The Myth of Loneliness

by Shelly Lowenkopf

Among the many myths associated with the activity of being a professional writer, none is so epidemic and fraught as loneliness. I’ve heard some writers and want-to-be writers go so far as to construct an entire calculus in which the degree of authorial depth of skill is directly related to the agony of loneliness a writer suffers.

He or she who is gregarious, has a life filled with friends, the myth goes, is doomed to a life of rejection slips or, at best, a choice spot on the remainder table. It takes a trail of broken relationships and estrangements to make it to the backlist of the publisher’s catalog; nothing short of a hermit-like existence and shabby personal habits gets the writer a choice spot on the frontlist.

Bologna. The sausage, rather than the city.

Most writers would give up their latest bug-free edition of Microsoft Word or iPages for more time apart and, indeed, this becomes one of the reasons why writers who do manage to get time away from friends, family, and associates for composing their latest work often have reputations for being inconsiderate, uncaring, and cold. Some writers—amazing persons—have learned to manage their work while babies or mates are napping. Others still have found ways to turn off the individuals in their surroundings and work in spite of not being lonely, wishing all the time for loneliness.

Not far down from loneliness on the Ten Things You Thought You Knew about Being a Writer is the idiotic trope that writing books, short stories, essays, and op-ed pieces presents the writer with the freedom of choice and expression dictated by their own conscience and creative self. This may work for the dilettante or hobbyist, otherwise—welcome to the world of publishing, where there are literary agents, acquisitions editors, content editors and copyeditors, not to mention publishers, salespersons, and publicists. Each of these worthies has a semblance of a career tacked on to what you propose to do, and don’t you forget it.

Good luck finding a literary agent who will represent you when all you wish to do is write short stories and the occasional prose poem (whatever the hell that might be.) Better luck yet with getting a manuscript into type without “notes” from an editor or that bugbear for consistency of usage, the copy editor.

Unless, of course, you chose to self-publish. Some possibilities of loneliness for you when you take your self-published work into a book store, or show it to a literary agent, or do manage to buy your way into a “book tour” in which you address potential audiences in strange venues that seem to attract large crowds of motorcycle tourists.

Writing is one of the least lonely of activities. When you hear a writer complaining of the time spent in isolation, away from his or her fellow humans, devoid of the human foibles that so infuse writing with heart and content, it is because he or she—that very filer of the indictment of loneliness—wants your ear to complain about the injustices visited from reviewers, agents, editors, booksellers.

Even if you have not come close to approaching the plateau of stature you wish in your writing, the mere fact of you being on the learning curve will have the effect of lifting a rock after a rainstorm. Individuals, some of them complete strangers to you, will be only too glad to send you their latest work for a reading, or perhaps you have some pointers for their son, daughter, husband, cousin, who also wishes to join the community of writing voices.

If you are serious about wishing to forge a career in writing, you will experience many things, ranging from abject humiliation to those embarrassing moments of being congratulated for books you did not write nor have any wish to write, to flights of the sheer satisfaction a bird must feel when a thermal provides it a lift skyward or a dog feels when its nose wraps around an intriguing scent. But lonely? Not likely.