Wednesday, May 21, 2008


Loneliness and writing. The silent scream from within.

Thomas Wolfe is quoted as saying: “Loneliness is and always has been the central and inevitable experience of every man.”

I suspect he's right. Even when you're so in love you can't take a breath without your lover, even when you are holding your first newborn, each of us is always aware we are alone in this universe, that push come to shove, inevitably, it's just us standing there at the end of the day. Oh, I know, sometimes we get so caught up in the day to day necessities of life including feeding, clothing, driving, comforting, mothering, cooking, etc... for others that we don't feel lonely, in fact, we crave time to ourselves, like Eli wanting to take a shower without a three year old. We are not lonely because we are busy and distracted. I suspect humankind stays busy and distracted to fight off the lurking loneliness deep inside, but I'm not a philosopher, so who knows.

Add to this basic premise a job -- a passion -- that requires solitary pursuit and isolation. Think of it this way: if you are a mushroom, you cannot flourish until you seek the deep dark, moist cover of the forest. You cannot be a mushroom on a beach in the bright sunlight. It won't work. If you are a writer, you can't flourish until you embrace the very essence of becoming a story teller. Like a mushroom, you are going to have to go it alone most of the time. You are going to have to take cover under the umbrella of your imagination where the world within becomes more real than the one without. And the more successful you become, the deeper into the forest you'll tend to wander.

This is a pitiful metaphor, I know, but in my head it kind of makes sense.

Recently, another loop I belong to got off onto this topic. It was brought up by a woman who mentioned it in passing, like dipping her toe into a pond to test the temperature of the water. One by one, a few other writers chimed in. I was convinced many of them were at my stage of life -- children gone, long hours alone, multiple contracts, umpteen books under their belts, right in the middle of their careers. But then one of the women emailed me privately. She was in her thirties, two little kids, a husband, etc... and she felt the same things I feel, the same core loneliness, that struggle to fit into your life the people you love, the necessities of keeping life afloat for family, the desire to be a better more present friend, and the needs of writing that take you away from everything else. She is trying to find a way to juggle it all -- and it became clear to me that this is what we all do, one way or another, at different stages of our careers -- we juggle that need to be part of our own life and the need to create fiction -- alone.

No wonder we writers crave conferences where we can momentarily rub shoulders with other people who "get" us. People who mumble under their breath. People who hold conversations in the shower with themselves. People who jot notes in dark theaters and ask the cat what she would do if that creep ran out on her. People who wave their arms as though warning off a rabid dog or make their loved ones assume poses to see just what it would take to overpower a younger, stronger person. Nuts, like us.

As a kid, I used to always feel on the outside looking in. When I had my first baby, I remember thinking I would never be alone again. I soon understood the folly of such a notion and thankfully, let her go, but it was there for awhile and it was such a warm glow. The glow of creation.


Elisabeth Naughton said...

Oh, Alice. I love this. You summed up how I feel 99% of the time.

Last night after I was driving home from our meeting, I was asking myself, why do people who drive from long distances - like Paty - continue to come to our small meetings? For me it's easy, I live here and I don't have to commit more than the meeting time to our Tues. night meetings, but for those who drive long distances, what's the draw? I think your post answers that ten-fold. They come because of the same reasons they participate on blogs and loops and fork out money to travel to conferences when they haven't sold yet (like I did for several years). They attend beach retreats (Kendra) when they don't know many people, volunteer to speak or help out with chapter duties when they don't have time (Lisa), even attend meetings when they're in a writing slump. They (we) do all of that because of the loneliness factor you mentioned, and becasue doing those things with people who "get us" pushes the loneliness of what we do away for at least a little while.

I love my husband dearly. He's my biggest fan and the most supportive person with regard to my writing. But he will never "get me" the way other writers do. I may have nothing in common with people in our writing group other than our writing, and they still "get" more of me than most of my family members do. Like you, I spent a long time looking in, and it took me years to figure out where I fit in this world. I always wondered why I wasn't one of those teachers who loved my career and knew I was doing what I was supposed to be doing. I was always looking outside to see what else there was out there. It wasn't until I started writing and met other writers that I realized the reason I struggled so long was because teaching wasn't where I fit. I loved the kids and the subject matter, but other than that I could have cared less. This crazy writing world we're all a part of? That's where I fit. And I wouldn't trade it - loneliness and all - for anything.

Fabulous post. Lots to think about. And I loved the mushroom metaphor.

Paty Jager said...

Alice, you can't be lonely- you have us! And all your characters in your head. LOL

Great, insightful blog as usual. I've always wondered where I would land in the scheme of things since I could never really decide what I wanted to do when I grew up- even as a grown up. Then I started writing and everything felt- right. It's a great way to rid myself of demons and make others happy, which I've spent my entire lifetime doing- making others happy.

And, yes Eli, I drive over the mountain once a month to connect with others who think like me. Who make me feel like I belong. Who get me.

My best friend and my family all listen to me talk writing, but they don't all really get the whole thing. My oldest understands there's more to putting words on paper after finishing a story she and her sister and cousin started when they were in middle school. And my other daughter understands the creative factor. My husband- the written word is a phenomenon to him. LOL

Missed you last night Alice. I hope you make the meeting next month on series books.

wavybrains said...

You said: "When I had my first baby, I remember thinking I would never be alone again. I soon understood the folly of such a notion and thankfully, let her go, but it was there for awhile and it was such a warm glow. The glow of creation."

