The Lonely Cabin Myth: Writing in the Middle of Real Life

How many times have I heard it, or said it myself? "I wish I could retreat to a little cabin in the woods, and just write."

Have you said it, too?

The stuff of life: work, relationships, and schedules, conspire to steal time that we'd rather spend writing. We lament that our manuscript lies unfinished, that words are added to it at an incremental pace. If only we could write in solitude. Surely then, the words would fly from our fingertips, and we'd be as prolific as James Patterson.

But here's the thing. There have been a few times when I've had the wonderful opportunity to get away for a weekend just to write. No kids. No phone. No schedule. No interruptions.

And few words on the page.

There's nothing more frustrating than having the time to write, and feeling like you've wasted it. I learned two things on those "writing getaways". One is that I write more when I have to fight for my time to write. The other is that I need to be in touch with real life to inspire my writing.

Fight to write. When I'm in the middle of driving the kids to an activity, or running errands, or fixing dinner, I often wish I was writing instead. The mild frustration I experience actually makes me think about my story more, than if I were sitting in front of the computer screen.

While my schedule keeps me away from my chair, I end up brainstorming scenes, or ways to deepen my characters. Of course, this manuscript meditation requires me to jot a couple notes so I won't forget what I dreamed up. And these notes start my engines the next time I have the opportunity to write. No more staring at a blank page.

Having a busy schedule makes me appreciate the bits of time I carve out to write, and forces me to actually use those stolen moments. Moments like waiting in the orthodontist's office. During a child's sports practice. The minutes I'm waiting to pick them up, because they're "not done yet".

I'm learning to snatch these moments for writing whenever they appear, because no one is going to hand me an entire writing day. It's up to me to find them.

Real life, real writing. As much as sequestering yourself away sounds appealing, pretty soon your writing suffers. Being alone has advantages, but solitude rarely generates new and different ideas.

It's when we rub shoulders with people of all descriptions, attitudes, and accents that our character descriptions get more colorful. It's the daily news we hear that inspires side plots and twists. It's the situations we experience, the world of nature we pass through, the sounds that hit our ears that encourage ideas for our stories.

So, save the cabin retreats for the editing process. Embrace the crazy life that surrounds you. It's all fodder for stories.


  1. But I LIVE the life of the little cabin in the woods getaway. If you go to my blog - - you'll see a picture of my house and read a few true stories of my life out here. Having a few less of life's distractions isn't a hindrance to my writing, but you have to get used to it. Now, my biggest hindrance is the internet - go figure.

  2. You are so right, Anna! I should have thought of you. I've looked at your wonderful pictures with envy--and wondered how many novels I might have completed like you did.


  3. Oh, Debbie. I can so relate to this post! I dream of a vacation in a cottage where I can hear (not necessarily see) the surf in the distance... But, I also find I thrive on those few scenes written in my always present notebook while waiting for the kids and, yes, even in the bathroom (TMI). I read, write, think, plan constantly and as life moves forward, so does my dream...bit by busy bit. I missed that Anna was from Alaska. I grew up there...but in the "bustling" town of Kenai (no internet back them!)

  4. Sounds like you're making tons of progress by "writing in the cracks". That's the way to do it!

    I was thrilled to get 600 words into my WIP yesterday. Hoping for more today.


  5. I think we do what we have to do while we do it. I write when I can as well - and it makes me focus faster and know that I only have a bit of time to get something valuable down. It is a great skill to have that moms like us cultivate.

    I still think there is something to be said about the cabin in the woods - it's just not my season for it. Let's talk in 18 years.

  6. You're right, CJ. We work with what we have, and sometimes get pretty creative with it! You can build your cabin next to mine, if you don't mind the company!



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