The Loneliness of Writing
By K. Anoa Monsho
Special to Poynter Online
I may have been the third or fourth writer in the room. I know I felt a little silly, almost guilty. I love solitude, aloneness. That still moment when the image that enfolds the essence of the story slips in, a writer's quiet bliss. But sometimes a numbing isolation seeps in, working as I do from my small back-house office space at home. I never knew I was in such good company. I assumed that many of these other folks work in crowded newsrooms or in stimulating academic environments or spend so much time interacting with interesting people during the course of freelancing that there can't be room in their lives for loneliness. I was wrong. Lynn Franklin's café’ session was standing room only. First, like addicts in recovery, she said we had to admit that we were lonely.
Some years ago, Franklin — a freelance writer, writing coach and editor — and her husband, Pulitzer Prize winning writer and professor Jon Franklin, moved to Oregon, where their house was nestled on 50 acres of idyllic forest. Foxes, eagles and bobcats were their closest neighbors. It was perfect for the first couple of weeks or so, she told us. After a month or so, it got spooky. “ There was no welcome distraction from writing.”
This was several years ago, before AOL was ubiquitous and e-mail became a major mode of communication. Lynn went online searching for the company of other writers who felt as she did. Everyone she contacted responded, and Lynn went on to found WriterL — a private, subscription only listserv tailored for the discussion of narrative writing.
Creating or joining a writer’s group, Lynn said, is the only way she knows to combat the inherent isolation of writing. “Think of the Algonquin Group in 1919,” she said. “Or Gertrude Stein’s writing salon in 1920s Paris. The one produced the New Yorker magazine and the other nurtured some of the finest writers of the 20th century — including Hemingway, Ezra Pound and F. Scott Fitzgerald.” There is a synergy in a good writer’s group that is invaluable to the participants.
After talking about the mechanics of finding or starting a writing group, Franklin shifted gears and talked about the impact listening to music could have on our writing as we are developing pace and rhythm. She gave examples of how Hemingway listened to Bach and developed a short, choppy rhythm, how Steinbeck listened to “Swan Lake” for inspiration for “Grapes of Wrath,” and how her husband Jon’s work, "Mrs. Kelly’s Monster," was paced so like Ravel’s “Bolero.” She wasn’t off topic at all. Using music to inspire writing was one topic that developed into a lively discussion on WriterL.
Franklin talked about some reasons writers tend to be lonely: To start with, she reminded us, not many people do what we do. Then too, the process of writing changes the way we look at the world, we see what others don’t and that often sets us apart. Yet, writers cannot write well with barriers erected. As soon as we cross the line to write a compelling story that has emotional impact, our barriers must come down and we remain somewhat open and changed. A supportive community of other writers can make all the difference between solitude and isolation.
K. Anoa Monsho, an Austin-based writer, is writing about her grandfather in her first book, “From the Shadow Side: The Life and Photography of P.H. Polk.”