The Solitary Writer
I realize I’m showing my age with this post, but I feel the need to comment on how things have changed for writers. Previously, I wrote about how much easier it is now to find and submit to magazines and journals than it was twenty-five years ago. What occurred to me this past weekend was how the social aspect has changed for writers.
If you’re a writer (or most any artist/creative type), you know that the act of creating is a solitary process. Most writers like to have a certain atmosphere when they write – a specific location, background noise, pen, paper, notebook, and cup of coffee or tea. Sure, we can adjust and adapt, but regardless, we do it alone. It’s just us and the blank page or screen, our thoughts spinning and consolidating as we slip into our zone. It’s not necessarily a group project.
When I was starting out, the internet wasn’t quite a thing yet. I was using an old warhorse of a typewriter my dad had given me, one that he got while in the Navy back in the 1950s. I think it had been to Korea and back on a minesweeper. And the “e” key stuck. Every time. But I pounded away at that keyboard every night in my one-room efficiency converted from the back end of an old house. I’d churn out reams of pages covered in angst-ridden poetry and early attempts at horror and sci-fi.
From there, I had a few friends that would read and give me feedback, but they weren’t writers and, as good friend often do, loved everything I wrote. The only real feedback I got was in the rare personal rejection letter I’d receive from a thoughtful editor. Those I always cherish because, even though they didn’t accept my story for publication, they felt it was worthy enough to send me a few comments.
Then the internet happened. Things changed a bit. There were chat rooms, BBS, and other ways for writers to find one another and share their ideas, exchange stories for feedback, and provide a social outlet. But that only worked if you could afford a PC or Mac, and in the early 1990s those boxes were expensive. For a guy working two minimum-wage jobs and surviving on canned tuna and Kraft Mac & Cheese, I could only read about these places in Writer’s Digest. When I could afford to buy a copy.
Eventually, the internet gave birth to social media in all its hideous glory. Having been a solitary writer for so long, I avoided the lure of “likes”, retweets, and “follows” for as long as I could. I didn’t see the point.
But, yeah, I finally dipped my toes in the dark waters of MySpace, then later, Facebook. They both lost their charm rather quickly and I returned to my solitary world.
Then an acquaintance mentioned Twitter to me. I knew about it – how could I not with it showing up in the news every few minutes. Hell, entire newspaper “articles” were being composed of nothing but tweets.
So I gave it a shot. I logged in and, on a whim, looked for writers. I was pleasantly surprised to find a robust writing community thriving there, sharing thoughts and ideas, frustrations and struggles. I was drawn in and began to interact with these strangers, who weren’t really that strange since we all shared a common thread…the written word.
It’s still strange to me, even after a few months on the platform, to feel this camaraderie, to ask questions and receive thoughtful answers, to share my experience and encouragement.
Technically, I’m still a solitary writer. I’m alone with my MacBook. I don’t know any of these people personally. But they seem to be there for me, and I for them. I always thought that I’d be alone in my craft, but instead I’ve found a community.