Friday, February 12, 2010

We Are Not Alone

By Russel D McLean

Writing is something that is done – for me, at least – in solitude. My dear friend, Rebecca, gets very fed up with people saying to her, “You know a writer? Isn’t he an exciting person?” In fact she gets so fed with people saying this to her that she now has a catch-all response:

“You want to know the truth? Russel spends all day* sitting in front of a computer in a dressing gown and slippers that could walk around on their own, swearing to himself and occasionally tapping things on a keyboard.”

And it’s a joke, but its also quite true – the life of a writer is hardly glitz and glamour. The movies make us look like tormented geniuses and the montages of writing make it seem like such a natural and smooth and terrifically momentum-fuelled process that, you know, there’s something pretty sexy about it – particularly since writing seems to be a process of doing things out in the real world while doing a voice over.

But more often than not, we’re just people, sitting in a room thinking, “what the hell do I write next?”

I mention this because one of the most important things to have around you as a writer is a support network. Often this can be a spouse or partner. I don’t really, at this time, have anyone like that. But I do have friends. And my mum and dad, who have been very supportive of my choice to try and write for a living (even if mum dissaproves of some of my swearing!). I have very good friends both within and without the writing community. And all of these people are hugely important to me. For one thing, they force me out of the house to occasionally interact with the real world. This is a good thing because, given my personality, I could quite easily sit in this tatty dressing gown and squelch in these slippers and not notice the apocalypse occurring in the world outside so intent would I be on trying to perfect a piece of work that I never really see as finished**

And that’s the thing: a writer – even a pulpy writer like myself – needs to engage with the world. To be part of it. You cannot write in isolation. Stuck inside all day with those voices in your head? You’d go mad. Well, I certainly would.

So my friends – both those that write and those that don’t – provide a necessary relief. They are my connection to the real world. They keep grounded. And they keep me sane. And some of them even ensure that I remember to wear clothes when I leave the deepest, darkest shadows of my abode.

Because of these people – because of their support – I feel like perhaps they make me a better writer. Not by offering advice or assisting professionally (although some of them do) but by simply being my friends, by being there to arse around with or talk to.

So while the act of writing is by necessity a solitary activity (even when you’re writing in tandem, I think there is some element of solitude that must come between collaborators, but then I’ve never really collaborated, so what do I know?) I do believe that any book owes its genesis as much to those around the writer as it does to the writer themselves. Not in a direct fashion, perhaps, but without the support network that friends, family and colleagues provide, I don’t know how anyone could do this crazy gig and come out the other side with anything like their best work.

In short, this week’s post is dedicated to those people in my life. I think you all know who you are.

I just want to say thank you.

*Not entirely true – I do occasionally get dressed and go to a day job.
**Perhaps that’s another post – but here’s why deadlines are important for someone like me: I can never see a work as finished until they pry it from my cold dead, keyboard. There’s always something else in the text I could be fiddling with.


Steve Weddle said...

Well, whatever magic you had to work to get out something as good as LOST SISTER is fine by me.

I wonder how critique groups have changed in the past few years. Is it better to get together around a table at the local library and talk about someone's plot holes, or does the emailing files back and forth end that? Maybe Google Wave? I dunno.

It is solitary until you're done with something. Like cooking. You make it, but you gotta have someone taste it to make sure you won't kill all of your dinner guests.

Barna W. Donovan said...

Very cool piece. I kind of reminds me of an essay on writing about boxing I read many years ago. One part of the essay compared the professional writer to the professional boxer. I can't remember who wrote this (maybe it will sound familiar to somebody) but the comparison said something to the effect that...

"The writer and the boxer are both essentially solitary figures. Sure, trainers, coaches, family, and friends offer support, but you always have to do the work by yourself. In the final analysis its always You Alone vs. Kid White Page, and he's always undefeated. Even submitting a manuscript is kind of like stepping into the ring. You are nearly stripped naked and the whole world is there to see if you got it or not."

I thought that was amusing and reminded me of this posting...even though I'm probably mangling somebody else's eloquent prose.

Mike Dennis said...

Good post, Russel. Very reminiscent of the lyrics to THE WIND BENEATH MY WINGS.

Joelle Charbonneau said...

Remind me to buy you a new robe at Christmastime.

I agree that nothing is ever perfect...until it is in print. (Then there is nothing you can do about it, so you call it complete and move on.) And having a great support system is necessary in this kind of business. The rejection, the bad reviews and of course the good moments always feel more real when they are shared.