Are Writers Really Loners? Should We Be?

The old stereotype shows writers sitting alone in their garrets writing for hours, avoiding people while the bills and the trash pile up—and maybe the empty whiskey bottles, too. But is that really where it’s at? I don’t even have a garret.

I ask this because it came up at our board meeting for Writers on the Edge, which puts on the Nye Beach Writers Series in Newport Oregon. We are running out of volunteers. Even though writers and fans claim to love what we do, nobody seems to want to commit to working on the team that makes it happen.

In wondering why it’s so hard to get volunteers, some of the board speculated that it’s because writers are lone wolves. But are they? Writers are always asking me as president of WOE where they can hang out with other writers. They want to chat, they want critiques, they want to just set their laptops side by side and work. They need that extra push of someone caring whether or not they write to make them put words on the page. Some want classes, many want deadlines.

I read online recently about a group of women that meet to submit their work. Side by side with their laptops, they pound out their manuscripts, queries, and cover letters. Every time someone hits send, they all celebrate. This is similar to the National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) write-ins that happen all over the country in November. I have not attended these. I prefer to write in silence. Also, I speak my words as I type them, which would no doubt drive the others crazy. But if you would like to write with other writers, you don’t have to wait until November. Invite somebody for a writing date.

I prefer to produce my rough drafts and do major edits alone, but I don’t like to be alone all the time. I enjoy the company of other writers, and I love the extra push from workshops and write-ins where everybody’s writing at once. Over the years, critique groups have been very helpful. Several of the most successful writers I know, including Chuck Palahniuk, Cheryl Strayed, Chelsea Cain and Lidia Yuknavitch, are part of a Thursday night writers group in Portland, Oregon  that meets regularly for no-holds-barred critiques. I have no doubt that their association has helped them write better and get published sooner.

You may or may not like writing with other people around. I did it for years as a newspaper reporter and editor, so I know it’s totally possible to write elbow to elbow with other writers writing, phones ringing, police radios squawking, and people coming in and out. When you’re facing a deadline, you just do it. Now, I enjoy the peace and quiet, but I can write and have written anywhere.

I’m shy about reaching out to other people, but I do think we need other people once we hack out our early drafts. At some point, we need someone else to look at what we have written and tell us what works and what doesn’t. When we get stuck, they can help us find a way out. We also need someone to tell us it’s worth doing and urge us to keep going, especially when we’re getting nothing but rejections.

And when it comes to submitting our work, dealing with queries, cover letters, and sharing market information, it really helps to have friends to talk to, even if it’s only on Facebook.

The connections we can make with other writers are pure gold. Through my activities with California Writers, Willamette Writers and Writers on the Edge, I have met big-name writers, editors and publishers. I mean, they know who I am and what I write. They can help me with my career. If nothing else, they make me feel as if I am a real writer and my big success is just around the corner.

So are writers really loners? Not any more than the rest of the population. Have you noticed how many of us are on Facebook, Twitter and other social media? Quite a few writers I know prefer to write in coffee shops and other public places. You do have to put those words on the screen by yourself, but when you’re done, back away from the computer and find another human being to talk to. It’s healthy.

And if you live on the Central Oregon Coast, we sure could use your help with the Nye Beach Writers series. Write us at info@writersontheedge.org.

Are we loners? Are you? I welcome your comments. The comment link is at the top of the page just below the “tags.”

Now let’s go write.

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Where is the Best Place to Write?

My officeWhy is it that some of us find it easier to write away from home? I know I do. I’ve got a whole office set up with everything I need and nobody to distract me, but I still find that the words flow more easily when I go somewhere else, whether it’s a tiny table in a crowded Starbuck’s or a rock beside a river.

Home just has too many distractions, chores that need doing, family members calling for attention, or today in my case, the unidentified critter that seems to be living under my kitchen floor. It’s hard to concentrate when you hear claws scratching at something, possibly something important like the wiring. It’s also hard to concentrate when the dog is running around whining with her nose to the linoleum. Sooner or later, I’m going to have to do something about this situation, along with several other house problems that are screaming for my attention. But right now it’s time to write.

For me, once I get going, I can write pretty much anywhere. I spent years writing in busy newspaper offices with phones ringing, people talking, and folks coming in and out. It can be done, especially with deadlines pushing you to get the work done, but is it ideal? Not for me. I like it quiet.

Different writers have different needs for their writing space. Some keep music playing all the time; some need silence. Some are comfortable surrounded by stacks of books and papers; others need clean surfaces. Some need a windowless room with no distractions; others find inspiration looking out the window.

Whatever feels right to you is what you should have. If you can write on your laptop wherever you happen to be, or if a dedicated space makes you feel claustrophobic, make your backpack your traveling office. But most of us benefit from a dedicated space where we keep our computers, books and papers, and where we can surround ourselves with whatever we need to feel comfortable, whether it’s inspirational pictures and knickknacks, a cat to keep us company, or a cooler full of beer. Well, maybe not the beer. Write first, drink later.

I recently saw a picture online of a vintage travel trailer one writer turned into her office. It’s cozy and cute and best of all, it’s not in her house. My parents used to have a similar trailer, and I wrote in it for a while. It felt great.

In some cities, writers have joined forces to share rented office space to write. They share amenities like photocopiers, Wi-Fi access, and conference rooms. Read here about a few in New York or click here to read about The Writers’ Barn in Vermont. Here in Oregon, Willamette Writers has set up a writing house, where for $10 a day, writers can come write in comfortably furnished rooms decorated in famous-writer themes. Yes, it’s a house, but it’s not their own house. During NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), members get together for write-ins, where they work on their novels together. That shared energy can really work.

We can all think of a hundred reasons why we can’t write, but lack of a comfortable writing space should not be one of them. Even if all you have is a corner of a room, claim it, put a screen around it if you have to, and get to work.

Where do you write? I would love to hear about your writing spaces and suggestions in the comments.

Now go write.