I always wanted to be a writer. I don’t think I ever doubted or questioned that I would make a living writing books. Looking back, it doesn’t even feel like a choice — it was just the path I knew I had to walk. I was a loner as a child and I started writing my first book at already as a teenager. While other kids were desperate for acceptance and just wanted to be part of a group, I was sitting in my sound-insulated loft, writing. I didn’t even tell anyone what I was doing during the first 6 years of my creative writing career. Needless to say, I didn’t have many friends. In fact, none. And I was quite happy with that.
I am now in my 40’s and I have been working in solitude for about 30 years. I have produced 17 novels during those years, and I write every single day. I love writing, and now that I have a family around me, I think the solitude is even more important than ever. I need solitude like other people need food and water. Without it, I can not write. But as long as I have my enclosed, quiet space, I know I can sit down and be back in the «zone» every single morning. I consider this to be a gift. Some writers struggle a lot to get into that zone.
I get lots of emails from people who want to write a book, people who ask for advice. Some are sincere, but in most cases, I get a feeling that this person is not really interested in writing a book. What she/he wants, is to have written a book. And there is a big difference between those two cases.
I also get asked a lot about writer’s block. And I used to think I was immune. I wrote for more than 25 years without ever getting infected by that disease. Then, suddenly something happened that caught me off guard and I woke up emptied of creative energy. It was actually some rude remarks from an editor who I once trusted, that made this happen. It was obviously highly unprofessional on the editor’s behalf, and I get the impression some alchohol could have been involved, but these things can happen. (Maybe I was just lucky it didn’t happen to me when I was a young writer. It must be hard getting such feedback if you are just starting out as a writer.)
My writer’s block lasted about a month, and I never worked with that editor again. Then, just a couple of days ago, I had a conversation with a guy who had opinions about my main character — that being in a book he hadn’t even read — and I remembered that time I had writer’s block. And more importantly, I remembered how to avoid it. As a teenager, I started out seeking solitude, and there was a reason for that. Instinctively, I felt that as long as I keep things close and private, I will always be able to sit down and write. And I do not involve other people. I do not tell anyone what I’m working on (except my agent), and no unfinished manuscript leaves my office. Obviously, there will be editing and proofreading etc, but that comes after the main creative writing phase and should not be targeted towards changing, but towards making the book better on the book’s own terms. And even then, I only listen to people who have showed that they know what they are talking about, like my agent in the USA.
Trust is magic ingredient here. There are people I trust, and there are people I don’t. Norwegian publishers have a bad habit of sending out anynomous «evaluations» from freelancers who they hire to read manuscripts. I never read those «evaluations». I learned early in my career that they are usually not written by very skilled people and quite frankly, I know I’m not the only one who throws them away. Yes, this may shock Norwegian editors, but I’ve been throwing those «evaluations» in the bin for more than 20 years. And even when I was just starting out, I didn’t really trust them. I do, however, have my own team of professionals whose skill and judgement I trust. They always read my manuscripts and I often take their criticism into account.
So, creative writing is not only about creativity. It is also about protecting your creative process, your «zone» and your personal space. I write full time, which makes it easier, I guess, but even if you only have a few moments each day, I would still say that protection of your creative process is essential. So if you want to become a writer, get out of that café. Turn off that tv. And embrace solitude.
-Bjørn Andreas Bull-Hansen (copyright)
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