Constructing your citadel

Travel | 17 Sep 2019

A great deal in life is accomplished through silence and solitude. While collective input might be necessary at the polishing stage of a creative piece, initial incarnations need to be shaped in isolation.

Joyce Carol Oates likens this stage of the process to pushing a peanut across a dirty floor with your nose. Stephen King argues that first drafts should always be completed "with the door closed."

This is the draft you write for yourself, while later versions are for an audience. In order to do this, many who write for a living have needed to create a citadel: a protected space where creative solitude is fostered.

This space needn't be grand, it just needs to have a door with a lock.

While British writer Martin Amis (born 1949) keeps business hours on weekdays, he writes for only a small portion of that time, perhaps from 11am until 1pm. This he considers to be a good day's work.

He chooses to maintain his privacy by driving himself to an office less than two kilometers from his London apartment.

Italian writer and academic Umberto Eco (1932-2016) also had no set routine, although this is partly because he believed it's impossible to have a schedule.

During term-time, while working at the University of Bologna, he argued that he was not the master of his own time as someone else was always deciding what he should be doing.

Even outside of his scholarly commitments, he was never that devoted to a schedule. At these times he confined his work to brief interludes during the day; sometimes while in the lavatory, when swimming in the ocean, during gaps between meetings, while in the bathtub or on the train.

Some days he would write from 7am until 3pm, stopping only to make a sandwich, other days he wouldn't feel the need to write at all.

When at his holiday homes in the hills near Urbino, Eco did attempt a more structured day, beginning by opening his computer, glancing at him e-mails and perhaps reading something before beginning to write.

Later in the day he would stroll into town, having a drink while reading the paper at a bar before returning home.

He would then watch TV or a DVD until 11pm, before managing a little more work until 1am or 2am.

While in Milan, Eco maintained a library of 30,000 books, with a further 20,000 in his holiday home.

These seemingly endless rows of books (videos of the labyrinth still exist online), were dotted with various workstations, adding layers to his solitude.

You don't need to build something so elaborate.

However, if you do wish to create, you will need some stronghold of the mind. Closed spaces, in their own way, allow us to see farther.

If you have any questions about our column, or the issues raised within it, please e-mail them to us: enquiry@englishlearning.edu.hk

Brighten Youth Education Centre

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