The Writer's Life Blog
Most of us feel lonely from time to time. For writers, loneliness can come with the territory.
There's this image in our heads of the solitary writer, head bowed over the desk, the space illuminated by a lamp, working through the dark hours of the night ...
They're probably doing that because the late hours are the ones where there are no distractions. Everyone's gone to bed, the house is quiet, the phone isn't ringing and the river of emails has dried up until tomorrow.
If we're full on and in the middle of a piece of work, we cut ourselves off even more. We go out of our way to avoid people, declining invitations, shopping in the half hour before a grocery store closes at night, taking our daily exercise by the light of the moon.
Carolyn Murnick, a senior editor at New York Magazine, said, "I've always had a sense that it's not the healthiest to stay inside for three days writing, because then when you go out into the world, you feel a little out of sorts. In the same way it takes some time to get into the writing headspace, it'll take you a while to get back into the space of being with people."
I understand that. If I've been on a writing bender, then go out into the world to buy cat food and run into someone I know at the shop, I get tongue-tied, often can't remember their name, have little to talk about, feel the flush of embarrassment rising and hastily make my exit.
Solitude seems to come with the writing life but ask a writer how she or he feels about this and they may well reply, "I love it. It's great. I've never been happier."
Hmm. What's with that?
I look at my own writing life and I am content. It is a lonely occupation. I spend the greater part of every working day here, alone, with Betsy the cat. I may not speak to another living person all day but I don't mind it because the solitude gives me the space I need to write. It's hard to do that with a lot of people around.
And yeah, I get lonely sometimes, the deep-seated sad type that moves in like a grey, dampening mist and settles in for the long haul, and then I wish I had a more sociable job. Being too much on one's own isn't the best, even for writers, and finding a balance requires pushing out of the creative cocoon, making sure you do see your mates, go for walks, see movies, drink in bars and have trips away.
It was about ten years or so ago that I finally understood, and accepted, that writing would become my life. It was almost like going into a convent, giving up social interaction, sacrificing a great party for a night before the computer, and other things I had to give up, not the least of which was a good income.
I knew the loneliness that lay ahead, the unique disconnect from the world that, in the strange way of creating, enables me to write about it and communicate my thoughts and so involve myself in the passing parade and the flowing river.
Was it worth it? Yes. Of course.
People often begin conversations by talking about the weather.
In fact, writing about the weather is a prompt I often use to get myself started, especially in my journal. I put the date, then start cracking on about the weather - hot, cold, wet, windy, whatever.
And because the weather has been so extraordinary, and, in some cases, quite dangerous this season, it's a really good way to kick-start your writing, and it may even lead you to write about another time in your life when weather played a memorable role.
Some of the wild wind we've been having here reminded me of a summer stay up at Whananaki, in Northland, many years ago. A friend and I were lucky enough to have use of an old caravan parked on some beautiful land near the beach. There was an outdoor long-drop dunny, anchored to the rock, with splintered and salt-burned wooden walls and a creaky door on well rusted hinges. The toilet seat was also made of wood, worn smooth by countless bottoms. The cracks in the seat pinched your bum when you sat down, and of course the long, dark hole below was excessively threatening to all five senses.
One night a storm came in. We had no electricity, only wavering candles and flash lights. We hunkered down in the caravan with our storm provisions: lukewarm beer and cold baked beans on stale bread. The brave little caravan shook and rattled. The wind hissed, whined, and pummeled the frail structure while we recited drunken poetry and sang songs to ourselves, white-knuckled.
Inevitably, after beer, one must venture to the dunny. I put it off for as along as I could.
Out I went into the tempest in my foul weather gear, little flashlight beam piercing through the raging wind and horizontal rain. I made it to the dunny for what would be a speedy wee.