So I find new and unique ways to recharge, and I rely more and more on what would seem from the outside like a straitjacket of a schedule. But from that rigidity comes freedom.

(Adapted from an entry that appeared on the old blog a few years back.)

8 comments on “White Noise, Solitude, and Writing

  1. mark says:

    it was some composer, perhaps stravinsky, who said something like “be ordered in your life so you can be wild in your work”


    actually, i apologise for the shabby referencing and paraphrasing.

    i liked your finch excerpts. the style really worked for me.

  2. D.R. says:

    I have experienced an overload of what you call dark noise. It was followed by a depression, actually. Instead of the dark noise metaphor, though, I’ve thought of it as having a finite ability to handle a limited number of “open channels.” Mostly the idea of a “channel” centers to me around a communication medium: a blog one writes, a site where one participates in comment threads regularly, an email account (each conversation is a sub-channel, and I experienced an overload on one of my main email accounts also), a collaboration on a project–but a channel could be any relationship, really, though I think particularly an online one, because the other side of the channel is not feeding back into you directly, if at all.

    I think this kind of overload is a sign of the times, and I wonder whether the younger generation will evolve with the ability to handle far more open channels. I went over my limit, experienced burnout, and ended up letting some people down from over committing.

    One thing that’s tricky is that the channel stays open in your consciousness even when you’re not paying attention to it. In fact, the fact that you’re not paying attention to it at any given moment creates an extra stress. I’ve started training myself to be careful of opening new channels. And online, I’ve found myself becoming more of a passive consumer of online channels that don’t know I’m listening.

    I’ve actually long marvelled, Jeff, at your ability (and Ann’s too) to keep open so many channels. I’ve also observed that you appear to be getting more skilled at controlling them, keeping the level just right.

    Connected to this topic for me was an overload of too much attention spent in the virtual world of the internet, and also mass media in general, particularly TV. The “real world” became more foreign to me, and that took a toll.


  3. D.R.–I really appreciate your comment here. I totally agree with you re channels. It’s tough sometimes. We keep too many channels open and we have to retreat completely from all of them. The key is the recognition that too many channels are open before a fuse blows. I’m always somewhat afraid of getting burnt out and not regaining whatever it is that keeps the imagination continuously putting out ideas and images. This in particular resonates: “One thing that’s tricky is that the channel stays open in your consciousness even when you’re not paying attention to it. In fact, the fact that you’re not paying attention to it at any given moment creates an extra stress.” This is one reason I am not writing much fiction while doing the 60 in 60. It started as an interesting exercise, something to cleanse my mind. It still is doing that, but with the linkage to the feature, the Guardian thing etc., it is now much more of a “performance” than I’d planned. And so I have to be careful now that this open channel also doesn’t become something that burns me out.

    This also pertain to my Booklife book–if I credit the quote, may I use some of your comment above?


  4. D.R. says:

    Quote at will; I am flattered. I’ll even blather some more.

    The verb “regaining” that you use is most apt to the situation after the fuse blows. There is a process that happens, hopefully, of regaining.

    Switching gears…

    Setting aside for a moment the usual debates about personality tests, the Meyers-Briggs (sp?) personality types offer an interesting perspective here: on one of the four dimensions measured, people are either “I” types or “E” types. “I” stands for Introverted and “E” for Extroverted, but the terms don’t have quite their usual meaning in this context. “I” means that one is energized, rejuvenated by alone time; conversely, time spent with people (and on open channels, I believe) are a drain on energy. “E” means that one takes *in* energy from the company of others, and alone time is draining.

    One’s tolerance and desire for open channels, for dark noise may have something do with one’s proclivity as an I or E. As I’ve aged I’ve definitely learned that I have “I” tendencies, and I have to be careful with open channels. (I still think dak noise is a good metaphor, just with a different perspective; dark noise comes from everywhere, not just the channels you’ve explicitly opened, and has an element of randomness to it; without the dark noise, and some open channels, we have no raw material for either life or art…).

    There is another perspective in your post and comment that is also useful and powerful: the cyclical nature of things–to every season, etc. It’s natural and normal to sometimes be in a state of taking in, sometimes of putting out, sometimes producing, sometimes incubating. These cycles are baked into nature itself. It seems to me that some of your exercises and techniques are designed to harness these natural cycles in order to keep a constant flow of some kind going. Art is very much a craft at that point, and in some ways like the process of an endurance athlete.

    The product of your energy is not just a burst, but rather the result of a deliberate discipline. Your physical and mental ability to keep up a steady output are also based on your discipline. But when what you do requires inspiration as well (controlled bursts?), not just perspiration (to put a little Jesse Jackson spin on it), you’ve got to design things into your process to let the inspiration in while you keep the wheel spinning. Seems to me that you’re on to something.

    Then the next question is, how the fuck does Ann do it? :-) I think we’ll need a new science to explain that.

    Blah, blah…I’m supposed to getting some craftwork done myself this afternoon…


  5. Derek says:

    This is a great post, and a great idea. And it centers around something I’ve been struggling with as well.

    I think we all need to “unplug” for a while and regroup and ground oneself anew.

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