The Inner/Outer Writing Paradox (Or, From an Old Oak Desk in New England)

Where is your special place, the place where you block out the clutter and noise and distractions, and let your creative energy flow?

Mine is an old oak desk that my father used to use when he was a student in school, decades ago.  It’s solid, heavy, and not designed for the accoutrements of 21st-century digital technology.  But it’s my little oasis to think and dream and create.



My father actually passed the desk on to me while I was still living with my parents, a high school student with my eyes peeled toward the future, the promise of ten thousand tomorrows, of horizons to be explored and aspirations realized.  We are old friends, my desk and I.  The oak is scarred in spots, dented in others, victim to the long passage of time and the elements.  But the imperfections merely serve to make it more approachable, more real, more mine.



I’ve spent countless hours sitting at the old desk, pecking away at my keyboard, working through stories and ideas and inspirations–some of which took shape and became full-bodied manuscripts and novels; others that died a quiet, gray death, falling into the oblivion of the unfinished and uncompleted.



Through it all, one thing has remained constant–the desk, my sturdy oak friend, has always offered solitude and seclusion–it’s just me, tucked away in my den.  There are times, at night, the drapes drawn, the house dark and still, as if surrounded by a giant, soundproof glove, when I feel like the only person, the only creature, on earth.



Writing is a lonely task–sometimes, it seems, the loneliest of all, especially when the words won’t come, the characters won’t cooperate, the sentences and paragraphs refuse to flow into anything resembling a coherent whole.



And yet, and yet . . .

There is a paradox at work here.  From the solitude, a reaching out; from the stillness, a sharing of words and thoughts and ideas–sending them out, perhaps with confidence, perhaps with trepidation, to be read and contemplated and critiqued by others.  What was originally crafted in the quiet of a bedroom, the seclusion of a Thoreau-like woodland getaway, is now dispersed, as if by magic, away from the confines and isolation of self and out toward the vastness of an ocean of readers.



And yet still, there is a paradox within the paradox. I, like many writers, am a lifelong introvert.  I recharge my batteries when I’m alone, lost in thought and wonder.  I suppose I’ve become a bit more skilled at social gatherings through the years (though perhaps my friends may disagree!), but mingling among partygoers or making small talk in a group setting has never, and will never, come naturally to me.  Much like Mitchell Brant or Marc Kuslanski, I tend to feel awkward and clumsy in such situations.  When I observe my extrovert friends or family members, the effortless way they break into, or begin, conversations, I cannot help but admire them for their skills and panache.  They make something I struggle with look easy.



But the funny thing is–the majority of them would likely never dare to share the intense, personal accounts we writers do on a regular basis–often, to people we don’t even know.  A paradox, indeed, that an introverted writer feels the desire, the longing, the need, to become naked and vulnerable, sharing his feelings, fears, dreams, memories, foibles, passions, ideas, loves with anyone who chooses to read them.



It’s as if the solitary act of writing needs to shed its literary cocoon and fly out the window, looking for places to land.  There is value, of course, even in writing just for yourself.  Diaries and journals through the ages lend proof to this truth.  But within every writer’s heart, isn’t there a calling, as if a voice were whispering, to share the depth and breadth of her essence?  The ideas, expressed as words on a page, are disconnected from the whole, separate from the world, so long as they reside only in our computer hard drive or in a dusty corner of our dresser drawer.



And the world, as it were, may contain only a handful of readers–perhaps family members and a few close friends–or it may include everyone, the reach as limitless as our imaginations.  The power of the Internet certainly offers such reach.  We write a blog post in New England, or Berlin, or San Francisco, or Prague, and we, through the simplest of clicks, instantly share it across the globe.  And we, more than likely, wish for our words to be read, and, hopefully, appreciated and digested and thought about, by as many people as possible.



Perhaps writers, then, are, in actuality, closet extroverts?  Or, maybe more accurately, writers are people, and feel the same longing all people share–to be recognized, to be understood, to be heard.  We just go about it in our own way.

We try, “in utter loneliness,” as John Steinbeck once said, to “explain the inexplicable.”



So the next time you tuck yourself away in your room or your office or your secluded writer’s cabin in the wild, and you feel a pang of guilt that you’re not spending that time with your family or your friends (a feeling I’ve certainly experienced on numerous occasions), perhaps you can offer them (and yourself) a reminder.



Tell them that you have something inside of you, insisting, unceasing, that must come out, something so personal, so inherently you, that no one else on earth can produce it.  And that it’s a wistful thing, ungraspable, really, like a phantom flower that materializes out of thin air, but when reached for, vanishes like mist.  All we can do, while sequestered in our little writing corner, the door shut, the phone off, is try to capture that feeling, that idea, that insistence within us and express it to the best of our abilities.



And then, when we step back out into the light of day, share it with the world.



Thanks so much for reading!


47 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Lacole Foster Grant, Max Potential Power~ Life Coach!
    Dec 15, 2015 @ 16:37:23

    Wow!! Beautiful!!


  2. thelonelyauthorblog
    Dec 15, 2015 @ 17:43:32

    Loved this post. I identify with so much of it. The guilt of taking away time from my family, but there is a voice inside me. Characters and a story needing to be heard. Great post.


  3. Patrice
    Dec 15, 2015 @ 17:58:43

    Ah, so right, so real and so very true 😀


  4. kaytisweetlandrasmussen83
    Dec 15, 2015 @ 21:43:51

    A writer, like all creative people; painters, sculptors, etc., is destined to be a solitary being. It does tend to make us introverts, because if we aren’t creating, we are thinking about creating. A beautiful, thoughtful description of our craft.


