Do I want to go into the woods and write?

The short answer is no.

I subscribe to several writers’ magazines. I enjoy the articles and interviews. My eyes glaze over when I see ads for writer’s retreats. Many of these–some you pay for and some you compete for–feature cabins in the woods for writers who want to get away from it all and do nothing but write.

That’s supposed to be a writer’s ultimate dream, well, not counting having a bestseller, lunching with J. K. Rowling, or watching a blockbuster movie with your name in the credits.

The first thing that comes to mind about writing in the woods is that it’s not hard to live in the woods and that if a writer needs to live in the woods in order to write, then s/he would live in the woods all the time. The whole idea of traveling across country for 500 or 1000 miles (which is a lot of hassle) to stay in a special in-the-woods house seems like the worst thing I could possibly do because it would add pressure to the work.

Our family has rented vacation cabins in the woods. They’re often cheaper than hotels near tourist areas. We have a nice setting, plenty of space (especially when kids are around), and a place to use as our HQ for going on sight-seeing day trips. Plus, we can cook a lot of our meals there cheaper than restaurants, play games, and enjoy quality family time.

That’s relaxing. But to go to one of those same cabins, set up my computer, and say, “Okay, Malcolm, write something” pretty much guarantees that I won’t be able to write something. I don’t want to get away from it all to write because I really need “it all” to be able to write. That is, I write in my natural setting in between taking out the garbage, washing dishes, going to the grocery store, etc.

Sure, it’s harder to find time to write if one has to commute an hour to and from work, bring work projects home, or has a noisy family life in a small house. And, if that’s where a writer is and if s/he needs to escape for a week or a month to get any real creative work done, I’m okay with that.

It just doesn’t work for me. Neither does going to a college or a writer’s retreat where one has quiet time to write but is expected to meet other writers daily for specified amounts of time to talk about writing or to meet with students and give seminars about writing. Talking to other writers about writing bores me because I don’t care about everyone’s pet theories any more than they’re going to care about mine. I guess such discussions are supposed to help us grow. I’m overly cynical about those kinds of discussions because, well, I have no idea how I write because I just do it. So, I want to stay at home and not go someplace else where I have to talk about it in exchange for sitting in a cabin somewhere on the grounds of the retreat’s fields, woods, beach, or swamp.

On the flip side of the coin, what if I tried out the cabin in the woods or the writer’s retreat and got addicted to it? If that happened, I’d probably no longer be able to write at home. Well, there’s a built-in excuse for writer’s block as well as a justification for spending more money on renting cabins in the woods than my books can possibly earn.

It just seems easier to write where I am.


Coming soon, “Widely Scattered Ghosts,” a collection of nine stories. To learn more, click on the cover picture.