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Updated: Jun 29, 2020

When I was seven, I said to my mother, may I close the door? And she said yes, but why do you want to close the door? And I said because I want to think. And when I was eleven, I said to my mother, may I lock my door? And she said yes, but why do you want to lock your door? And I said because I want to write.

Dorothy West (1907-1998)

I STILL HAVE A SIGN outside the door of my study that says "Don't even think about it." For a long time there was another sign, maybe two or three feet below that one that said, "That means you too." I took the lower one down, realizing (at the time) my grandchildren couldn't read anyway. The point is, if you are going to write, you will, at some point, have to "lock" your door. If not literally, then figuratively.

There is a time to shut out the world. Sometimes that means every day. It is lonely. It is deliberate. But it is one of the costs of the craft. This retreat can be accomplished gently and without casualties, but you have little choice if you wish to write seriously. Consistency helps. A regular schedule.

The locked door is a metaphor of some stature, and for any serious writing, most particularly the long form (books). That's where I am most comfortable. I like the ramble of a book. How the light plays at different depths, as on a sea plain. The long form will ask things of your thought life, of your memory, your concentration, and so on, that the short form doesn't alway have to ask.

For me, the locked door has become visceral. You don't have to have the psychology for it, but it helps. I have always been fond of the locked door (our psychologies are one of the basic elements of wordcraft—most often negotiating through, in, or around them). The locked door is a necessary state of mind.

The locked door is a metaphor of some stature, and for any serious writing, but most particularly the long form (books).

Those around me, most particularly my wife, have to negotiate through, in, and around this metaphor as well, including those too-often pesky psychologies. As long as I am aware of that, we maintain (and she is better at it than I am) a peaceful, warm, and loving equilibrium.

On one side, the poet-observer-participant-god-is-in-the-details side, writing well demands a total engagement with life, observing the large as well as the minute detail and all the processing that follows. It means getting your hands dirty. It also means keeping them clean. It requires a one-on-one dialogue with life, particularly the messy parts. It means there is as much fascination in the ordinary as there is in the sublime.

On the other side, the poet-isolationist-loner-creator-god-is-and-will-remain-in-the-details side, it demands retreat, a complete recession from the world, as from one world into another, the one just beneath and beyond your immediate reach, that is, the world of your imagination. The writer's sanity lies in a healthy balance between these two states.

The locked door also means evaluating your need for social media activity, putting a governor (restraint) on the usual distractions that are now part of everyone's writing space. The idea is to keep the crowd outside. Keep opinion outside. You will let them in soon enough. Until then, you will have to let them wait. Great books make you wait, both in the reading and the writing.

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