On a Writer’s Isolation, Environment and Being Different
Writing requires solitude. How do you deal with the isolation that comes from the hours of work that take place between you and a screen?
A writer’s isolation is really a workspace. Because it’s in that mental solitude where you interact with characters, listen, and engage with the Story itself. So, when we talk about isolation, we need to remember that it’s not a negative aspect, but one of the essentials of our craft. That said, isolation can feel lonely. Because for months to years, you alone live with the Story, the characters, you know the ins and outs of it, you experience this whole world that no one else yet has. And that lends itself to a sense of feeling alone, because it’s not a shared experience. You can share your writing with those close to you, if you wish, but you cannot share the experience of writing it. And even amongst other writers, you alone know the path you have walked. No two writers ever share the same path. We can gather and discuss shared aspects, but the experience of writing the Stories you are entrusted with, will always be yours alone.
One word about sharing and writer’s groups. I would caution writers to protect their work until the Story is mature enough to defend itself. Otherwise, you open yourself and the Story up to opinions and influences that may not be right for you as a writer or that particular story – which results in needless agony and wasted revision. (Don’t get me wrong, all Stories need revision – but they need guided revision – first by the characters themselves; second, by professionals who know what they’re talking about; and third, by your own sense of writer’s instincts. And this should come when the work is mature enough and you know it well enough to be objective about the feedback and able to discern what you should and shouldn’t accept. Because you shouldn’t accept all of it.)
But back to isolation. I don’t think writers ever need to be “lonely.” Alone, yes. You do need to be alone, at least mentally, to write. But “loneliness” comes from feeling a sense of separation. And it stems not from writing, but from your social and personal life. You need to nurture your own life before you can ever expect to truly nurture a cast of characters. Your life is what you make it. There are people out there who would love to get to know you. If you’re lonely, it’s because you are not taking the initiative to connect with people and bless them with the opportunity to love you.
How about environment? Do you think it shapes a writer’s work? How does it influence you?
It does. In many ways. We are shaped by our surroundings and environments growing up and influenced by our current environments on a daily basis. Does it affect the Stories we write? It affects the writer and in a way, shapes that writer’s capacity to “be a container” for Stories and communicate them authentically. Aspiring writers often want to explore “new worlds” – ones that are opposite than what they grew up with – and probably need to do so for awhile for their own inner development. But once you’ve come around back to yourself, you know that the greatest strength you have lies within your own sense of place and being. And it’s cumulative – from your experience during this present lifetime and all the past ones. So you find that the Stories and Characters that choose you, do so primarily because you are you. It’s what you bring in terms of consciousness, awareness and knowing, that allows you to write the stories you are chosen to write. And characters don’t chose a writer arbitrarily. They have very good reasons for picking you and trusting you with their vulnerabilities.
Can you write a story that is set in an environment you know little or nothing about? Yes. Will it ring with the cultural authenticity and inherent recognition that comes from having experienced that environment? No. Can you introduce new worlds that have not been revealed before? Yes, but that’s another topic.
Another aspect is whether or not a writer’s current environment shapes his or her writing. It can influence the writer and how you go about your writing, but it doesn’t necessarily shape the Story itself. I’ve worked on the same story for extended periods of time while living in both rural and urban settings. The story remained true to itself. I, on the other hand, experience different aspects of support, inspiration and comfort in each setting. I am nourished in different ways, and find that my spirit is most at home surrounded by the calm, soothing, resilient presence of nature. That’s me. That’s where I’m from.
Writers are often seen as “different,” sometimes reclusive. How can we embrace our “differences” to empower our work?
Writers are seen as different because we are different. We deal on a regular basis with the Unseen World. And to do this, we have to be receptive and aware to realities that many people do not have the blessing to become aware of during their lifetimes. Are we born with this perceptive ability? I believe so. It is in some ways, a psychic ability. Many, if not most, writers have introverted personalities. And in American society, “introverted” has often been considered less desirable than extroverted. But when you think of it, writers are usually perfectly designed to be writers. We’re typically listeners, observers, comfortable with less socialization, don’t mind time to ourselves, sensitive, and attuned. Granted, we can also be worriers, perfectionists, take things far too personally and wrestle mightily with self-confidence and trusting ourselves to take command of our stories. But we’re different, not in an egotistical way, but a very positive one, because we are born as writers.
Born as writers? Really? Can’t anyone learn how to write?
That is the perception out there, isn’t it? Writing is taught in school, so anyone can learn it, right? You can learn how to write coherently, structurally, with proper grammar. But you cannot learn talent. You are born with a talent for writing, just as some painters are born with the talent to paint. It’s not a learned gift. It’s an inherent one. The ability to receive, nurture, develop and translate stories and characters from the unseen realm to the page is a gift you are born with. That said, all writers have to learn craft – the structural, formatting, technical aspects of writing. The “tools” of the art.
People often think, “if you are born as a writer, it must be easy, right?” Some aspects do come more naturally than others. But every writer worth his or her salt, struggles. We wrestle with it. Not all in the same way, but there is dedicated effort, victories, defeats, setbacks, and a continual turmoil – surprisingly, often not in the actual writing, but in the decisions, the self-trust, the discernment about whether or not you’re translating the Story right and most effectively, if the characters are pleased, if you’ve “gotten” them correctly, if you’ve honored them well, and if the audience will receive the same story you have.
But isn’t a writer’s life supposed to be glamorous?
That’s the rumor, isn’t it? I’m not sure what it’s supposed to mean. Do we have more luxury? Work less? Enjoy more freedom? Some of us do. Well, I’m not sure you can say “work less” – because most writers put in long, long hours and even when we’re not typing, we’re thinking about the story. But when you do something that comes natural to you, it doesn’t feel like work. So, if that’s what you mean by “work less,” than yes. Being a writer isn’t any different than being any other occupation. You do the work. You get paid.
I think the myth of glamour comes from the idea that being a writer is a sure road to fame and fortune. And that’s not an accurate portrayal of most writers’ experience. It’s certainly not the reason born writers write. If you’re a born writer, you write because it is who you are, you are most fulfilled – despite the struggles – when you’re writing, you can’t imagine life without it. That’s why it doesn’t feel like work. It’s aligned to your spirit and brings you a remarkable sense of joy.