The dichotomy in the writing life

Every summer I take off with my tent and drop off the radar for a while. That’s partly why I haven’t been blogging.

I almost always head to the far North, where you feel like you’re in the middle of nowhere and there’s no-one around and there’s nothing to do except walk. Usually, at some stage, it occurs to me to wonder if there might be something wrong with me that I choose these solitary times in solitary places.

But this year I had one of those moments when you know everything is just as it should be.

After 10 days in the Faroe Islands, which lie between Shetland and Iceland…

In the Northern isles of the Faroes

…and a week in the campsites of Ullapool….

From the top of Stac Pollaidh

…and Durness…

Balnakiel beach

…I stopped off at Lotte Glob’s sculpture croft on my way to Scrabster to pick up the boat to Orkney.

The sculpture garden is extensive, full of little trails with sudden nooks and vistas, where the visitor is constantly surprised by weird and lovely little treasures. It was raining hard  but I wanted to see it all and not miss anything, so I just let myself get soaked.

Weird little objects that seem to spring organically from the peaty Scottish soil

I thought how wonderful it felt, this magical garden in the vast emptiness of the surrounding landscape, and it made me think of the part of the creative process where we leave the world behind and venture alone into the spaces of our mind, looking for unexpected treasures.

I love that time, just as I love my summer wildernesses. I need that feeling of independence and adventure you get when no one else is with you and you don’t know what you will find.

Now I’m easing myself back into the more sociable side of my writing life, reconnecting with my writing friends and networks, planning workshops, organising schedules for the books I’ve currently got in production and talking about ideas for new ones. I need that sociable time too.

That’s the dichotomy in the writing life; writers spend so much time all alone, but the drive is a deep desire for connection. After my wonderful travels in the North I’m always happy to be back here blogging in the House of Dreams.

Do you have a favourite kind of holiday? Do you think it reflects something of your nature too?





18 thoughts on “The dichotomy in the writing life”

  1. Love the pictures. And made me realise that I do need to do this – go off radar for a bit and take some time out alone. Now all I need is to carve out that space. Hum!

  2. I was just thinking about you the other day, Jenny! I love the mountain stream photo! To wake up to that every day! Wow!

    I believe every person – regardless of their professional ambitions – have an innate desire to run away and hide. But writers and other artists are especially prone to such dreams. We absolutely have to be alone at some point – to refresh and rejuvenate; to let our brains heal from the chaos of daily life; to figure out that fragile balance between responsible adulthood and creative determination. When I visited Ixtapa, México on vacation in September 1991, I had the sudden and overwhelming desire to remain there. It’s a truly isolated place; devoid of heavy commercial tourism, such as Americans who expect the locals to speak English. I didn’t have kids or pets nor did I have much in the way of financial obligations. Alas, I had to return home.

    But, aside from a bad sunburn, that small Pacific coastal village had a pleasantly unexpected effect: it jumpstarted my creative ambitions and made me realize I was not destined to sit at a desk or in a cubicle and slave over hot keyboards for someone else.

    1. Hi Alejandro! That last paragraph is it exactly for me. There are always ‘pleasantly unexpected effects’ – sudden insights and ideas, and renewed creative energy. Mexico must be amazing – rather a different order of wilderness than anything we have on this side of the pond, I should imagine!

      1. Yes, México is different in so many ways. Part of my ancestry lies with the region, so I’m tied to it on a personal level. I wrote about my trip to Ixtapa on my blog nearly 6 years ago.

        My parents were worried for me, and I understood why. I didn’t have any trouble then, but now, I wouldn’t dare visit. The violence is unimaginable – and unsustainable. It’s sad because México is the homeland of some of ancient North America’s greatest and most advanced societies.

        1. Thanks for the link, Alejandro – I really enjoyed reading – and for sharing my photo in fb. I googled Ixtapa and read that it ‘feels timeless and makes a great escape.’ It looks a bit warmer than the Faroes!

  3. You pick excellent places to drop off the grid for a while. Durness and Ullapool and most places around that stretch of the west coast of the Highlands are incredible. I think wanting to get to those solitary places is very natural, essentially, going to places like these is the definition of natural almost. Thank you for your blog, I’m enjoying it.

    1. A definition of nature – yes! I love all the islands too – inner and outer Hebrides, Orkney, Shetland – those places never fail to work their magic. I’m really glad you’re enjoying my blog – I’ve followed yours as well.

        1. You’ll love them! Tiree for water sports, Coll for going off the grid, Colonsay amazing beaches and nice hostel, Orkney archeology, Shetland – my favourite! Avoid Skye in the school hols. Outer Hebrides – yes, obviously. Mull, Ben More, I’ve dreamt about but not walked up yet. Islay, great campsite on the beach. Jura, wild – I blogged about reading George Orwell in the hotel there. And great news this year, the Northern Isles have finally got road equivalent tariffs on the ferry, like the Western Isles, so it should be cheaper to take the car. So much to enjoy! 🙂

            1. Re Skye – me too. To be honest, I’m afraid the same could happen to the NC500 in the next few years. It was pretty busy when I was up there in the Summer, though that might have been partly because I was there in school holidays this time – I usually choose June or September. And I completely agree with you about Jura and 1984 – such a bleak take on society, written from outside, in the most inaccessible place. Re-reading it there was pretty special!

              1. I felt the same the last couple of years going around the Highlands. Most of the locals I speak to seem to be of the opinion that hte NC500 will lose its novelty and things will be back to normal soon. I hope soon. I have a piece about the NC500 I’m waiting to put up that discusses this, the affects of the circuit on the area–mostly negatively, unfortunately, imo–but its a way off from me putting it up. The Highlands needs the sense of remote wildneress and sparsity to maintain the beauty it has now, I think, at least in part.

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