To Be A Writer Is To Be Alone

Ernest Hemingway
Ernest Hemingway

There’s a great many things to be said about being a writer; wanting to be a writer; hoping to be a writer; writing like a writer; living and seeing and breathing everything just like a writer.

We all have our personal visions of “the writer,” and a good many of them coincide. They are often troubled by mental illness or substance abuse. They are often strange. They are often incredibly cliché, and that’s okay, because isn’t everything, at its core, consistent with a set of rules and attributes?

But I’ll put my two cents in anyway. To be a writer is to be alone.

Writing isn’t a social thing, and most writing gets done in privacy, in snatched moments you somehow find on a day-to-day basis when you aren’t in conversation with another human being. It’s done at home, in bed, at the desk, door closed. It takes a certain type of mindset to write well, and coming in drunk from a party generally isn’t the best time to try your hand at the next great American novel. Writing is a culmination of silence in your mind that allows you to utterly focus on the task at hand. I can’t write when I’m distracted. I can’t write after I’ve had drinks with friends. I can’t write at an amusement park.

With other occupations, society matters. Take the musician: he craves the limelight—his goal is to perform for an audience and he’s skilled enough to drown out any stage fright or other disturbances. In many cases, the musician feeds off the crowd’s energy. Have you ever been to a concert and examined the band playing? They are driven by the crowd’s energy, by the large noises and rattled drinks. It’s still situational—but their setting requires this sort of thing, while the writer’s doesn’t. The band is also in constant movement. They are required to tour and visit different towns. It’s part of the job to meet people, to move move move.

But writing—it can be lonely. You can say you’re a writer and never actually write anything. I think that’s the saddest thing of all. How could you dare to claim something, but spend little to no time nurturing it? You have to make time to write, and it’s incredibly easy to forget that. Life is unforgiving to writers. It doesn’t provide us a chance or scheduled moment in the day to write. Instead, we are expected to seek out our own times, to make our own time. There’s been a good many times when I’ve been lonely because I chose writing. I missed out on events and friends. I stayed home and forgot about my cellphone. I didn’t “take a load off,” but took one on, because it’s all about the discipline you subject yourself to. One time, I went three months without writing a damn word. I chose to live, to do things, to be active and friendly and hide from my loneliness. After for those three months I was sick with regret because I’d neglected myself when I stopped writing. I don’t think it’s uncommon to feel “most yourself” when you’re performing your skill; I think, instead, that’s the point of a talent. It isn’t about happiness or being entertained because a good bit of the time you might end up resenting that same skill. It’s painful to develop something into greatness. That’s why there are so few “greats” out there. It isn’t something you’re born into—you may be given the necessary tools to become great, but it isn’t without it’s fair share of work and heartbreak along the way.

To write, one must be alone. You must be able to shed your skin for several moments during the day, and not be bothered by life passing you by. The writer, at their most basic level, is the observer. The writer doesn’t need to participate in order to write, but they must examine and take notice. They must be available and intuitive to the sharp edges of life that make interesting narrative. They must distance themselves from sadness and tragedy enough to form these feelings into something valuable that can be read and understood. They must, unfortunately, build a clean, clear wall between themselves and others in order to gain insight into a particular mind and personality. To know and discover, but to also hold back from. It breeds natural aloofness, and a sort of unshakable reticence, but it’s worth it for the story in the end.

You mustn’t be at odds with the loneliness, but embrace it as a part of the job, all the time working on falling in love with that singularity. Because, really. What’s so wrong with being alone? TC mark

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