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April 12, 2011

Besançon, regional capital, Saturday afternoon. Over 300 hobby writers–all participants in a writing group somewhere or other–had gathered together for the first (and last, as it turned out) annual festival of writing groups. There were talks, workshops and, of course, the opportunity to write together. I attended the poetry workshop. We were given extracts from letters of soldiers separated from their loved ones and told to mark any phrases, images etc. we found interesting. We were to let these inspire us into writing a poem. At the end of the day I was one of those chosen to read their piece out loud and received quite an ovation. I couldn’t wait to get home and read it to my wife. After all, it was for her I’d written it. She listen patiently but the only reaction I got from her was one of bewilderment and a question: “What on earth was that about?”

Since then I’ve moved on. Writing has become something more than a once a week activity. I’ve had a few pieces published and sometimes people have expressed appreciation for what I’ve written. But one constant remains. Often, those closest to me cannot appreciate why I write. They don’t understand what motivates me to get on my bike on Saturday mornings, with only pencil and notebook  and ride to my favourite secluded spot by the canal; they cannot grasp why I’m always jotting down little things I see, hear, think; why I get up at some unearthly hour just to have time to put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard). It’s all so foreign to them. And even if you do get published, they shake their heads at your bubbling enthusiasm; after all it only brought you a couple of euros, pounds, dollars or whatever standard they measure you by. What is really worth all that effort?

I suspect, I’m not alone in this. Most of us probably have similar stories to tell. It’s part and parcel of being a writer. As a result, writing becomes a lonely occupation. Not only are we alone when we write, but we’re alone in our interest. That’s why communities like this are important. They enable writers to share their passion, encourage each other and, sometimes, offload their frustrations.

So what can a writer can do to retain his sanity and, if possible his friends (or family)? How is she/he to react when those around her/him just don’t seem to get the point of it all?

  1. Don’t take it personally. If someone doesn’t understand why your life revolves, at least in part, around your writing remember–that’s not a personal affront.
  2. Keep things, including your writing and possible loneliness, in perspective. Writing isn’t everything. There is a life beyond that magazine article or book. Don’t forget that.
  3. Do look for the company of other writers whenever you can. Don’t go off in a huff and promise you’ll never talk to ‘normal’ people again. And don’t let your social life revolve solely around writers.
  4. Try and share what you’re writing with others. It may one day evoke that spark of interest. But don’t overdo it, otherwise you’ll turn more people off than you will attract.
  1. April 12, 2011 1:28 am

    I’ve enjoyed this post a lot. Sometimes it’s hard to explain why you need some time on your own but, as you said, it’s a matter of balance between your writing and your social life.

    Thanks for sharing.

  2. April 12, 2011 3:42 pm

    Perfect post. I get that a lot from friends. I’ll be so excited that I’m at a certain place in my ms and they’ll just give me a…”100,000 words? Why does that matter?” look

  3. April 13, 2011 3:47 am

    Cfgirl. Thanks for your comment. Another important factor is sharing with friends/family so they can begin to understand. It’s not always easy though.

    Michelle, don’t you find that incredibly frustrating? I know, I do.

  4. April 13, 2011 4:45 am

    I’m very lucky, my partner is a creative type too, so while he doesn’t write, he still “gets it”. My kids are learning how important it is to me too.

  5. April 13, 2011 10:01 am

    Yes, Stacey, you really can count yourself lucky. But then, I’m lucky too because in many other ways my wife and I do a lot together.

  6. April 14, 2011 6:13 am

    My wife and kids are all very creative. We all do NaNoWriMo together as well as ScriptFrenzy. It’s definitely helpful to be surrounded by that type of support and understanding. The trouble is, of course, when we all want or need to be writing — then it’s a debate about how to get the dishes done, the kids fed and the pets walked.

    Getting other people to understand has proven quite difficult, though. So, I don’t really try to get them to understand anymore. I write, they read or don’t read… the only time it is a problem is when they tell me to find something that will pay better for the time I’m committing to it; while that is usually meant to be “helpful advice” (the family needs to eat, after all), it often derails me. I need to learn to handle that part better.

  7. April 14, 2011 10:00 am

    Since retiring, I find myself with lots of time to write but not having much to say because my social life has dwindled down to nothing. I guess thats a reversed problem. Also, my doesn’t get it at all but I’m lucky to have found a small group of friends who share pieces with each other. Now I just need to get out more.


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