So, we watched one of those movies last weekend that had a writer in it. You know the story. The writer is a lonely guy. He stares at the “blank page” waiting for the muse to visit. At times, he gazes through tired eyes out at the ocean (writers always live at the beach, right?). He is, of course, an educator, once adored but now tarnished. He struggles with self-doubt and depression. The writer relies on booze for inspiration. In fact, the writer relies on booze entirely and, of course, ultimately acts like a drunken fool in pubic, humiliating himself by stumbling around in a bar where he causes a scene. Ultimately, more bad things happen to the writer since he’s such a tortured soul.
Why does this trope keep getting perpetuated? It’s just so strange to me since most of the writers I know work other jobs and don’t sit alone all day staring at their computer screen with one trembling hand reaching for the whiskey bottle. In fact, none of them drink heavily. By the way, only one is an educator. None of my writer friends live an isolated existence (although one does live at the beach and I’m a bit jealous of that). Like me, these writers are married, they have kids. They have a positive outlook and, sure, they’re obsessed with writing their books, their book reviews and book sales. To a degree, they’re just obsessed with books in general. But these writers care more about the people in their lives than their writing. In some cases, writing is their career and in others it’s a career in progress (hopefully). All the same, their children come first, as do their wives or husbands.
This representation of the solitary writer made me start thinking about why most writers start writing to begin with. While Hollywood often portrays writers as self-absorbed and aloof, I think most writers create fiction so they can reach out and share the stories they imagine (in which there is always a piece of themselves, of course). It’s not about ego and validation as much as it’s a desire to connect with others. What’s really wonderful to experience as a writer are those moments when you realize that’s actually happened. It’s incredibly meaningful to learn that you’ve had a positive impact, through your writing, on the life of someone you’ve never met. This happened to me recently when someone left this comment about Jump When Ready: “…I’d been living in a state of stasis more or less the last few years, not exactly like the group in your books. Recovering from illness and battling the daily uncertainty of depression which I’ve had to deal with the majority of my life. But those lines about jumping back into it again (life) with all uncertainty, fears, anxieties, laughs, time spent with real friends …really hit me and gave me a way of looking at it that made sense! It’s time for me to jump.” I can’t tell you how moving it was for me to read those words and realize I’d contributed something meaningful that touched the life of this person. I felt both honored and a bit stunned. What greater compliment could a writer ever hope for?
Recently, someone else left this in a review of Streetlights Like Fireworks: “I could feel through the characters and their journey how faith and following one’s heart can take us exactly where the universe wants us to go, and I was left feeling charmed and uplifted. Bravo! One of the best books I have ever read (and I just finished all five “Song of Ice and Fire” books, so I read a lot). A total breath of fresh air.” Every writer loves it when they receive praise, especially through a favorable book review. But, again, in this instance I felt incredibly humbled at the thought that something which sprang from my imagination altered someone’s outlook in such a way. Honestly, it just amazes me.
So, sure, writers may spend a fair amount of time alone. I guess that’s pretty much required since it’s extremely challenging to write while the kids are trying to get your attention (I know, I’ve tried many times). But in the end the writing is not about the writer but rather that imagined reader who, hopefully, ends up being a real person out there in the world someday when you finally publish that story or novel. It’s all about connecting, reaching out, not withdrawing into that lonely shell stereotype that Hollywood keeps dragging out of the closet. Okay, that’s it. I just wanted to share my thoughts on that. I’m off to the bar now for some time alone.
Yeah, right. I’ll be spending some time with my family first. Later, I’ll get some writing done. Cheers.