A comment I made on Jane Friedman’s blog There Are No Rules inspired this post. Jane’s entry was about inspiration, and contained some quotes she found interesting about how writers can tap into their innermost selves when they are alone.
Tons of people think artists and writers are or should be solitary people, holed up in a studio or an office, painstakingly practicing their art at the point of a brush or the keyboard, with no distractions. Actually, many writers struggle for those moments because they have so much going on in their personal lives. Work, family, errands, chores; it’s all demanding. Most of us don’t have the luxury of writing full-time, especially novelists.
What about the other side of the coin, those who don’t have much of anything? I’ve known a lot of people who are alone, with no family or few friends. They tend to bend your ear when you get a chance to talk to them, since at home there’s no one to listen.
I’ve been there. Truly. I’ve gone whole weekends without talking to a living soul, either on the phone or face-to-face. Sometimes the only interaction I have is online. Many times it’s by choice. Lots of times, it’s not. When I’m writing, that can be a blessing. I’ve tried sneaking work during the day, and there are just too many damn interruptions unless I’m at lunch.
But other times, it sucks. I’ve gone out and browsed around the flea market not because I want someone’s used dishes, but so I can be around other human beings. (PS–It’s a great place for writers to eavesdrop on conversations. Heh heh.) Right now, I’m living in a place where it’s extremely hard to find like-minded people unless you belong to certain demographics, which I do not. Judging by a local newspaper article I read a couple of years ago, I’m not the only one here with this perspective.
Writing is a solitary venture. Even in a house filled with family, when we visit those worlds inside our heads, there’s no one there but us. Eventually we have to pull ourselves out, if only to seek sustenance or use the bathroom. That doesn’t mean your life has to be that way.
As I said in my comment, I think solitude is necessary for creativity, but too much isn’t a good thing. The need for companionship, if not fulfilled, can usurp the good things about solitude and shut you down. When you need food water won’t do it. When you need to hear another human voice, forums and even chat rooms are dry bread compared to a steak sandwich. (Why do I try to write blog posts when I’m starving?)
Good writers need that human interaction. You’re representing life. Unless your book is set on another planet and your protagonists are all sentient squids, chances are you’re writing about other people. Go out among them, if only to do field research. If you’re lucky enough to have a family or live in a situation with housemates, you can mine them for inspiration, bits of dialogue and critiques. And they will keep you anchored in the world.
For those who are mostly alone, I highly recommend seeking the company of other people on a regular basis. It will help you recharge. Church is good if you’re into that, or a group that involves some interest other than writing. And no, online forums don’t count. People need to be in the same room with each other. Have some kind of activity other than your work to engage you.
Maybe you’ll find that your work is better when you isolate yourself. That may be, but most humans are not meant to be completely solitary creatures. Find your moments and use them and then get out there. The reward is richer than you ever imagined.