Monday, April 23, 2012

Is Writing a Solitary Art?

Today I am writing a blog post as a response to another blog post. That's legal, right? I've seen it done before, and ever since I've been wanting to try it myself. I made myself wait until I found something I cared enough about to write a whole blog post in response, and now I've found something that matters that much to me.

These paragraphs are from Veronica Sicoe, a writer I recently stumbled upon and whose posts I've enjoyed reading. One post she made, however, struck a chord with me. It's called 13 Myths About Writing, and while I agree with almost every point she makes, especially #13, I disagreed with her very first point, quoted here for your convenience.
Myth #1. Writing is a solitary activity
Just because we sit in front of the computer a lot doesn’t mean we’re isolated. Sure, once upon a time when writers had only pen and paper, or typewriters if they milked their family for money, they were alone when they labored away at their works of literary art. But nowadays, sitting in front of the computer doesn’t isolate you. Quite the opposite.
The writer of today doesn’t battle solitude, he battles emails, blog comments and newsletter subscriptions. There are thousands of writers out there, flocking in forums and on writing platforms, chatting away and making friends, beta-reading and reviewing hell for leather. And don’t get me started on social media and the lovely new concepts of hyperfiction and interactive fiction.

Okay, yes. We do have a wonderfully huge community of writers and authors and readers and publishers and people who are willing to talk to us crazy writer-types and help us out and beta-read for us.

There are thousands of things we as writers are supposed to do. We're supposed to maintain a Twitter account, and a Facebook page, and any of the other social networking sites that seems to be on the rise right now. There is literally an entire universe of people out there to talk to.

Writers are social by nature, possibly as a response to the intense solitude of our existence. Before writing, we can discuss ideas with our friends, ask for help with research, even turn to Google and ask for synonyms.

After the work is written, we can post it to the Internet on any number of websites so other people can read and critique, we can hire proofreaders and editors to make it better, and we can seek advice to refine the structural integrity of our work. We can involve tons of people in the process of having written or preparing to write. Posting my work to DeviantArt alone allows over 20 million people the opportunity to read and critique it.

But no. Writing is a solitary art. All of these other things we do, that isn't writing. Writing is when you lock the other distractions away, put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) and write.

No one else is there, telling you what to write. No one else can save you or condemn you. It's ultimately up to you, what you say, how you say it. It's deeply personal and intimately yours.

We like to talk and assuage the loneliness of our art by telling ourselves that we don't have to be alone, there are others out there just like us who can come very very close to seeing inside our minds and understanding us, but when you write, it's just you. Anything that comes between you and the writing isn't helping you write; it's a distraction.

Even at NaNoWriMo's Night of Writing Dangerously, where hundreds of writers come together to write and talk about their stories, their brief periods of activity are separated by long periods of entirely focused, single-person writing. That's because you can't write while you're talking. You've got to actually write.

On the subject of collaborative works

There are many excellent books out there written by multiple authors. Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett is one of my favorite books. I'm currently writing a novel (very slowly) with one of my writer friends. Another friend, The Starved Writer, is writing a One-Word-At-A-Time Story with all of Twitter invited to donate a word to compose the story.

Despite these examples of collaborative works, I maintain that the act of writing is still a solitary art. It comes from a place so deep inside of you that whole books have been written about it and we still don't understand where writing comes from or why it works.

Writing is incredibly difficult and it doesn't make sense, and it comes from inside of you. Not from multiple people. No matter how close you might get to sharing that experience with someone else, it is intimately personal, and even collaborative works are written a chapter at a time, with each author taking a turn to reach inside of them and create.

Thus, as much as I respect Veronica Sicoe's website (which is a lovely place, actually, check it out!) and wholeheartedly agree with every single one of her other thirteen writing myths, this is why I must disagree with her first myth. We can talk about writing and share our work, but when it comes time to actually write, everyone else vanishes.

Do you agree? Or do you think that in this age of the Internet, writing is more a communal activity than ever?


  1. I have to agree. We can network and be social and get feedback all day but when it comes down to the act of writing, we do it alone.

    1. Thank you for your thoughts, Adam! Always good to see a new face. ^_^

  2. I think it's completely solitary. I also think that Veronica (unintentionally or not) puts "solitary" into a bad light. Like you said: "we're social by nature", so so what if the actual work is solitary? That's not terrible, it's how work gets done.
    If you work in a cubicle, you can't get work done with tons of people popping by to talk to you, you need to be able to concentrate on what you're doing, but that doesn't make that work solitary.
    For the most part, the way I see it, almost all work (excluding social work or secretarial work, etc.) requires some amount of solitude. Some more than others, and it so happens that writing requires more solitude than most.

    1. Hmm, that makes a lot of sense. There's nothing wrong with being solitary because that's what gets the work done. If you want something done, do it yourself, right? ^_^

  3. I wouldn't even say that all writers are social by nature. I tend to not answer my phone when I'm on a good writing kick, or say no to play dates or girl's nights (even though I may need it) because I'd rather write.

    I agree with you. Writing - actual writing - is a very solitary work. I feel bad for my little boy... he's practically being raised by Blue's Clues because I spend so much time on my laptop.

    Gotta find the balance :-)

    1. Blues Clues... not a bad childhood. Mix in some Sesame Street and then he'll ace kindergarten, right? (Is such a thing possible? Can you ace/fail kindergarten?)

      Sounds like you have strong self-control. I'm still struggling to find the balance between play and work. ^_^

  4. You've made some really great points, Wordsmith, and I like how deeply you've analyzed the experience of artistic expression and creativity.

    I believe you're absolutely right when you say that writing is a very personal and intimate activity, that can only be performed through the exclusion of exterior influences. Any act of creativity is fundamentally a translation of your innermost visions into a work that is comprehensible to others, and even enjoyable.

    What I intended with the negation of writing being a "solitary" activity, was to remind writers that they are not secluded and isolated in their endeavors, and aren't doomed to a life devoid of normalcy and socialization. It's precisely because we wrap ourselves in a cocoon when we create that we tend to forget we're not quarantined with our creative affliction, and that there are many ways in which we can socialize even to the benefit of this creativity, not its detriment. Not that solitude was unpleasant when creating, but it tends to become dreary on the long run. People are a wonderful well of inspiration, and keep your mind and senses keen.

    I'm really glad though that you've found that point annoying enough to write this post, because you've really explored some very important aspects of what it means to be a creative person, in this case a writer. ;)

    Thank you so much for taking the time to write about this, and for the mentions. I'm glad to have met you. Keep digging under surfaces, and keep writing!