Friday, May 6, 2011

I wandered lonely as a writer

Often when writing is discussed, someone will attempt to land the sucker punch of loneliness to the craft, as though a writer wanted nothing more than to be amidst a group of friends or family or even, dare the writer even think it, readers.  Listen to most writers for any length of time and out will come this tired trope of how the act of writing is somehow akin to being in a solitary confinement, where no one cares about the plight, whatever the hell a plight maybe, of the poor writer, where sacrifices are made on a daily basis to the Muse, propitiation for the visions, insights, and ideas said muse might chose to whisper into the writer's ear and without which in the first place the writer would be all vocabulary but no story.

True enough, you know some individuals who produce material, some of which is published, who are not persons you would want as friends or associates.  Nevertheless, they are writers.  Afflicted writers, you say of them, and there is some likelihood that all of us who writer have one or more afflictions, and there is also the likelihood that the writers you consider afflicted consider you in some degree a rogue, outsider, or misfit.  Even with this as backstory or, if you will, subtext, it is somewhat of a jump in momentum to consider yourself lonely because you have been chosen to be a writer.  Writing is far from martyrdom, even though there were times before you broke through certain barriers to some semblance of being published on occasion, you felt with each new story you sent forth a kind of stoicism in the face of rejection that links to martyrdom.  It may be hands held under the tablecloth or some hidden connection with martyrdom, and it was more or less of a piece with teen romanticism , but you did not feel lonely.  To put the matter in as blunt terms as you can, if there were times when you felt lonely, it had more to do with you, your state of mind, and your person skills than it had to do with your writing state of mind and your writing skills.

Many writers have associations with other writers; we do tend to make friends with persons of the same interest range. We sometimes form reading groups with these friends or at least have some system of reading the works of friends, supplying support and occasional suggestions when asked.
Writers who are used to publishing on some regular basis have literary agents with whom they are in contact, editors with whom they work.  If anything, there is a sense of relief in being able to squirrel away the necessary hours to satisfy one's literary Jones.

The writer of fiction is constantly being badgered by characters, wanting some quality time.  How, they seem to be asking, are we going to have any semblance of intimate relationship with you off all the time with your pals, griping about the state of publishing today?

The writer of nonfiction is as though locked in a linear accelerator where ideas rather than electronic particles are sped up with the deliberate intent of causing them to collide, producing yet other, newer ideas.  Writers of nonfiction may on occasion seem spooky, trying to keep track of things, but usually they are among the first to duck when they sense an invasion of friends or guests.

Some writers you have observed, still floundering within the learning curve, hopeful of a reasonable balance or foothold, will keep silent about their writing activities, not yet confident enough to show anything of their work to anyone, and one individual of about this level seems to appear out of the shadows from time to time, desperate for ways to secure publication of the two things she has written, thus to earn her way out of a detestable job and into the seemingly more secure and pleasant job of supporting herself on her writing.  Writers of any stature at all are aware of such individuals who are starting along the path, much as you did when you were setting forth.

Many of us write because we have discovered that not writing produces some symptom such as a headache or acid stomach or the gloomy behavior of which Ishmael spoke when he was explaining to us why he signed on The Pequod in the first place.  Others of us write because of our belief that it is expected of us, as in being told by friends or family or teachers that we have a way with words.  At the slightest sign of our individual advancement as a writer, we are beset by those immediately below us, eager for clues about how to get into the big kids' sandbox.

In short, we are not as lonely as we would wish to be; it is not a lonely business, and sometimes we run the risk of being considered rude when we take steps to insure we get out pages done.  

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