GETTING away from it all has not been recommended recently for writers. "Plunge into life," advise all those vital types who found it worked for them.
Of course, the "life" they're referring to usually turns out to be the big-city, sophisticated, company-of-your-peers life. (Occasionally they'll settle for the alternative life style of your choice, but it must be colorful.) Daily immersion in the pool of urban artists, with regular sprinklings of publishers' parties and writers' conferences, sets up a continuing sacrament of communion with the like-minded. In general, that's one thing it takes nowadays to succeed significantly in writing.
Out here in Cumberland, Maryland , we don't get a whole lot of publishers' parties, and not many writers' conferences, either. Western Maryland like-mindedness focuses more on high sports and the local vast unemployment problem. This particular area is short on alternative life styles, too, and the most obvious color around here happens on the mountains in spring and fall.
So not many writers live in Cumberland these days. It really is next to impossible to try to make a living by writing outside the busy intersections of the author-agent-publisher network.
Presumably, one advantage to small-town living would be reduced pressure, but nowadays the smaller towns have as much going on as the bigger ones, differing only in the sophistication of the activities. If you're involved in community affairs, if you have a family, if you try to keep up with what's going on in the outside world, you have no more time to write than big-city writers, and less professional stimulation. Above all, you lack the dynamic of presence--your own presence in the literary marketplaces, the cocktail parties, workshops, offices, grimly questioning editors' neglect of you, or simply reminding them that you might be just the one they're looking for to write "Away From It All." Postal and telephone connections just can't make up for the lack of personal ones.
On the other hand, it's easier to live a "wholer" life in Cumberland than many professional writers live in the big city. Less hemmed in by professional preoccupations, you write, but you may also work at another job, raise your children, attend a high school concert or hear the neighbor's kid play the flute, and learn to live on equal terms with the kind of ordinary people artists talk about a lot but know very few of and write about even less. You begin to appreciate the subtler, muted shadings of average, church-going blue-collar folks, who never appear in current fiction because it takes more genius than most writers possess to make such people sound interesting to publishers spellbound by the market for eccentrics.
Writing under such circumstances becomes, not what you do, but what you are--a part of the whole, seamless and undivided. Your acquaintances may or may not know that you write. Even for those who do, your professional qualifications aren't the first thing that come to mind when they think about you. Your personal ones are. The only time that's bad is when your occasional deadline and the church covered-dish supper run neck-and-neck. Otherwise (and in the face of all the modern self-serving theory among artists about their own separateness and supremacy) that can only be good.
Of course, it all might change if, against the odds, you were to become delightfully successful as a writer. But I don't think I have to worry about it, and usually I'm at peace with that.