One is always warned about the dangers of being a wannabe writer. It’s hard. You will face constant rejection. It’s hard. You will starve. Being good isn’t good enough. The criticism is brutal. It’s isolating. Oh, and it’s hard.
Of all of these, the isolating part is by far the least daunting to me. In a recent Huff Post article, “Balancing the Loneliness of the Writing Life,” Sara Paretsky is quoted as saying the worst part about writing is, “You have to be alone to write…Being alone is very painful. An unsolvable conundrum.”
Besides being eloquently worded, and my admiration for using the word “conundrum,” I have to respectfully disagree.
The very act of writing requires some serious alone time, and granted, the level of intensity required to actively and aggressively ward off others–so you can concentrate and stare at the same sentence for hours on end trying to figure out if that one adjective is really necessary. Or if that sentence even makes sense. Or hell, maybe the entire paragraph should meet the trash icon–can be unnerving to some.
The reasons are varied and obvious and all legitimate. There are no co-workers to collaborate with–well, writers can, of course, collaborate on a novel, or an article, or a text-book, but I’m not talking about those guys today. Today, I’m talking about the regular Joe or Jolene, ass to chair, with nothing but a laptop and their own mug staring back at them in the reflection of the monitor. Writing at Starbucks doesn’t count either. Coffee shop writers are not working with other patrons. They are lost and alone in their own skulls, most likely comforted by the white noise chatter around them.
No one is telling them, “Hey nice job there, catching all those clichés and comma splices.” Often no one is saying anything all. And worse yet, more likely than not, no one is handing over a reliable paycheck at the end of the week validating all their hard work.
This is where the true loners separate from the lonely. None of this, to me, is a bad thing. To me, the long and hollow alone time is the opposite: it is blessed sanctuary.
Being alone can be one of the highlights of the job. But it’s not for everyone, I get that. Self-proclaimed “people” persons are definitely going to struggle. However most writers I know are far more comfortable being alone with a book or a pen and paper than they are at social hour making small talk.
I have a family. I live in a moderate sized city in the middle of a large sized metropolis. I have to fight for parking spaces. I have neighbors that play their music too loud. I have kids that demand I watch them do summersaults forty times in a row. In other words, I am surrounded by people whether I want to be or not. And I mostly do. I have almost mastered the trick of surrounding myself with people I enjoy and keeping people I don’t far away. And, like that writer plotting away in the middle of a crowded Starbucks, I like the hum of activity swirling around me.
What this means, however, is that my alone time, my writing time, my work time, is very precious. Sacred, almost. My anxiety level starts peaking if it’s compromised. Remember that Jack Nicolson scene in The Shining when Wendy interrupts his writing groove to tell him it’s going to snow? That. So much.
So writing is isolating and I guess it can be lonely, but I haven’t reached a level of tenure in my career to complain about it being painfully lonely yet. Maybe I will amend my opinion on this someday, but today? If being a writer means hours and hours of nothing but myself and a laptop? Where do I sign?
What I’m reading now: Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman