Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Alone Again, Naturally

I have been pondering the ironies involved with being a writer. We are exhorted to 'show, don't tell' and to fill our manuscripts with fast-paced plots peopled with interesting, extroverted characters. Yet, we write alone. Each of us sit with his or her pen and paper or computer and write without anyone shouting or dancing around us. I find it amusing that many introverts spend their days (or nights) writing about extroverts with lives crowded with incident.

You couldn't write a book showing the realistic life of a writer as they create a manuscript; it's too boring. Hours upon hours of staring at a blank screen or typing away. Certainly, there's cursing. There may be laughter. There may even be chocolate or cake. But this writer can never be a main character unless you're writing about the life that happens away from the computer. Ironic, isn't it?

We write about colourful characters involved in life-changing (or for us mystery writers life-ending) circumstances. Would you want to be living the life of one of your characters or would you rather be left alone so you can write? As for me, I'd take the lifestyle of some of my characters in an instant but not their problems. There are days, however, when I think it might be nice to be surrounded by people and have real conversations instead of spending my hours making up conversations for my characters. I never quite fit into the traditional 9 to 5 world, but the companionship was nice and there are days that I miss it. On the other hand, I'm extremely grateful that I am able to spend several hours a day writing (or trying to write). I know if I had a full-time job outside the home it would be impossible (for me).

So we continue to sit alone as we spin our tales; the only voices the ones inside our heads clamouring for their stories to be told. I do like being a writer. But sometimes, it would be nice to look up and see another face!

Do you cherish your time alone and wish you had more? Would you want the lives of your characters? Or is just the price we have to pay for being writers?


  1. I treasure the time I spend alone--I can never seem to get enough. However, I'm sure that if I had oodles of "alone" time, I'd miss all the normal commotion that surrounds me.

    But I wouldn't mind taking that chance once in a while!

  2. A most interesting muse, here. True enough that many authors, even writers of epic sci-fi sagas and the like, are shy introverts keying away while their characters swashbuckle their way through galaxy-wide wars, lol. Not always the case, of course, there ARE "A" type personalities amongst authors. I've always found it amazing how some writers can write about doing the laundry and make it totally engrossing and entertaining while others try to write a gun fight scene and it's boring. It would be quite a talent to be able to write about a boring shy author writing his/her book and make it come off thoroughly entertaining, would it not?

    Hmmmmm .... (wink)

    Marvin D Wilson

  3. I just realized that the busier I am, the more productive I am as a writer. Some life issues forced me to cut many activities and the writing dried up. An introvert by nature, I still need to be around people. While the alone time is heaven, I need to work to include people time. It's the eternal struggle for balance.

  4. Alan; We're never satisfied, are we? Too much noise, we want quiet; too much quiet we want noise!

    Old Silly; That WOULD take quite a talent! It does have the making of a nice comedy though...hmmmmm.

    abouttothunder; I think I'm the same way, if I have a great deal to do I can be very productive. It is a struggle for balance.

  5. I think I'm lucky in that I have a taste of both worlds. I work part time, which gives me the human interaction I need. The few hours I have when the kids are still at school are my cherished writing hours. There are days when I think I'd like to be alone all the time, but I find I'm more productive with a schedule. The older I get, the more valuable my time becomes. As for living in my characters shoes...I save the drama for my fiction. Having a happy stable home life means my imagination can thrive.

  6. As always, Elspeth, such an interesting question you raise!!! I actually prefer to write alone; it's when I'm alone that I can best synthesize what I experience throughout the day and make some sense of it, so I can write it down and breathe life into my characters.

    That said, I need interaction, too. It's human give/take and companionship that nourish my creativity, so I would never want to be a hermit. I think we writers need both rich interactions and "alone time." Not a straight answer to your question, but an honest one.

  7. Karen; I'm glad you enjoyed it. Congratulations on getting errands done; I'm woefully behind in mine.

    Stacey; A happy and stable home life can give real comfort can't it? I think our imaginations can fly when we know we're safe.

    Margot; It does seem to be a learned balance, doesn't it? You seem to have it just right. Well done!

  8. I do sometimes miss the noisy, gossipy atmosphere of an office environment - sometimes. I absolutely would not have the time to do what I do now if that were still part of my life.

    The key for me is in balance, and making the time for extracurricular activities. Just running errands and doing the grocery shopping helps a lot! Another wonderful tool for a bit of interaction is Skype. To visit with friends 200 or 2000 miles away is one of the advances in technology that I wholeheartedly embrace!

  9. Crystal; I keep meaning to investigate Skype. Thanks for the reminder!

  10. Great questions, and wonderful for introspection. I think it's a bit of a Catch 22. When I'm not writing, I want to be writing. When I have nothing to do but write, I want to be elsewhere, with other people. And yet, when the writing is working and I'm in the zone, I'm not alone. I'm immersed in the world of my novel.

    Sometimes I want to be living my characters' lives (I agree with you, though -- not their problems!). Career-wise, Andi was/is much further along than me, and at one time I aspired to have her career. I also think Sam was the husband I had wished for.

    In our current manuscript, the protag owns a cafe, and there's a part of me that always fantasizes having a place like that, almost like a home. But, in reality, I could never take the work ethic or schedule required to run such a business.

    It's fun to live vicariously, but it's also important to have that alone time. I live a lot in my head, but I also live in the world. Sometimes I'm just not sure which is which.

    (Geez, I have to save this for my own blog post!)

  11. Elisa; Thanks for the great comment; it IS a Catch 22, isn't it? Are you still smiling? I bet you are...

  12. Oh I *really* like to be alone. But I've gotten better about getting out of the house to write. Even if I'm writing, I'm still surrounded by interesting people....and I do tend to feed off that.

    I think about Emily Dickinson who was a MAJOR extrovert...and came up with some wonderful poetry. Jane Austen wasn't exactly an extrovert either. It's truly amazing.

    Mystery Writing is Murder

  13. If I got to write the character, I wouldn't mind walking in their shoes. I, of course, would write that character so that nothing bad happened but she led an exciting life!

    Straight From Hel

  14. Oh, Elspeth . . . where else can you spend all day in conversation with people you created and not have anyone lock you up and call you crazy. We writers have it made.

  15. Yes, I am still smiling... big goofy grin :)

  16. Elizabeth; It's interesting to think about isn't it; all those people who spent so much time alone and yet created such wonderful works.

    Helen; There's a smart idea. They need to be really rich, too.

    Carol; You have a valid point!

    Elisa; "It doesn't go away."

  17. So true - we introverts describing in detail the world of the extroverts :)

    I have a very busy day job - so I get lots and lots of people time. I cherish my time alone to write so much! There's never enough!

  18. I like being alone for periods of time and then enough... I want to be around people again. But I must say I love the aloneness of writing...to be selfish and spend time with the characters I create. It sounds like I need a life.

    Great thought provoking truths- ouch I feel boring. :)

  19. Jemi; I would imagine your very busy day job would balance out the quiet writing time quite nicely.

    Journaling Woman; Yes, I'm very wise. *cough, cough*

  20. I think everyone needs a certain amount of alone time. Reading has been a life long passion but when I had too much college reading to do, of the boring variety that is, I resented reading, even fiction. Weird, right?

  21. I love the alone time when I have it, but I also love to pop into the Northern Colorado Writers monthly coffee hour and talk (but of course we're talking about writerly stuff). Very thought-provoking post.

  22. I love my alone time, but with a toddler it's hard to get. I've managed to make arrangements (daycare, babysit swap) to get some for writing or just plain old relaxing!

  23. I love the quiet of an empty house, but I am inspired by people and getting out. Right now, my in-laws are on the way home with the kids and I feel a bit desperate: where has all the time to myself gone?


  24. Do you cherish your time alone and wish you had more? I DO!

    Great post, and you touch upon one of my Achilles heels. In my latest manuscript I created a main character who was too like me. Not nearly active enough, and not enough of a risk-taker. Some things you learn in the hard way, but I am sure she will improve while I am sitting quietly behind my screen :D


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