Is Anybody There?
Most creative activities involve other people. Music, drama, painting, sculpture, dance generally either demand collaborators or benefit from them. Writing is different. Linda Grant wrote in The Guardian that writing is ‘an act of severe, intense solitude’. She was referring to the physical process of writing.
She is absolutely right but it goes further than that. Writing involves much more than putting words on paper. That’s actually the last stage in a journey that may have begun many weeks or months, perhaps even years before. A piece of fiction starts with an idea: a character, a situation, a feeling, a simple plot line. This hooks itself in the brain, where it lodges. It irritates. It nags for attention. Sometimes within a few days it evaporates and no more is heard from it. If it stays it settles down. It can’t (and won’t) be left alone. It accrues resonance and meaning and it grows, and it demands attention. Knots of words, skeins of description coalesce around it as it emerges into something that can be put on paper.
All this is unsociable, even though some of it may take place in company. Family and friends learn to put up with it. ‘Oh take no notice of him/her, they’re just thinking about their book’ is something a writer will often hear when they’ve failed to register a comment, answer a question, perform a requested activity.
So the writer, whether actually writing or just thinking about what they are planning to write, spends a significant amount of time in a dream world, disjointed from people. Which is strange, because people are the writer’s raw material. And they are also the readers.