Honestly, I think those first few weeks after I had Tavy were among the most lonely of my life. Not lonely in a depression sense, just lonely in a alone-in-this-thing sense and in the no-other-adult-contact sense.

One of the reasons why I teach (in addition to the very, very meager money) is that it gets me out of the house, and it gets me connecting with multiple people at one time. It takes away a lot of the time that I could be writing true, but it also enriches me.

I think very lonely writers often have a very hard time with writer's block. I find it interesting that some of the most prolific authors are those with very, very full lives--like Allison Brennan with her 5 kids, Suzanne Brockmann with her charities and singing groups.

I also think its why more and more writers are seeking out colloborations---a natural antidote to the loneliness.


Karen Duvall said...

Very deep, Alice. Very deep.

Loneliness. That has such a depressing ring to it. I don't think I ever feel lonely, but that's probably because I've surrounded myself with an abundance of avenues to turn to when I need creative companionship.

I think creative people tend to live inside themselves a lot. I always have, since I was a baby. Honest, my mom said her feelings would get hurt because I'd rather be left alone than cuddled. I think it's because I was always so involved in my own creations, my own imagination. Hmm... Maybe I was dangerously close to being schizo. Now that's a disturbing thought.

I love people, the real kind and the imaginary ones. I'm equally comfortable on a stage in front of hundreds of people as I am in a room all by myself with a book or a a laptop or a sketchpad. I'm never alone.

When it comes to art, visual or written, I've found groups online to keep me company or to bounce ideas off of. And I have my group in Colorado who I'm always in touch with. And you guys, who I only see a couple times a year and yeah, I miss you lots. But in the mean time, I have some close writing pals here in Bend who I meet with about once a month, very informal, very chatty. In fact, we're having a brainstorming coffee on Sunday.

I don't talk about writing to anyone other than writers. It's too frustrating. I refuse to constantly explain myself and get that glassy-eyed reaction that tells me they're not listening to half of what I've said. It's not fun.

I think writer friendships are very powerful, and they're what draw people together who are miles apart. It's why I go to Colorado every year (plus it's a good excuse to see my kids & grandkids).

Genene Valleau said...

Ah, Alice, I think you are a philosopher. Definitely a lot to think about in this post.

There are times when I choose to be alone. Even when my kids were home, we would sometimes all be in our separate rooms. Not mad or in trouble, just wanting our own space.

And I used to feel lonely quite a bit -- after the kids were grown and gone, etc., etc. Then they started coming back with wives and kids of their own and I realized being alone definitely had benefits. LOL!

Now, because of the turn in my spiritual journey the past five years or so, even if I'm physically by myself, I know I'm NOT ever alone spiritually.

Great post, Madam Philosopher! Dang it, you always give me a hard blog act to follow. :)

Alice Sharpe said...

You'll have to forgive me -- I broke my computer glasses and reading off this screen and commenting on individual responses is beyond my sight limitations. If I twist my head just so I can read the screen, but then, ack! the neck.

I have read what everyone says and I understand where you are all coming from. There is a vast difference in being alone and being lonely and Karen is right, the very word loneliness has a sad ring to it. I thought for awhile before using the word, but that's really what we're talking about in a deep core way.

Wavy, I don't agree prolific writers have fuller lives or that lonely writers have trouble with block. I've known quite a few of each and it seems loneliness transcends lots to do and writer's block transcends EVERYTHING. I'm not talking about being busy -- at times my plate is so full I could cry. If this doesn't make sense to you, read what Eli said again -- it would be hard to find someone more involved with and engaged in life than she is right now. I may not be making sense and if I'm not, I apologize. I have a feeling we are talking about apples and oranges.

Young motherhood is isolating, I agree. The first three or four years after I had my kids felt like I was living in outer Siberia. I feel your pain and am glad you have found the outlets you need.

I am going to try my best to be there in June, Paty, and I'm sorry I missed your talk.

And Genene, you always say I'm hard to follow and yet you always come up with something bigger and better than ever. I must be inspirational!!!

I wrote twenty books back to back while raising kids and doing all the rest. Before that, I wrote two dozen short stories during soccer practice and school activities, etc.... The me you know now is in some ways not the me I was in that the obligations in my life have shifted as they do for all of us as we make this journey. I'm not talking about sitting here feeling alone. I'm talking about the inner loneness a writer needs and that for some of us, it's a struggle to make peace with it and our sanity.

And Genene, will you sometime blog about how your spiritual journey has impacted your writing life?

Paty Jager said...

I'm talking about the inner loneness a writer needs and that for some of us, it's a struggle to make peace with it and our sanity.

This comment hit home. I feel at times- the last few weeks and this week that I can't find that loneness to get in the zone of my story. There seems to be many things pulling at me at once and I don't mean physically. Not allowing me the "quiet" to delve into my characters and let them come alive.

Genene Valleau said...

Yes, Alice, you are inspirational! And I will blog about how my spiritual journey has affected my writing. However, that will take some thought and perhaps some experience with my new books, which will be the first ones I've written since that journey has brought some profound changes in the way I look at life.

Alice and Paty, I'm not quite getting what you mean by the struggle to make peace with the inner loneness a writer needs and sanity. Perhaps that inner loneness is the way to sanity, whether we struggle with it or simply accept it as part of our lives. Of course, I've never laid claim to sanity, so that may be why I'm missing that point!

Definitely a deep and thought-provoking blog, Alice!