Writers and Loneliness

lonelywritersThis week I talked to elementary school kids about my job as an author. They were sweet and silly and asked great questions (“How much money did you make last year?”)

After my talk, a few Fifth Graders lingered to tell me about the books they wanted to write. As one girl stared at her Converse, she described her dystopian novel about a world where animals could talk and humans were their slaves. It sounded incredible. As her teacher called for her, I told her I absolutely could not wait to read her book one day.

But as I lugged my poster boards out to my car, I wondered if she would ever finish that book, if she would ever become a writer. Mostly, would she be able to survive the dystopian world of author loneliness?

Maybe a life alone doesn’t sound so hard to girls like this one. She was an introvert. Looking me in the eye seemed to pain her. If, say, lunch is a similar painful experience for her, days by herself probably sound glorious.

But it’s not the solitude, per se, that makes writing lonely. The problem is that an author’s life lacks real community. Even bookish, socially awkward kids need community. They need to be in a classroom of kids having a similar experience. As social creatures, we humans like to observe and relate to those having the same experience. It’s a need you don’t notice until the community disappears.

Consider this: my husband is an introvert who doesn’t need to connect with a lot of people. Yet he desperately needs colleagues. He might not know the names of his coworkers’ wives, but he needs their company. He talks to the guys he works with about clients and software. Their casual conversation and shared interests defeats his loneliness. Writers struggle with having no such community.

I should’ve also told that future author that all that time in her own head will change the way she relates to the world.

After hours of work, mining deeper and deeper in my own brain, the landscape of my own thoughts is bright and brilliant. But when I leave my computer to pick up my kids? I can’t think of anything to ask them. My words and their responses seem so dull. They’re black and white, like we’re speaking in a foreign language. When I’m in my own world for so many hours every day, my muscles to connect become flabby. Even when I’m around people, I feel a little lonely.

My antidote against loneliness is what these shy kids have probably already learned as introverts: focus on a few, meaningful relationships.

Connecting with a few loyal, stable friends keeps me on the bright side of the loneliness abyss. I can be awkward and spacey and not great company, but I keep investing in relationships. They buoy me. They keep me from staying permanently submerged in my own murky world.

As I drove home to write after the Career Day talk, I wished I would have told that girl a little more about how to survive the loneliness that might come with her life as an author. I wish I had said, “As a writer you won’t have the easy bridges to other people that you need. You’ll have to work harder at building them. But those bridges are necessary.”

I did tell her one important message, though. I said, “Whatever you do, keep writing. The world needs your stories.”

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