A former student dropped me an intriguing note, and only with her permission and a promise of anonymity do I share it.
"No wonder so many writers used to off themselves. It's so lonely to write. Sometimes I feel like I've dropped in a black hole when I do it. How do I cure this? I've been writing to a lot of other writers, but it doesn't always help. What do you do?"
In response I simply told her thank god for technology. How amazing is it that we can critique each other's works from across continents, post blurbs that receive dozens of instant responses, and speak to industry giants or minimally gather their tweets like gold and tuck them away for future knowledge. There is also a vague comfort in heading online to see other writers locking themselves away to work on projects or edit or revamp (or vamp depending on the genre they specialize in :-) I wonder, though, if losing all the solitude is necessarily a good thing. Does surfing the web and connecting to hundreds and thousands of friends and fans and peers dissolve the writer's mystique? Is there a magical spark when we are left absolutely and entirely alone in our own heads to trip around and find our muse?
By no means do I think we should all vanish into the wilderness Thoreau-style, but the virtual noise can be too much at times. I know, I know, turn off the monitor. It's that simple, right? No. Not to anyone who knows the siren call of the various social networks, blogs, and websites. Writers, for the most part, are collectors. Think A&E Hoarders but with ideas which frankly can be far worse than a stack of 1934 album covers or antique phone parts. (I haven't graduated to Animal Hoarders yet. Too traumatic.) But we stack and sort and dump new books, new words, new authors, new ideas into our heads with a dedication and frequency that I don't think the rest of the population has. And when you place the internet in the hands of people like us, it's unfair. Heck, it's downright dangerous.
I describe a typical computer session for me and only me, although I'm betting a few of you might relate.
I will stop writing only momentarily to check Facebook, and then I notice someone tweeted something interesting. I head to Twitter where they've referenced a brand spanking new blog post. Well the blog post can't be missed. If I don't read it this instant and instead bookmark it, I'll likely never come back. To the blog post, Batman. Wait. The blog post references four websites I have somehow never come across and need to visit. And man is there a profound comment from an author in Anchorage who I must now follow on Twitter, and then I spy it. I have no choice but to follow the cat with three legs, Tripod Kitters, who is not only tweeting but has 800 more followers than I do. How did this cat manage it? Well of course by reading his recent thirty tweets I too will grow my following. I wonder. Does Annie Lamott tweet? No? What about every other favorite author I have. I better investigate.
And so on.
And so on.
And I'm lost. Wasn't I doing something a few hours ago? Oh, that's right. I was writing.
Again, I am a huge fan of the power of critique and connection that the internet offers writers. A very social creature by nature, I don't want to think of myself as pursuing a profession that banishes me to a tiny tower that I will never escape from unless I get a book published and attract a million or so fans. But lately I've been struggling to sort out how to balance my time and how to gain a bit more of the writing mystique. I still love late night moments where I scribble a few things down and listen to the silence that surrounds those words. I also admire the writers who maintain studios without anything other than a pen and paper or simple word processor. And maybe a fish. A beta fish.
Although I hear that fish have started Tweeting. It's the thing to do.