Writing is a lonely job, they say. Even the great writers like Ernest Hemingway have said that to write means to live a solitary life. I have often wondered at this quote, and I am not sure I stand by it… and I am not sure that I don’t.
Hemingway said that writers could always join writer societies–and in this modern world I suppose that also includes online societies–and that this would help placate the writer’s loneliness and increase his social life, but his writing would eventually suffer and become increasingly more mediocre due to this exposition. (It’s all here in his nobel prize acceptance speech.)
Thsi type of advice goes directly against what experts in the industry are telling young and novel writers nowadays—which is that you need people critiquing your work and other pairs of eyes looking over what you write, that you need beta readers and reading groups and constructive criticism and the everything of the sort. In short, that as a writer you should have a community of peers to surround you and help build your work. And here I sit, wondering whom I should listen to. In fact, some claim it as an absolutely necessary step in order to produce good work.
But is this true?
Writing is inherently a lonely job. You sit down with a computer (or a typewriter or a piece of paper and a pen, depending on your style) in front of you and basically pour out what is on your mind and transform it into words in a style that only your individuality can create. It’s deeply personal and thus, also solitary work. Your writing gets better as you learn from your craft and as you learn how to communicate what’s inside your head in a compelling way and in a way readers can understand and connect with.
This can only be done by you.
Don’t get me wrong, I have had beta readers and also professional editors look over my work and some of their advice has been invaluable to me. I learned a-lot from their notes and from their perception of what I wrote. But I don’t do this all the time… in fact, after that initial exposition, I have relied only on myself to polish and perfect my work.
So I would say I am a lonely writer, after all. Not because I think beta readers aren’t worth it, but just because I have found that solitary work is more beneficial for me in the long run than community work. I needed those beta readers and editors when I was still learning how to write and construct a story… but now I feel like I can trust myself enough and have gotten to know my writing enough to produce a reliable and coherent narrative on my own. I am also sort of guarded over what I write… or at least over my fiction, anyways.
Also, having several beta-readers or editors look over your work and give you what sometimes could be interpreted as conflicting advice could result in confusion and the dreaded writer’s block, which is nothing but a lack of confidence or a surplus of idleness or a combination of both these things, in any case. So it can be tricky.
I don’t think Hemingway meant that the writer’s life is defined by actual loneliness, as in the sense of real solitude where one has no contact with the outer world and no friends. Or at least I hope he didn’t, because I do stand resolutely against this belief. Being a writer is like any other profession, and even though there are certainly moments of obsession, one cannot become a hermit and isolate oneself from the rest of the world if one desires to maintain a decent level of sanity and balance in one’s life.
“Writing is a lonely job.”
I interpret that what this quote means is that the writer must ultimately work it all out himself, just him and his head… and that there is a chance, however brilliant that writer might be, that his work will suffer if he allows others to influence him too much or to collaborate excessively on his work while he’s working on it. It’s supposed to be his/her work. His/her vision. He should hack away at it and get better every day, without others necessarily polluting it. What’s more, he should learn what works and what doesn’t so that he doesn’t have to rely all the time on other people, which can prove to be a handicap in the long run. And in this sense, this quote is certainly something I believe in.