The myth of the lonely writer

At 1:22 this morning – but who was checking? – I finished the second draft of The Swan Harp. Thanks to the feedback from my readers I added another subplot, which added another forty pages, and the story is much improved.

It’s often said that writing is a lonely profession. I’m not sure I buy that any more. True, I’m a bit of an art hermit, but then, I’ve always been one, quite content to spend hours or days in my studio without a lot of human contact.

I do occasionally get lonely, but since joining the writers’ group in Thessalon and the online one at Zoetrope, I have had a lot of social contact with other writers. But that’s not really what the “lonely” part of being a writer is – supposedly.

Artists have this myth, that they are solitary creators who pull what they make out of the wellspring of their own imaginations, unsullied by any other being. That, to put it bluntly, is a crock. True, the final decisions on the creation are always the artist’s, but one of the most valuable things any artist can do is solicit critique, or, if that word seems too harsh, feedback from the others around her or him.

There’s a line I really like from the NaNoWriMo song – “I just realized I have plot holes and my writing really sucks”. I remember my first novel draft, done for the Three-Day Novel contest. Forty-eight hours after I’d mailed it in, I realized I had two huge plot holes in it. When the other members of my writing group read it, they pointed them out to me. Yup, there they were – you could drive a transport through them.

Now, I’m not kicking myself over those. It was my very first completed novel draft, and it was the classic shitty first draft, written in seventy-two hours, and had to be postmarked within four days of the end of the contest. I didn’t have time for critique and rewrite.

I don’t have that excuse any more; I have time, and a small but reliable group of critical readers who will tell me where the plot holes are, and all the other little faults, too. If I clung to the lonely-artist myth and insisted on completing my project in full before I ever let anyone see it, or, worse, did not seek the kind of feedback that a solid, critical reader can give, my work wouldn’t be nearly as good.

So it’s the first draft that’s lonely. After that, for me at least, the end result is something of a group effort. I’m okay with that, mainly because I’m willing to change my story to improve it, and I’m not possessive about having to come up with all the changes myself. After all, I have the final say on the form and direction of any change.

No writer is an island – at best we are peninsulas stretching out into the sea of creativity. Those who say “Whoa! Where’d that come from?” or “I think you need another subplot” or “This part isn’t working” are the ones who keep us connected to reality. Without them we’d be totally adrift.

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4 Responses to The myth of the lonely writer

  1. Widdershins says:

    Congratulations on getting that grant to finish your novel … I just read about it on the funds for writers newsletter … there’s nothing like all that free time to stare at the screen and ponder great things

    • ecreith says:

      Thank you! It is wonderful to have time to write worry-free. Blessings on the OAC and the jurors who awarded me the gift of writing time!

  2. lucinda Kempe says:

    “I’m okay with that, mainly because I’m willing to change my story to improve it, and I’m not possessive about having to come up with all the changes myself. ”

    Amen Elizabeth. Me too. You’ve been a tremendous part of my growth as a writer and I jus luvs you for your honesty, critical eye and ear and generosity. Wonderful double ditto for the SH RR.

  3. Thanks, Lucinda! And I love how you can take what I say and incorporate it into your work – or not – and yet keep the flavour of your own writing.

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