Writing is for many of us a solitary endeavor, one we undertake in a quiet room behind a closed door. But that doesn’t have to make it a lonely business, a separation from people and the world, not even if we spend hours in a room every day.
When you write, you can only look ahead. Or close your eyes, if you know the keyword well. You cannot look to your left or right or behind you. Even if many people read your writing, even if you discuss it with friends, even if you get prizes for it, writing is something that happens between you and the page or screen before you.
The Solitude of Writing
Whether we write articles for work or chapters for our book, whether we do it at home, in a cafe, or in an office, the act of writing itself is an intimate and solitary one, a fine interplay of mind and matter. Most of us cannot write and talk or listen to someone else at the same time.
On the contrary, we need a certain quietness to reach the depths of concentration that writing requires. Otherwise, we may be easily distracted and not write much, or our words may only skim the surface of our sentiments, and not reach the depths we seek.
From a distance, writing appears to be deceptively simple, but it’s only after you plunge into it that you begin to understand that writing is like carpentry, or like masonry, or even like architecture. Word by word, brick by brick, you build something. Writing requires a concentrated effort and a concentration that most of us will only find in solitude.
When Solitude Becomes Loneliness
Even if your whole body craves the simple pleasure of the experience of writing, with its unburdening, purification, and distillation of thoughts and emotions, and its fluttering of the imagination, sitting in a room alone for hours can feel lonely. Maybe not on the first day, maybe not on the second, but eventually loneliness may creep on you, and if it joins with doubts about your work or writer’s block, it can create a disabling tension that could make you question the role of writing in your life.
But writing itself is a denial of loneliness, it is a turning inside out of the inner lining of your being. The reader in you, the observer, the wise voice in your head that corrects the mistakes of the biological, physically imperfect you is the first to shatter that loneliness. And then there are your readers, whether two or two thousand, who through your writing understand perhaps better than those closest to you.
We can write a lot and write well and not feel lonely. But we should not deceive ourselves. Even those of us who enjoy being on our own will feel one day how the solitude of writing turns into loneliness. Writing may not tax our bodies, but it certainly taxes our mind. It puts on us a different strain than manual work, but it is a strain nevertheless. Often, the first sign of that strain is loneliness.
My nature is quiet and reserved and prefers the familiar and comfortable to newness and uncertainty. But even if I need quietness and privacy to write, I know that I can find them in other places, not only in my room.
I usually cannot write as much in a cafe or on a train as I do in my room. But now and then, changing the scene can bring me a welcome freshness. I find that simply being around people, even if I don’t interact with them directly, comforts me. We writers need that, to be around people.
Reading Loneliness Away
And then there is reading. To write you need to read. An old book on a shelf in a quiet room may seem a good metaphor for loneliness. But stretch your hand, reach out for it, and read. Each book is a new life we can discover, and each writer is a new friend or mentor or acquaintance. Often, when I have opened a good book, I have felt my loneliness end and a deep and warm understanding spread through me, which I have seldom experienced when interacting with other people.
Anyone who wants to write seriously needs to have a good relationship with solitude. Otherwise writing will feel lonely.
When writing starts to feel lonely, it can be a sign, a warning, that you’re writing something that is not an extension or a manifestation of you, or that has stopped being so. When writing flows, when ideas and words engage us, when characters entertain us, there’s no such thing as loneliness. Indeed, there’s no such thing as “me’ or “myself”, but a coming together of all things and a wise kind of forgetfulness. We forget that we are only a unit of a changing, divisible world, which is something that we need to forget now and then.