by Sidney S. Stark
“It’s such a lonely life in some ways…being a writer…and you do this thing in a room by yourself for a long time…and you might be the only person who cares that you do it.”
This reflective, almost wistful statement was offered by Melissa Bank, an author who teaches a fiction workshop at the Southampton Writers’ Conference. Her comment on writing was more propositional than profound I think, in that most authors and writers talk openly about the Loneliness Factor in writing. They also describe it as a ‘solitary’ or even ‘sedentary’ craft, but to me neither one of those adjectives speaks to the Loneliness Factor. They might make writing impossible for someone who’s hyperactive or overly social, but they don’t describe what it is to be really lonely.
So what is the Loneliness Factor then and why should it be considered at all if it’s so widely accepted as a reality of the creative artist’s life? Because I don’t think it’s been considered properly and it gives writing a bad name. True loneliness by any other name would feel as painful but I don’t think that’s what a writer experiences in that room by him or herself. And I also don’t think it matters if anyone else cares that one writes there. It only matters that the writer cares.
Since the writing business involves clarity of thought and expression, I feel compelled to redirect the assertion that writing is a lonesome endeavor. What healthy, emotionally mature person would willingly launch him or herself on such a journey? Obviously there is just as high a percentage of emotionally unhealthy people in the writers’ community as there is in the human race in general. But as for the remaining percentage, I would suggest they aren’t seeking the pain of a self-inflicted life of loneliness.
I recognize that I may be the only writer who feels as I do. It wouldn’t be the first time I balanced alone on the tip of a flimsy branch with the rest of public opinion nestled safely on the ground below me. So it would be wiser for me to speak only from my own perception as I can do only that with total assurance; and sometimes even that can be a bit shaky. But this time I’m firmly committed to my spot on the flimsy branch opposed to the Loneliness Factor in writing with no misgivings.
I have to be careful not to create a graduate thesis here built around this issue. I could indeed do that as I find it fascinating. The whole exploration of loneliness and its prevalence in the human condition could be the central theme of any psychologist’s life’s work. But here I’d rather have the blog’s readers, especially those who practice the craft of writing, weigh in with their own opinions on a writer’s loneliness or lack thereof. All I want to say is that in my personal experience, I’m never as complete a person, nor as fully engaged with humanity at large as I am when I’m writing. Nothing links me more to the human continuum than the process I go through in my “room by myself” when I’m in the creative driver’s seat. So although I do that alone, it’s about as much of a force for togetherness as anything I can think of.
I don’t actually know if it’s the fact that writing makes you delve so deeply into your inner spaces in that great effort to be ‘to thine own self true’, or it’s that anything engaging your focus totally will block out the comparisons that make you feel lonely, but it works for me. I know having experienced this I’d have to find something else to capture my attention equally fully if I couldn’t write, or I’m sure that the most ubiquitous of all human conditions, loneliness, would surely be a factor in my life too. But I thank heaven and the guilty pleasure I call writing, yes, ‘in a room by myself for a long time’, that I have found the cure for loneliness.
Question @You: If you’re a writer or creative artist, do you find practicing your craft to be lonely? Don’t leave me out on my flimsy limb with my dissenting opinion flapping in the breeze. It’s lonely up here! Please share your thoughts with us.