Writing in Private

“Writing, at its best, is a lonely life.”

So said Ernest Hemingway when accepting the Nobel Prize in 1954. And yet, a few decades earlier (according to his recollections in A Moveable Feast) he wrote many of his short stories in public—surrounded by (and occasionally taking inspiration from) the strangers who came and went as he sat in Parisian cafés.

Here’s his account of settling down to work in a café on the Place St.-Michel:

It was a pleasant café, warm and clean and friendly, and I hung up my old waterproof on the coat rack to dry and put my worn and weathered felt hat on the rack above the bench and ordered a café au lait. The waiter brought it and I took out a notebook from the pocket of the coat and a pencil and started to write.

The Closerie des Lilas in Paris, which Hemingway called “one of the best cafes in Paris.”

And then there’s Chuck Palahniuk, who hated writing alone so much that he began taking his laptop to public places so he could work surrounded by people.

I’ve mentioned Palahniuk’s preferences for public writing in a previous post, which also mentioned how Harlan Ellison used to write in bookstore windows—a stunt first attempted (or at least contemplated) by mystery writer Georges Simenon in 1927.

Moulin Rouge 1927

Reportedly, Simenon made a deal to write a novel while sitting in a glass cage outside the Moulin Rouge in Paris. The resulting work was to be serialized in the French newspaper Paris-Matinal, but although the stunt would have earned Simenon 100,000 francs, he never went through with it.

Can’t say I blame him.

For me, the muse works best in isolation, and I trust that explains why for the past seven months I’ve been pretty much absent from the blogosphere (not to mention Facebook, Blue Sky, the platform formerly known as Twitter, and others).

It isn’t that I haven’t gone out, only that, when I did, I didn’t talk about the work. I’ve always found talking about work in progress to be counter-productive, a viewpoint shared by Robert Lee Brewer, senior editor at Writer’s Digest:

I get excited about an idea and start writing and developing and building it bigger and bigger. The story appears to be writing itself, and I know nothing can stop the momentum. That is, until I make the mistake of telling someone—literally anyone—about this great juggernaut of an unfinished story.

Of course, I could have blogged about other things. But therein lies another concern. After spending a day writing, the last thing I need is more screen time.

So that’s where I’ve been. And now that the book is written and turned in, I’m ready to get back to posting and engaging in some public writing events that began last week with a TEDx talk (more on that in my next post) and will continue this week with a trip to visit my agent in Milford, PA (the town that has been called the citadel of science fiction).

Arrowhead was the Milford home of James Blish and his wife, literary agent and science fiction writer Virginia Kidd. The Virginia Kidd Literary Agency has been operating continuously at Arrowhead since 1965.

In addition, in the weeks ahead, I’ll be doing panels at this year’s Nebula Awards in Pasadena, the North American Science Fiction Convention in Buffalo, Confluence in Pittsburgh, and other events that I’ll be posting about soon.

I’ll also be back in LA for development meetings on a film project related to the newly completed book. The previous round of meetings took place last October, where the production team of Jonathan Sanger, M. Jones, brother Christopher Connolly, and I discussed the story that has kept me occupied for the past seven months.

Jonathan Sanger, the 21st Century Scop, M. Jones, and Christopher Connolly at a development meeting last October.

All of this is to say that although writing may be a lonely life at best, when the work is done, it’s good to get out and mix it up with the world … at least until the next major project sends me back into solitude.

But what do you think? Are you a private writer? Or do you like talking about your works in progress by sharing daily word counts and summaries of your recently drafted scenes? Let me know. The comment box is open, as are the social media links at the bottom of this page.

Next up, I hope to share some thoughts on the challenges of finishing major writing projects, complete with some strategies from Mary Shelley and Robert A. Heinlein.

Until then, scop on!

Images:

  • Ernest Hemingway writing at his campsite in Kenya – Public Domain.
  • The Closerie des Lilas in Paris – Arts and Thoughts.
  • Moulin Rouge – Rare Historic Photos.
  • Arrowhead – photo by Charles Benjamin Blish, August, 2004.
  • Minute-Men development meeting – the 21st-Century Scop, October 2023.

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Latest Comments:

  1. The cinematography alone draws me in. Thanks for the heads-up on this one, Larry. And best of luck as your…