Sunday, 26 April 2009

THE LONELINESS OF THE LONG DISTANCE WRITER


Susie’s Monthly Update (April)

Highs: Got a job in a gallery. This will fund a four-day course on Women’s Commercial Fiction in London. Hoorah!
Lows: Agent has turned down full manuscript (culmination of a six-month competition).
The hardest thing is that this process was carrying my hope and now I have to carry it on my own again.
Goals: Edit/rewrite of opening chapters – again.

How about you guys?


The Falmouth Five are communicating across the e-waves, as we do at the end of each month. We’re a diverse bunch of novelists: two women, three men, published and unpublished, writers of thrillers, speculative sci-fi, comedic crime and women’s fiction. We get together several times a year to eat and drink and crit one another’s work, celebrating one another’s successes and commiserating over problems and knock-backs.

As novelists, we’re in it for the long term. We’re the marathon-runners of the writing world. It takes much practice, much motivation, much energy and much downright dogged determination to complete a marathon. As it does to complete a novel. Only difference is, the marathon-runners know that the culmination of all their efforts will be that splendid day when they race through the streets, clapped and cheered and supported all the way. Who supports the loneliness of the long-distance writer?

Writers are expressive beings. We are also solitary. Which makes for an interesting paradox. We sit alone for countless hours, communing with the laptop or the page. Yet the very essence of what we’re trying to achieve is communication with others. We long to express something true, something that will cause someone out there to feel something, think something. We long for a connection, a response.

This is why we pay for reports from literary consultancies. This is why we join online writing communities and real-life writing groups. This is why we blog and twitter. This is why we join mentoring schemes, attend Adult Education writing classes, go to writers’ conferences and workshops. This is why we return from, for instance, an Arvon course as if from a spiritual epiphany.

We do these things because we need to be among other writers, among our own tribe; we need to find others who understand, who know. We flourish when we receive input, inspiration, refreshment, understanding. We glow when we are offered new ideas, witnessing, support, encouragement. We need to engage. We need to receive. We need to be acknowledged. When we are empty from all our expressing, response – good, positive, constructive response – fills us up. We return to our writing buoyed up and glowing from the inside out, like the child in the porridge commercials.

E.M. Forster, in Howard’s End, advises us to only connect. So next time you feel alone and empty, reach out a hand to another writer. You may be reaching out because you need your own hand to be held. You may be reaching out to be reminded that there are others like yourself out there. And you may even be reaching out a hand to help someone else who’s alone and struggling. It’s a beautiful race we are running, for all its trials and pains. And it’s a better race when we do it together.

17 comments:

sarah fox said...

Brilliant post, Susie.

I was only thinking yesterday that writing is incredibly solitary and yet to have writer friends is a true blessing, because they 'understand' me, whereas others may think I'm just a mad, slightly autistic, antisocial ostrich.

My writer friends cheer me on from the side, offer me high energy drinks and wrap in me comfort blankets when I'm about to drop dead...though I wonder if I'll ever finish that race!

Olivia Ryan said...

The other thing about this race is that there's no finishing line! We see it in the distance, aim for it desperately, but when we reach it we find it's actually moved, so we have to keep going ...

Getting a novel published was my dream: I thought I'd never want ANYthing, ever again, if that ever happened. But I forgot that I would then want another one published! And then another one ...

And yes, Susie, I do agree: your writing friends are the people you can talk to about your highs & lows. Your other friends will listen and sympathise but can't ever really understand. Well done with the gallery job. And good luck with the rewrite. I had to do one on my next-to-be-published book and it was agony: but it was worth it.

Katy said...

Wonderful post, Susie, absolutely spot on - thank you.

Katy

Samantha Tonge said...

Yes, a bang on post, Susie, thanks for that.

I trained very hard for a half-marathon once, and whilst it was my own stamina that got me to the finish on the actual day, i would never have completed the training and gained the skills required, without my husband.

♥ bfs~"Mimi" ♥ said...

Excellent, and thank you! ♥

Geraldine Ryan said...

Great post, Susie! Sorry to hear about your turn-down. It seems hard for all writers this year - all the more necessity to "connect" with other writers, as you have so beautifully expressed.

Susie Nott-Bower said...

Thanks, everybody. :)
You are so right, Sarah and Olivia - the analogy between marathon running and novel-writing falls down at the climax, since there's no 'end' - maybe it's more like climbing mountain peaks! Climbing towards what you think is the highest, then when you reach it realising that it's just part of the foothills! And being part of a team of climbers is hugely helpful,especially if you slip...
Susiex

CarolineG said...

I loved reading this post, Susie and was nodding away at certain bits (including the disappointing turndown. I feel your pain!).

You're so right that we need support where we can get it. Even though there is no finishing line, I do think the long haul aspect of this is so apt.

Susie Nott-Bower said...

Thanks, Caroline. I read 'nodding away' as 'nodding off' at first - just shows my state of confidence at the moment!
Susiex

CarolineG said...

Ha ha! I can see that this wouldn;t have been very good for the ego. The equivalent of a fellow marathon runner sticking out an elbow...

Lydia said...

You almost made me cry (that's the state of my confidence today!)So much truth well spoken. I write mainly short stories and serials but the market is difficult at the moment, with long periods of silence from all magazines(are you finding this too, Geri?). So this is me, having a bad day and reaching out to all you lot. Thanks for listening to me bleat and many commiserations Susie - I had yet another rejection for my novel ms last week. Sometimes it feels like one of those computer games where the boulders keep falling on your head! Thanks again for being there, chaps. I'm just off to buy a crash helmet!

Samantha Tonge said...

Chin up, Lydia - I know exactly how you feel and it is the absolute pits. Be kind to yourself, tomorrow is another day. You're putting yourself out there and that takes guts.

Susie Nott-Bower said...

Oh, Lydia, it really is a bummer, isn't it? And all we can do is keep on keeping on. Have a commiserating hug from me!
Susiex

Susie Nott-Bower said...

PS Lydia,
I've just enjoyed Having A Ball With Henry!

Lydia said...

Thanks Susie and Samantha - it really helps to know you're out there! Having other people understand why I do this strange thing of writing, especially when it can make me as miserable as I've been today, convinces me perhaps I'm not quite as bonkers as I seem! Glad you liked the story, Susie! :)

menopausaloldbag (MOB) said...

Thank you for writing such an insightful post. I feel the solitude that writers crave but my neighbours think that I am becoming anti social. They don't understand how a sometimes dodgy writer like me, still learning her craft, needs to secrete herself away and come out when I am ready. The fact that you summed up the need to have solitude to write and the need to communicate with others is such a marvellous paradox. You summed me up whilst at the same time, explained this strange world that I inhabit of late! Brilliant, just brilliant.

Susie Nott-Bower said...

Thank you, MOB. People around me think I'm very antisocial, too. I've just been listening to a brilliant Radio 4 programme about The Wizard of Oz with Salman Rushdie, in which he explores the paradox between the need to 'stay at home' (gestation, comfort, familiarity, regularity, solitude) and the need to 'go away' (new things, excitement, adventure, uncertainty). I guess writing can encompass all these things, so it gets very tempting to be alone with it. And sometimes it's absolutely necessary. I guess it's a case of noticing when the balance begins to tip the other way.
Susiex