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Habits of Successful Screenwriters: Be Comfortable with Solitude

Writing is a lonely life, but the only life worth living.
—Gustave Flaubert

Writing is a lonely business. As a writer once said, “It’s like volunteer- ing for solitary confinement without knowing the length of your stay.” Writers must spend a lot of time alone, but because they tend to be introverted by nature, they find more psychological comfort in a book or in writing than in social interactions.

This is not to say that if you’re not comfortable with your solitude, you won’t be able to write. One of the many surprises in chatting with our mentors is that many of them are actually extroverts who force solitude on themselves in order to do the job.

Ron Bass: I really prefer to write alone. Generally, when I have staff meetings, we talk about story and criticism, but I don’t like to write with somebody else sitting there, because I’ll talk out loud and I’ll pace around. I can be physically active when I write. I usually sit but I also have standing desks wherever I go so I can write standing up, which enables me to pace around and charge back and forth, move my arms. It’s a physical process, not just an intellectual one. I cross things out and I write bigger or darker depending on the emotion. If I’m in the park, I’ll pace around. I must look really peculiar to people, so I try to find a place when I’m relatively alone, and certainly where I won’t hear another human voice.

Leslie Dixon: In order to do the job really well, you must spend prolonged periods of time in total isolation. I loved it for the first few years where I had total control of my time without anybody telling me what to do. But I still haven’t figured out how to strike a balance between spending enough time by myself to produce a better grade of work versus not becoming a hermit.

Tom Schulman: You need to create solitude so that you can hear the voices, and you need a willingness to live in the world of the story for long periods of time, forcing yourself into the world of the characters so that you can believe they exist. Many spouses of writers understandably complain that we’re not living in the present.

Robin Swicord: A friend once gave me and fellow writers a personality test, and we all turned out to be introverts, which I don’t think is a coincidence. Something like 20 percent of the general popula- tion is introverted, but I think most writers probably fall into that cat- egory. They feel very comfortable with solitude. They’re probably bet- ter in one-on-one situations rather than dealing with lots of people. I know that when I’m in a room full of people, I tend to fall back as an observer.

Excerpt from The 101 Habits of Highly Successful Screenwriters by Karl Iglesias.