Writing is, by nature, a fairly solitary gig. Hours upon hours spent alone, as far as anyone could see. Of course, we never feel alone, because our heads are filled with the voices of countless characters, our mind’s eye filled with distant, imaginary vistas. But to anyone who might walk by and accidentally see the writer at work, at least this writer at work, what they would see is a guy with wild gray hair, staring at a computer monitor as though he were looking into the eyes of the most beautiful woman in the known universe, with a silver 1-liter vacuum insulated water flask and perhaps a bag of Lays Salt and Vinegar chips, which I may or may not be sharing with my dog.
So yes. Being a writer is a study in isolation This is true to the degree that when the pandemic really began to take hold and it was clear that things would be, through life-or-death necessity, changing fast, and changing significantly – we (the writers or the world hellbent on being wise-asses), joked that self-isolation was hold hat.
If you need help in self-isolation, just write that book you’ve been talking about for all these years. No one will ever see you again.S.J. Varengo
Hahaha! Aren’t we a hoot, us wacky writers? The things we say! But as is the case with any troupe of clowns, at least as I understand clowns through what I’ve learned from tragic opera, is that behind the painted-on smile there is always a tear.
Alright, I’m being hideously melodramatic, but here’s the straight skinny: jokes about isolating to starve the virus and thereby save the world aside, the solo aspect of writing can play games with a writer’s head.
o wit, I’ve been posting to my various social media accounts rather frequently lately. And there are a few people who I can count on to take the time to leave a comment on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram, or even click a button to like something. That is wonderful. I love it when my readers do that!
But sometimes, for whatever reason, the place (and by “the place” I mean “the world,”) gets very quiet. I keep writing, (both because it is wise for an author to keep himself on the public’s radar, especially between book releases AND because writing is a disease and I cannot stop.) [Ed. Note: According to our research there is no mention of writing as a mental disorder listed in the DSM-V.]
One of the places where it tends always to be quiet is my newsletter. I completely understand this, and since I’m such a straight shooter, I’ll be honest. Most writer’s newsletters are pretty boring. There are a few folks I like, some who are well=known and others who are toiling in relative obscurity like yours truly. And, again, being honest, a lot of those mailing lists were subscribed to in order to get a free book, (because reading is a disease as well.) [Ed. Note: Nope. Once again, nope.]
So the main way people interact with you from your newsletter is by unsubscribing from it. Fact of life. It happens.
My most recent issue got that terminal reaction from slightly more than the average number of folks, and I could very easily be depressed about that. After all, I think mine is anything but boring. If you’d like to see what I mean, you can get a peek at it here. But I’m not depressed for a couple of reasons. One is that new people have been subscribing, not quite to the degree that the others are leaving, but they’re filling out this form, and they’re subjecting themselves to my craziness.
This issue was special in another way. Some of my subscribers broke the silence and responded to the newsletter. Some were very brief, basically letting me know they’d been encouraged. And let me tell you when you’re used to not hearing from anyone about what you’ve written, a short note is very precious. It is, in fact, my precious.
But this time I also got a much longer response, from a woman named Brenda who gave me permission to share her story, which I will, but before I do, I’d like to tell you that why I chose to let you all read it goes beyond the encouragement it gave me. It packed with plenty of encouragement to go around in this:
Such a great article. Thank you for that, Scott.
I want to share a personal story: As much as I had always loved to write from the time I was little, it seemed I found it much harder to do as I got older.
I had grown up ‘not doing’ what I wanted… not knowing what I wanted. What I wanted was to please my parents. My job was to be a good girl.
And yes, over the years (and therapy 😏!) I had come to understand that, and how it had always controlled everything in my life. Yet by this time I had raised 5 children, had 27yrs as a highly respected school teacher, and after later getting my Masters Degree had gone into private practice as a psychotherapist. I understood where I was at, but I was stuck there.
Fortunately for me, years later when the kids were grown and gone, while I was going through a particularly lengthy tough time, my oldest daughter and I were talking on the phone and she said (very wisely), “Mommy, I want you to make a list of things you want … things you would wish for….if age/health/ income/ anything did not matter. What YOU want.”
My first reaction, right after thinking “I can’t!!” was to say “How long do I have to do this?” knowing it would be so hard it would take me almost forever. She said “Until Sunday night”. This was Friday morning! I was literally sick to my stomach all Friday and most of Saturday!
I spoke to my youngest daughter about it, trying to explain how Impossible it was for me to use the words “I want…..” . She understood too (my kids knew me well). So we came to the compromise. On Sunday I would set aside one hour to sit and write whatever I could. If that was only one thing, if it was nothing, that was still okay. Phew! The worst of the pressure eased.
I sat down on Sunday, totally committed to giving it a try, and …. nothing. Even with my best efforts it became ‘I want my kids to all find ….’, ‘I want the family to ….’, etc.
Could not do the “I Want!”
But then I finally got the idea to take it outside of Me. So I began a Story, a story of this little girl who had the classic magical Fairy Godmother appear and make this same offer to her: no restrictions….anything at all was possible….whatever….
Well, that little girl was something else! Her list was ‘I want this! I want that!’
Scott, in no time at all there were 220 items on that page! And I wasn’t finished….! Okay, it included finding a baby unicorn and raising it ….. oh, and having my very own Pegasus …. but it had lots and lots and lots of more feasible ideas as well.
What I discovered was the freedom to Want, to Dream, to Do. That is what I so admire about people like you, people who always knew there is a story inside you and have the guts to go for it.
I am still a long way from achieving that, but have learned to allow myself to open doors. I began painting about 2006 (and love it, but for the last 4-5yrs have not given myself permission to do so, Ouch!); I take a major part out of any day to read because I know it feeds my soul; I interact with my clients because that, too, enriches me; and I do a lot of Not Doing things I don’t want to do (and that for me is Huge!). So I know I am a work in progress.
But I want you to know that the kind of encouragement you have given here is Vital to so many of your followers. Thank you for being so wise, and so generous.
I don’t even know where to begin! Okay, that’s not true. I do know. Begin with Brenda’s bravery. Begin with her brilliant idea to create a character, a little girl, to write the list! To me that is so beautiful, so stunningly elegant.
I think you can all see that this is a person with writing chops galore. She is going to write her own story, and we’re going to cheer her on, because that’s what we do here.
So thank you all if you’ve felt encouraged, thank you to the folks, including Brenda who reached out, and thank you to all for reading now (and for remembering to encourage one another as well.
I just noticed that it’s almost time for the sun to come up, so I guess I should shut this down and collapse for a little while.