The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Writer

Perhaps everyone would be  in a better mood if someone added a shot of whiskey...

Perhaps everyone would be in a better mood if someone added a shot of whiskey…

Out in the old Airstream office again, starting to work on an essay. “Starting to work” means looking out of the windows for a spell, straightening a counter that’s already ruler-straight, peeking at Twitter—but with eyes wide open, so that a peek becomes a stare—and on and on.

If you’re an at-home working writer, and one for whom discipline is a comrade who sometimes leaves early for lunch, you might shy from the tyranny of the page, and look for like cronies to complain to. But it’s been years since I’ve had office mates that could tolerate hearing my sighs about bad sentence structure over the cubicle walls. Sometimes my cat comes out to the trailer to discuss subject-verb agreements, but most of the time, it’s just me.

A great privilege it is to be able to work from home, and a greater gift to be able to work with words, the dizzying whirligigs that they are. Writers need to sequester their minds in order to stew, consciously or not, over their word soups, but sometimes the kitchen seems a little quiet. The habitual patter of your mind can be a little wearing, especially when it flies off center, and you start thinking things like “Tom, when you tilt your head just so, you look a lot like Madeleine Albright.”

When the Idea Salon Is an Asylum

But when you realize that the errant voices in your head are, shockingly, less crazy than the ones on the Internet, you know that going out in that uncivil commons is no way to relax and exchange ideas in the idea salon, finger sandwiches at the ready. I have a standing policy to not read the comments pages of many postings, because their curdled sourness doesn’t offer companionship to any but the crazed.

Even more crazed than me.

But thankfully there are a few spots on the InterTubes that can offer solace—and even fine writing advice, so you can coddle yourself into thinking you are working, sort of. One of the best is WriterUnboxed, with its daily postings on craft, marketing, personal writing foibles, the publishing industry and much more, written by a splendid range of seasoned experts, newbies and specialists. Equally as helpful as the sound writing advice is the collective community of peers and writing chums, who share comments in the sandbox that are insightful and warm, but without too much mush. (Mush causes mold.)

For writers like me, living in their hollow, echoing wooden heads, a place like WriterUnboxed is a godsend. Now and then, they even let me write something there.

Combat the Loneliness of the Long-Distance Writer: Collaborate

Another way a writer, who might be out in his ’66 Airstream with screaming orange plaid upholstery for eight hours a day, might reach out and still get some writing done is by collaborating with another writer. Rick Wilson and I have been working on a novel together, based on this short story, for a couple of years, and the final chapter is just a whimsy of words away from being done.

Working with Rick has been delightful, and in the many moments when I’ve staggered in the process and lost my oxygen, he’s opened the valves on new tanks of enthusiasm. And since Rick’s a dentist, I’m going to ask for nitrous for the home stretch. I’ll post more about the book in blogs to come.

Lastly, when a writer is feeling low or lonely, there are the works of other authors to lift and educate. Books are great companions too, and have been through my life. I just finished the delightful and hilarious Where’d You Go, Bernadette. I shock myself by never having read a Toni Morrison work before, so Jazz is next.

Books themselves are quiet company, even if the upholstery is too loud.

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4 thoughts on “The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Writer

  1. Tom, writing Swirled All the Way to the Shrub with you has been one of my life’s great adventures. Our characters! Such a remarkable flock of folks. And the plot has been so darn fun to move forward, especially with the unexpected moves we both take.
    I’ve not ever exactly felt lonely when writing, because my characters end up being just as real to me as any actual people I’ve ever known. Still, so far as I can tell, there’s something about working with another writer that just magnificently stirs the soup in the cauldron, in ways that it can never be stirred when writing alone.

  2. I am least lonely when writing. This says something, I’ll wager, about me and my characters.

    Have you read any Liane Moriarty? Besides the stellar surname, her stuff just keeps getting better, though I’ll always have a soft spot for the special weirdness of the first of hers I read, The Last Anniversary. But Big Little Lies deserves the attention it’s getting.

  3. Rick, back at you in spades (and tiny trowels too). Of course, we shouldn’t get all self-congratulatory and all, since the book is very much a work in progress (and occasional regress). But it’s been an interesting (and productive) exercise in writerly exchange, and I’m going to write more on that process.

    In the meantime—waiting to hear Unctual’s toast!

  4. Yeah Joel, you’re probably always muttering at your characters, you mutterer you. But I do get the sense you feel them, as Rick suggests about our menagerie in Shrub. I have to constantly resist making things easier for characters, the poor things, because they bumble about so much. But there’s movement in the bumbling, so…

    Nope, never read Liane Moriarty—I’m going to traipse over to Amazon and check that dark river for her stuff to see what’s what, what?

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