There’s no getting around the fact that writing is a largely solitary art.
There are exceptions, of course. Writing TV shows being the most notable. And the bookmill industry sometimes relies on writing by committee, where a number of talented people bounce ideas off each other. But you rarely see this bleed over into other forms of writing.
Because there are limits to what you can achieve with such a setup. Bookmill publishing has inconsistent results, and it’s hard to create something internally consistent, and, as such, a lot of depth is often sacrificed. TV shows fall into a similar boat, where it can be hard to keep a continuous storyline going without either contradicting itself or losing its way. A lot of studios have caught on to this problem and started using smaller teams for writing serious dramas, while retaining larger teams for things that benefit from having many hands on the keyboard, such as comedies.
Still, the art keeps circling back to the idea of the lone author. Almost every book of significance follows this pattern, and those movies that rely on a single writer, or that have a single leader, with executive power, among the team of writers, tend to be better written, in my opinion. The best works require a unifying vision, and having a single author is the most economic way of achieving that.
So the art of writing, generation after generation, returns constantly to the idea of the lone author, telling his story in the way that only he can, and taking all the credit for it.
The Benefits of Isolation
The world is full of voices.
Writing, as a practice, requires a stupendous amount of concentration. This means listening to one’s own voice, rather than the millions of others that surround the writer. And that’s not going to happen when he is out with friends or in the middle of a noisy food court or in the middle of a street riot.
Solitude has the benefit of built-in self-reliance. No one else is speaking, so you can be assured that the voice you’re hearing is your own. It opens up the valves and lets that voice out. Because otherwise, the writer is left with the vacuum of silence, and the human mind, much like nature herself, abhors a vacuum.
But for all its benefits, isolation is saddled with the severest of setbacks: it can never be permanent.
It may come when the writing is going well and the words are pouring onto the page. It may come when nothing works, and you are staring at a blank screen wondering how to fill it. But one way or another, you will experience an interruption, and your solitude, for a span, will be destroyed.
Interruptions are inevitable, and, for our purposes, they only have one source: people.
People need things from you constantly. A lot of times, they are people you don’t care about and can safely ignore. But at other times, these people are an important part of your life, and ignoring them, no matter how great a writer you are, is wrong.
A writer has to experience people in order to be a writer, because all writing is about people. (Some people might object to that, citing “writing about nature” as an alternative. The problem with that, however, is that all nature writing is also about people. The only way humans experience nature is through experiencing it as humans. So all nature writing is filtered through the subjective lens of human experience. There is no human-free perspective on nature within any human-made writings.)
And when you experience people, some of them are bound to become important to you. You have your family. You have your friends. You have your allies. You have those people you cannot live without, and you should not live without them as a writer who is trying to make things that people will read.
So you have to make time for them. You have to allow interruptions. But not for everyone—just for the ones who matter.
Choosing the Right People
So, good news: you get to choose the people who are most important to you.
Yes, this even applies if you are born into a caring family. Not every writer prioritizes their family over all other kinds of people. There may be a right and wrong to that decision, but that is not the subject of this post. The choice is yours, as a writer, to decide who means the most to you. I can’t tell you how to make that decision, but there are some general guidelines that are useful to everyone.
Choose People who also Choose You
There’s not much point to prioritizing anyone who doesn’t return the same courtesy. The world is filled with users and manipulators, as well as people who take advantage of those with talent (and I must assume, if you are reading this, that you must be a person with at least some talent). These are the worst kind of people that a writer can have. If you have them in your life, the best advice I can give is to cut them loose, no matter how lonely you may end up as a consequence. You won’t have enough room for true friends if you fill up your roster with parasitic posers.
Choose People who Support Your Writing
Of course, even among the best people, there will be those who simply will not accept your decision to write. They may range from the openly hostile to the mockers who ridicule your attempts to those who dismiss your efforts as a hopeless hobby. These people may try to interrupt you more than perhaps any others. They may see their interference as beneficial to you, because it draws you away from the work they do not support. They may even be people particularly close to you. But they have proven themselves unworthy of prioritizing. They will have to live with the second-place ribbon of your attentions. They won’t be happy about that, but make no mistake: they have earned it.
Choose People You Connect With
When you find the right kind of people who understand your creative needs, you may be surprised to find that they are numerous. Because naturally there are many people like yourself, struggling to create things and hoping that people will appreciate their works. Once you find these people, you still have to filter through them, finding those who truly connect with you, snapping together like jigsaw puzzle pieces. You will find that some people are able to grasp your ideas more readily than others, and who somehow manage to say the right things, right when you need to hear them. These people are your treasures. Don’t you ever let them go.
New Voices on the Blog
Mr. Horne’s Book of Secrets has never been just about one man. I appreciate the diversity of opinions that exist within the blogverse, and am always open to guest posts from people who take an interest.
One person who I know reads this blog is my brother. He is an important person to me, and in the past has been able to be one of the better interruptions that I, as a writer, must encounter. After many weeks of suggestion, he has opened up to the idea of becoming a guest contributor on this blog. His first article should be posting soon. I know my reader base is growing, even though few people care to leave comments. To everyone listening, I would ask you to please give my brother, John Horne, as much of your attention as you have paid to me. He has genuine things to say, and you might even enjoy them.
Thanks again for visiting. New articles by me are posted every monday morning. Be on the lookout for midweek posts by my brother John and/or other guests contributors. And always remember to choose the right people to be your support network.
[This week’s tagline: “Where people come…together.”]