New “Writer Problems” Series, Topic #4: Isolation vs. Solitude

by | Aug 16, 2021 | Articles | 0 comments

I’m a loner

With a loner’s point of view

—Bruce Cockburn, “Loner”

 

Writing a novel is a solitary activity. We all know this. And while there are some exceptions to the rule—screenwriters who work on a team in a “writer’s room,” partners who write a book together—most professional writers work alone.

I’ve actually done a bit of both. That is, I’ve worked 100% on my own, both on personal and professional projects, and I’ve also worked as part of a group of writers. Even in the latter position, though, nearly all the writers’ time was spent face-to-face with a screen, not another person.

It takes a special type of personality to be a full-time writer, and I think it’s safe to say most of us are loners, at least to a degree. Going back to my high school days, I recall sitting in homeroom first thing in the morning writing poems and songs, sometimes on a daily basis. There’d be 30 people around me, but everyone dropped away as I dove into my work. I could still essentially be alone.

There’s a difference, though, between being a recluse and achieving the kind of solitude you need to write a serious novel. I’m sure people have done it with a houseful of screaming kids, but me? I need both quiet and solitude to be at my most creative.

 

The Novelist’s Experience

In the scant outside research I did to prep for today’s post, I came across an old Writer’s Digest column by Warren Adler, a prolific novelist. Here’s what Mr. Adler had to say about how those closest to you may think you’re a recluse when you’re writing a novel: 

Your friends [may] think you’ve become a recluse because you spend so much time at your writing desk. I’m usually very regimented about my writing schedule and typically wake up at about 5 a.m. and start writing until 10 a.m. There have been times, however, where I’ve spent an entire day in my study working on a novel. Little do these friends know the kind of dynamic journey writers go on in their work.

Dude, 5 a.m.? Jeez!

Besides being a nighthawk, though, I’m 100% on the same page as my fellow novelist. I differ only in that I get up later, start later and, presumably, stay up much later. Otherwise, we’re the same. 

There’s a period of greatest creativity and/or productivity for every writer, and once you figure out what it is, you’d best stick to it. If you change, and it changes as well, so be it. You move the sticks if necessary.

The experience of writing a novel is unique to the novelist. I’ve written a novel over a period of months, and over a period of years, too. But the most important factors were always the time and energy I put into it. If I wanted to spend my time networking, socializing, or doing other things away from my desk, I never would have written one novel, much less multiple novels.

 

How the Pandemic Changed The Game

One of the few “good” things about the pandemic, for me, is that it’s kept me home alone a lot more.

That probably sounds counterintuitive, especially in a post about isolation. The thing is, I don’t want to go out. It’s a COVID stew out there, maskless morons running amok as if they were bulletproof.

They aren’t. Neither am I.

I heard an introvert joking that they’d waited an entire lifetime for the opportunity to turn down invitations and stay in all the time. And I have to admit, I related quite a bit. Pre-pandemic, I went to numerous in-person networking meetings, almost none of which got me any business.

These get-togethers were exhausting because, unlike an extrovert, I don’t get my energy from being in a group; I recharge when I’m by myself again. So I don’t go to those anymore. I get my new business online.

If you need solutions to the “isolation” problem, there’s no shortage. Call a friend, do a Zoom meeting of whatever sort you need, or go ahead and get together with a group if you need to do that. If you’re serious about your writing, being alone most likely isn’t a problem for you; if anything, you’re probably trying to make more time to be alone with your project.

And if that’s the case, maybe you just need to say “I’ll be out in a few hours,” then shut the door.

Are you alone too much? Not enough? How do you balance the need for solitude with the need for socialization? Let me know in the comments below.

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