When I say ‘a writer writing’ to you, what image flits into your mind? You may see a person bashing away at a typewriter, or scrawling frenetically in a notebook, or staring vacantly into space surrounded by balled-up sheets of paper, or glaring at a blinking cursor on an empty computer screen. But however you picture the writer, in whatever mood, with whatever tools, in whatever setting, most likely there is just one person in your vision.
The writer, so often, writes alone.
That the pursuit of writing is a lonely one is well documented. In his memoir Isaac Asimov wrote:
Writing is a lonely job. Even if a writer socializes regularly, when he gets down to the real business of his life, it is he and his type writer or word processor. No one else is or can be involved in the matter.
And upon accepting the Nobel Prize for literature, Ernest Hemingway said:
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.
But must we writers just accept isolation? It’s no hardship to do so sometimes, when solitude is essential to finding the focus to write. But let us not forget that all good writing has one critical element at its heart: people. We write about people, for people. And thus it follows logically that should we spend too much time away from people, we risk losing touch and our writing suffering consequently.
People bring comfort and cheer. People bring connection. People bring inspiration. People bring energy and colour and life.
Here, then, are some suggestions for writers who are feeling the effects of too much time wandering and wondering alone in their imaginations.
- Join a writing group. All kinds of groups exist to inspire and help writers, both online and offline. Look for one that’s specific to your genre, with friendly members whose aim is to collaborate and support, not compete and criticise. If you can’t find a group that’s a good fit for you, start one of your own – Goodreads, for example, makes it very easy to set up a shared interest group. Alternatively, if the thought of sharing your writing is abhorrent, join a reading club instead.
- Find a writing buddy. A buddy can fulfill the roles of muse, sounding board, critic and champion – a sort of personal trainer for the literary world. Your styles and genres and personal aims can differ widely; all that matters is having a friend with whom you can share all the highs and lows of the writing process.
- Co-author. The ultimate companionship for the writer. Co-authoring comes with its challenges, such as agreeing on content, divvying up the work and then sharing the credit; but there are numerous benefits, not least of which is an extra pair of hands with all the work of writing, from idea generation and drafting through to marketing.
- Write among people. My favourite by far! Too often the four walls close in after several hours of writing. Going anywhere populated – a café, a library, a book store, the park – provides a much-needed change of scene and a connection to the living, breathing world. You don’t have to talk to anyone if you don’t want to; you can stay immersed in your story world. Or you can put down your pen, sit back, people-watch and let your imagination take flight.
If you are exceptionally lucky, some enterprising soul in your local area, perhaps at the library or an arts centre, has married all four of these elements in creating a writing hub: a place you can go to when you want to connect to other writers. Sadly, these hubs are few and far between. Perhaps one day someone will formalise them, and every city and town will have such a place.
I hope so. Because I’m not sure that I agree with Hemingway that bringing together writers does nothing to improve their craft. John Donne’s words echo in my mind:
No man is an island,
Entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
We writers write of mankind. And so, as Donne says, we must be ‘involved in mankind’.