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The Lonely Life of a Writer

March 31, 2010
Hemingway posing for a dust jacket photo by Ll...

The Lonely Hemmingway

“Writing, at its best, is a lonely life. Organizations for writers palliate the writer’s loneliness, but I doubt if they improve his writing. He grows in public stature as he sheds his loneliness and often his work deteriorates. For he does his work alone and if he is a good enough writer he must face eternity, or the lack of it, each day. 

Ernest Hemingway

As much as I love Hemingways work, lets face it, he was a miserable old sod and for the most of it, for good reasons. Death and the concept of nothingness permeates his work; though if you look a little deeper, his continual search for authenticity and the courage to live ones life embracing this, is a message which perhaps aught to be taking away; rather than obsessing on his drinking, politics and continual accidents and injuries.

Earlier this week Pauls post –  The mythic life of the writer prompted us to think about the stereotypes artists, and in particular writers have within our society and how these are both maintained and upheld. One of the myths he touches on was the lonely and unappreciated life of the artist. Perhaps for the wrong reasons, Hemmingway heads the movement for the “lonely writer.”

Some writers are fortunate enough to  have a group of writers they are able to interact with either face to face or online in order to share the pain of rejection letters, of being frustrated, carving their way out of writers block, kicking ones way out of procrastination and in sharing the intensity of the writing process. Even within these groups, members lament of the loneliness of the writing process and of the disengagement they have from “real life.”

Like Father McKenzie in the Beatles song ‘Eleanor Rigby’, many writers believe that  they are creating text which no one is going to read. This, I believe,  forms the spearhead of the loneliness belief.  It is the fear of obscurity which then leads to a fear of mortality. The published, popular works of writers live on through a myriad of media, some yet to be invented. The forgotten scribblings of the majority of writers will turn to ash in the time that their mortal bodies do.

Perhaps too a distinction needs to be made between ‘alone’ and ‘lonely’ and of the concept of solitude.

Many writers maintain that work cannot be done in the midst of cafes or the general hub bub of life and that ‘real creativity’ comes from solitude. Creativity, be it writing, sculpting, acting or drawing comes from the inner most part of the soul. Whilst it is true that many people find it difficult to tap into this part of themselves with the distractions of suburbia occurring about them, for others, a practiced meditative state will ensure that this resource is tapped into and allowed to flow freely.

When it comes down to it, we write, birth and die alone, regardless of who is in the room with us.  Whilst we can share our stories with others, co-write or be part of a collective, its our worlds, characters and events which our minds have turned into our literary efforts. The words we put forth, regardless of the amount of drafts and edits it has been through, will belong to only one person. Perhaps it is true that writing is a solitary craft. However, solitude is a state of mind, rather than an environmental state and one that writers especially should be expert in realizing, yet are some of the last to embrace.

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Annie Evett One of my favourite jokes involves one of Hemingways chickens crossing the road… Why? To die…. alone.. in the rain…. Seriously… Am I the only one who finds this hysterically funny every time I hear it?  Follow Annie here on Twitter and start your escape into her world here

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  1. March 31, 2010 7:05 am

    very true Annie….
    though i like solitude while writing, in everyday life, it is utterly despised by me.

    And I am still a lonely failing writer. Like ‘many writers ‘ I too probably believe that nobody will ever read my words. Anyways, I never lament about the lonely process and the above belief hasn’t formed a spearhead yet. lol

  2. March 31, 2010 10:53 am

    I think the comment about writers believing that they’re “creating a text which no one will read” is significant for many reasons. I think this is true to a point, but I know a lot of writers-myself included-that have come to the conclusion that their writing is never good enough. It’s somewhat of a belittling complex, but I also have heard the theory that “no writer likes what he/she writes.” Maybe this is why the lonely life is so appealing to/for writers? Maybe if we isolate ourselves, then no one can confirm that our deepest fears are the truth?

    Then again, I think writers need a social environment in order to really write a realistic, sympathetic character.

    Or maybe the true key is balance…

  3. adampb permalink
    March 31, 2010 6:51 pm

    The life of the lonely writer perhaps should be differentiated between solitary and lonely. The need for solitary time to create, works for most artistic temperaments, but with the advent of the interwebs and social networking, that isolation is reduced.
    It is easy to find a community willing to read what you have written and to offer constructive advice. The Fiction Friday crowd have been wonderful in encouraging my writing, even though I know which pieces are rubbish and which have a sense of something bigger. Thanks to all the people who have left comments on my work – big shout outs!
    While I write in isolation, it is not lonely or alone as I know that there is an audience who will help stroke the fragile ego of a writer. Still, I let the “inner critic” have sway sometimes and wonder, even if I edit and rewrite seventy times seven, will my work be acceptable?
    However, I have come to the conclusion that I am a learner of the craft, that I can improve and I can write something that I will be proud of, even if no one but my Mum reads it.
    But I still maintain the dream to be a published writer. I am a writer!

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