Guernica Magazine

Does Great Writing Require Solitude?

A conversation between three authors on the tensions between family, the writing life, and what it takes to make great art. The post Does Great Writing Require Solitude? appeared first on Guernica.
Illustration by Anne Le Guern.

All writing is personal. How could it be otherwise? People spend what is most precious—their lives—doing it. Unlike most other activities, writing leaves a distinct and communicable trace of how one chooses to spend their time. But even then, not everything about the activity of writing finds its way onto the page. I asked three writers, who know one another, to talk about personal issues that don’t necessarily show up in the final draft, but that still shape their work. What challenges do they confront as writers? What are the ideal conditions for writing? And does family inspire or intrude on this experience?

John Kaag is the author, most recently, of Hiking with Nietzsche: On Becoming Who You Are. Andre Dubus III is the author of Townie: A Memoir, House of Sand and Fog, and, most recently, Gone So Long. Clancy Martin is the author of How to Sell and Love and Lies. These three writers shared a recent correspondence with Guernica. Although the authors didn’t arrive at any definitive answers, they wrote honestly—at moments humorously, at others heartbreakingly—about many topics, including whether the best art requires solitude or being in the world, and the struggles of doing creative work while trying to be decent fathers and husbands.

–Regan Penaluna for Guernica.


 JK, 1:32 AM

Dear Andre and Clancy,

Becca just woke me up with a bad dream. Carol sleeps deeply, and I don’t, so I get her. She’s back in bed and asleep, but I’m up, I hope not for very long—but long enough to write, I guess. This is how it goes these days. Okay—these six years. I sneak time when I can, and write between chores and errands.

Andre, I know that you have your version of a cloister in your house: a plywood box that you enter almost every day to be alone and write. Inspiring, really. I started to construct a house in our swamp this summer—thinking that I could, and should, have somewhere to escape—but the goddamn thing leaks and is buggy and dark. I don’t really use it. I’m making excuses. In truth, I’m probably too guilty to use it; Carol doesn’t have a

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