lonely writing island of solitude

There’s a Margaret Atwood quote which says writing is alone yet never lonely. Some say that writing is a way to combat loneliness. Others say that being a recluse is one of the defining attributes of a “true” writer. But there’s something missing from these approaches, something that I feel pretty deeply whenever I sit down to write.

Many of my POV characters over the years have been lonely. They’re disconnected from their surroundings, they’re waiting for people to accept them, somewhere to fit in. A lot of times, these alienated protagonists are a bit fuzzy around the edges, undefined.  We get a sense of anesthesia from them.

I wonder if we sometimes avoid the act of writing because we know there is a void waiting for us. That there are thoughts and anxieties about our existence that we can’t face any other way – maybe writing is a way into loneliness. Maybe it’s a cathartic experience. We commune with our alone-ness and then re-enter the world more aware of how our interactions shape us.

I was reading a book (that came in the mail!) by Peter Rollins that touched on loneliness as a kind of “crucifixion experience.” That by losing everything  – the social structures that determine our behavior, the comforting image of God as a literal deus ex machina, even the image we have of ourselves – we can live fully acknowledging that loneliness and not feeling guilty about it. It doesn’t mean we are depressed; rather, it means we can live more fully and honestly.

Writing is alone. Writing is lonely. Writing brings us into our loneliness and we can learn a lot through coming out on the other side of that. Not guilty about the loneliness. Not afraid of it. Maybe more aware of our small existence. Maybe a touch more compassionate for loneliness we see in others.


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