Is Writing Reclusive?

All writers must shut themselves away at some point to let words flow from fingertips freely, but is the craft of writing really that lonely?

During an interview, Sara Paretsky, author of the V.I. Warshawski, was asked what she thought was the best thing, and the worst thing, about writing.

The best thing about writing is you get to explore a thousand different personalities, all by going deep into your own soul. The worst thing? You have to be alone to write… Being alone is very painful. An unsolvable conundrum.

Sara Paretsky

“Writing, at its best, is a lonely life.”

Ernest Hemingway

Both authors are absolutely “right about write.” Their answers are ones that are all too true for every author. Writing is solitary work because it needs concentration, quiet and commitment. Being alone to write a novel or short story requires intense alone time. It’s essential to your craft. There are times I have emerged from a day writing to find out that the day was warm and pretty and I missed seeing it!

Because your writing doesn’t always show immediate results in the form of financial gain, something we have all been led to believe is the only thing that validates our work, we are tempted to see what we are doing as non-productive.

Writing is often a frustrating business combining long hours alone and little instant recognition. In our hearts we know it is not non-productive; the gain, while not always financial, is always personally and creatively rewarding. We are compelled to write no matter what, and when we have successfully completed a story, it is a joy, an endorphin high!

When you tell people you’re a writer, there are two main responses.

  1. Awe & concern: oh wow, I couldn’t have such an unstable income.
  2. Concern & belittlement: that’s not a real job, anyone can write.

With the world so unwilling to understand those who produce art, is it any wonder they withdraw from it to act as an outside observer?

Some argue writing is purely a lonely act.

Writing, for the most part, is a solitary endeavor. I’ve been a professional writer for more than 25 years. During that time, I have had days and weeks where the words flowed and I was entirely focused. There have also been days and weeks when there was so much going on that I couldn’t concentrate enough to put two simple sentences together.

Susan L. Stuart

Writing is a solitary task for the most part. However, there are many times authors, poets and playwrights come together to share work; literary festivals, open readings, signings, book/anthology launches and so on. There are also writing careers which rely solely on collaboration between writers themselves or writers and other craftsmen for the production of the work e.g. radio plays, stage plays, anthologies, creative degrees, workshops etc.

Look at the work spaces of many famous writers, and you’ll find them typing away in basements, coffee shops and rooms at the tops of their houses or backs of their apartments.

The American poet Raymond Carver, for example, often wrote on a notepad in his car.

Many famous authors and poets struggled with mental health, to name a few that took their own lives: Sylvia Plath, Virginia Woolf, David Foster Wallace, John Berryman…

Can that really be blamed on career choice or the life of a creative? The correlation is proven but to what degree is it their craft that causes suicide to be doubly as likely for writers?

Avoiding the loneliness:

1. Create A Positive Workspace

2. Invest in Modern Technology

3. Take Frequent Breaks

4. Get Out of The House

5. Interact with Others in The Same Boat as You

“I never found the companion that was so companionable as solitude”

Henry David Thoreau

As a writer — or an artist by any means — self-expression is your fuel. It’s what keeps you going. It’s your purpose. In the past few years, writing has been my fuel, what has kept me going. My purpose.

Writers may no longer be able to escape to a remote island or a shed at the end of the lane, but shutting down technology can produce the solitude, or boredom, needed for the creative process to begin.

To quote from Hemingway’s Dec. 10, 1954 acceptance speech on winning the Nobel Prize in Literature:

“Writing, at its best, is a lonely life. Organizations for writers palliate the writer’s loneliness but I doubt if they improve his writing. He grows in public stature as he sheds his loneliness and often his work deteriorates. For he does his work alone and if he is a good enough writer he must face eternity, or the lack of it, each day.”

A writer, too, is vulnerable if he or she spends too much time alone. So take care to cultivate connections with family, friends and readers.

Forms of Social Writing

Writing is hard work, and it’s usually done in a quiet place, away from others. It might seem odd to hear it called a “social act.” However, most experienced writers and writing teachers call it just that.

If you think about it carefully, you’ll realize that, with a few exceptions (diaries, travel journals, and grocery lists among them), most writing activities are intensely social. Even relatively simple writing activities, such as taking a telephone message, sending email, or writing a personal letter, involve conveying a message to another person as clearly as possible. The writer of a two-word telephone message, for instance, ought to consider whether the person reading the message will understand that “call Gail” means call Gail Garcia and not Gail Evans or Gail Chen.

More complex writing activities, such as writing a business proposal or a progress report, require writers to think much more carefully about how their readers will react to what they’ve written. A memo to a manager outlining reasons why a promotion and a raise are good ideas is clearly shaped by a writer’s concerns about his or her readers. Even decisions made by writers of poems, short stories, novels, and plays are affected by what readers know and how they are likely to react.

In much the same way, readers are engaged in a social act. Knowing that you wrote a particular phone message, they will contemplate what you most likely meant by the words “call Gail.” A manager, reading a memo requesting a promotion and a raise, will take into account his or her perceptions of the writer and what the writer most likely meant by a phrase such as “or else.” Similarly, readers of documents ranging from marketing plans to lyric poems to personal letters will read between the lines of those documents based on their knowledge (or the lack thereof) of the writer. Their interpretation of a document, as a result, will be based at least to some degree on something other than the words themselves.

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