I was working at a book festival in May and came into contact with lots of authors over the course of three days. I picked up different bits of advice from them about working in the industry, but one thing I overheard rattled around my brain all weekend, and in the weeks that have followed. I’m paraphrasing the author slightly but the jist was this: that being a writer is a solitary thing – to get the best novel possible you should spend months, maybe years on end, holed up in a dark room, alone with your own thoughts and your book. You don’t have anyone else. You are alone.
Instantly, I conjured up images of emaciated, sun deprived figures shakily emerging from caves after a decade, holding their manuscripts above their heads like Baby Simba, sobbing with relief. I remember sitting there as he said it thinking, am I doing this wrong?
Okay, so maybe this guy just spends less time on Twitter nattering away to his writing buddies than I do. And maybe that’s why he’s published several books and people actually know who he is, and I’m just me and I’ve only just started on my publishing journey. Maybe I am doing it all wrong, and being a Proper Writer is all about locking yourself in that dark room for a few years, pouring over your book and never speaking to anyone ever.
Maybe that works for him – and that’s great! I think we all need to find a path that suits us. But the more I thought about it, the more I knew I couldn’t do it like that. I need other people on my writing journey. I think they’re really really important.
Here’s why: that author is right. Being a writer is a solitary thing. Unless you have the amazing skill to write in the middle of the chaos of other people talking (and if you do, I take my hat off to you), then most likely you’ll be alone in your writing spot. It requires focus, it requires sacrifice and there aren’t many non-writers who get that you can’t just pitch up your laptop wherever you are and get on with it. So you’ll be by yourself, researching, writing, editing, revising, querying. And sometimes you can get so caught up in that, you can start to believe that you’re alone in this, or that you’re doing a terrible job, or that your manuscript needs to be burnt at the stake.
Hold fire on that flamethrower. Because he was not right about you being alone. It’s so so easy to feel that way when left to your own head space. We can be our own worst enemies. But there is a whole community of writers out there who experience the same anxieties, anger, frustration, jubilation and weariness as you do. I need my writer friends that I’ve met over the years to pull me out of writing slumps, to get excited about a new idea with me, to kick me up the butt when I’m not writing for no other reason than I’m being incredibly lazy.
Without those people (and I hope they know who they are – if not, that’s what acknowledgements are for!) I cannot be the best writer I can be. I would give up. My excitement would fizzle out. I would cry over plot holes that I can’t puzzle out by myself. I wouldn’t have anyone to fangirl with over the latest YA book. I can only hope that I can offer the same help and encouragement in return, when they end it.
There are times where you’ll need to be by yourself, but there are also times when you need other people. So build relationships through writing sites like this, or through Twitter, or through blogs. Attend writing groups. Other people can make the difference between an unfinished idea rotting away on your laptop, and crossing the finish line.
Hannah Davies is an English Literature student and a junior editor at independent publisher PATCHWORK PRESS. When not working or studying, she can usually be found creating new recipes, riding buses, or mothering everyone around her. Her debut short story was published in the PATCHWORK PRESS anthology POLARIS AWAKENING, May 2015.