  5. Mary J. McCoy-Dressel
    Dec 16, 2015 @ 00:31:37

    You never cease to impress me with your blog posts. Always hitting home. Rock on, Mike.


  6. Sherri
    Dec 16, 2015 @ 12:14:56

    Ahh Mike, you expressed what it is to be a writer perfectly. Beautiful…


  7. Stephanae V. McCoy
    Dec 16, 2015 @ 16:17:49

    Such an insightful, beautifully written post!!


  8. jjspina
    Dec 16, 2015 @ 21:17:20

    So eloquent as always, Mike! Thank you for this lovely post.

    It resonates the same with me especially about parties. I never liked them and feel like I am on display. I would rather sit at my computer and write. There are many thoughts, ideas, words and such locked up inside me just waiting to escape. Lol!

    Keep on writing, Mike! Love to read your stuff! Lol! Blessings of the season to you and yours! Hugs!


  9. Trackback: The Inner/Outer Writing Paradox (Or, From an Old Oak Desk in New England) | Donna Gwinnell Lambo-Weidner
  10. Donna Gwinnell Lambo-Weidner
    Dec 16, 2015 @ 22:24:35

    Reblogged this on Donna Gwinnell Lambo-Weidner and commented:
    Writers write. Right? Author Michael S. Fedison nails the paradoxical reality that fuels many of us…


  11. reocochran
    Dec 18, 2015 @ 03:20:43

    This was a fantastic revelation and worthy of a place in a great magazine like the New Yorker, Mike. You start with a memory, blow some misty whimsy with a little bit of snow crystals and lead us back to when you were young, awkward and pouring your heart out with teenaged angst.
    The reason you and many writers write is to be comfortable while the real world sends you into a private place to re-group. The way your father’s desk hugged around you, giving you courage to express yourself made such a great story, almost like a Christmas story without the star, but still imaginary and magical. 🙂 Hope however you spend the rest of December, Mike, it is wonderful. ♡


  12. Sam Red
    Dec 18, 2015 @ 18:35:25

    I totally resonate with what you write here 🙂 Joyful greetings, Sam 🙂


  13. joey
    Dec 18, 2015 @ 20:32:24

    That’s a nice collection of poignant vignettes — I could never write so eloquently on this topic; I do most of my thinking in the bathtub 🙂


  14. teagan geneviene
    Dec 21, 2015 @ 12:14:52

    The old oak desk sounds marvelous, Mike. You’ve just caused me to realize what might be the source of a problem that plagues me. (I don’t exactly get writer’s block, but I have a very difficult time disengaging from the stress of the real world — and it prevents me writing.) I don’t have a “special place” as you describe it.
    If I can ever get myself moved back out west, I will make a huge point of creating that space for myself (although it’s impossible here). Thank you. You shared a very helpful insight. Wishing you and yours a joyous holiday season and new year. Hugs!


  15. penneyvanderbilt
    Dec 24, 2015 @ 13:48:56

    Reblogged this on Ancien Hippie.


  16. Sonya Solomonovich
    Dec 26, 2015 @ 20:18:10

    I love the description of your desk! I just write anywhere I can put down my laptop 🙂


  17. patriciaruthsusan
    Jan 06, 2016 @ 07:20:26

    Great post. This was thoroughly thought out and an enjoyable read. Happy New Year to you and yours. 🙂 — Suzanne Joshi


  18. Joanna
    Jan 10, 2016 @ 13:45:09

    What a great gift that old desk was, becoming more a part of you with each day. Awesome post. Great writing as usual Mike.


  19. imaginenewdesigns12
    Jan 26, 2016 @ 07:01:44

    Thank you for liking “Vampire Penguin.” Yes, there seem to be many paradoxes in the life of a writer. I think writers notice the contradictions of life more than other people too. 🙂 Maybe it is our job to get the other people to notice what we notice through our ideas and words, but that will only happen if they are willing to see.

    I was laughing at myself when I read this post. When I first started college, I remember taking some personality test to help me figure out what kind of career suited me. The test labeled me as an introvert. At first it really bothered me to think of myself as an introvert. At the time I wanted to fit in and be like other people. Now I don’t care. I won’t be limited by a label, and there is nothing wrong with feeling more comfortable being alone or with just a small group of quality people. Being in a crowd of strangers can be just as lonely as being by yourself. Being with a large group of people who don’t share your values or interests can be quite miserable too.


    • The Eye-Dancers
      Jan 27, 2016 @ 20:26:41

      Very good points, Arlene! Sometimes the loneliest experiences are when you’re surrounded by others. Always great hearing from you.:)


      • imaginenewdesigns12
        Jan 31, 2016 @ 03:21:59

        Thank you, Mike. 🙂 Yes, I agree. Finding meaningful connections with other people is what makes life worthwhile, not how many people physically surround you. I don’t mean to sound like a snob, but you do have to be careful about the people you let into your life. Look what happened to me. I trusted the wrong person to be my employer, and then I ended up in the middle of an FBI raid.

        I enjoy hearing from you too, Mike. And thank you for liking “Barber No More.” 🙂

  20. Trackback: PT Costa Rica | perpetual traveler, China | PT, Costa Rica
  21. Anna Waldherr
    Oct 13, 2016 @ 04:52:48

    Well said!


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