My Thoughts, The Writer's Life

The Other Authors

Writing is a lonely business. This does not come as a surprise to you. Whether you write in the midnight quiet of a room lit only by the glow of your laptop, or in a crowded coffee shop exploding with sound and color and scent, you do it alone. No one shares your headspace when you’re trying to choreograph the tapping of fingers on keyboard with the spin and leap of ideas.

A writer, while writing, dances alone.

There is exhilaration and debilitation in this truth. That a man, woman or child can organize words gathered from a thousand places into a story that exists in no other place is nothing short of magic. That it is among the most challenging of tasks to turn that story into something another can love is nothing short of soul-defeating.

We write alone because there is no other option. Yes. I know about collaborative writing. Two heads better than one and all that. [Hi Tosca and Ted. Hope the third book is going well.] But even if you share the process with another writer, you’re still the only person who can live in your head at any given time, multiple personalities notwithstanding. This means that you and only you are responsible for taking what’s in that head and making it presentable for the rest of us who don’t live there.

This is where you take all the knowledge you have about writing, – all the education and experience and earned intuition – and pour your story through it. As you press the words through that sieve, you pray what drips to the final draft is as pure, perfect and lovely as the idea that sparked your writer-brain in the first place.

When you hand the story to an editor, you find out your fingers missed a few things that your brain meant. When you hand it to a copyeditor, you discover your editor missed a few things that your brain meant, too.

And then you’re done. The story is as good as it’s going to get.

Except it isn’t. You’ve forgotten about the other authors.

Some people call them readers.

But they are authors, too. They write between the lines. They hear the characters’ voices. The protagonist sounds like Hugh Jackman. Did you know? They taste the wine on page 37. It is surprisingly sweet. Like the wine they had that one time in that restaurant. They see the freckles on her neck. How had you missed this?

The other authors aren’t as skilled as you. They haven’t studied the craft. They haven’t wrestled the demons of writerly doubt. They don’t know there’s a civil war raging between the semi-colon apologists and the semi-colon abolitionists. But if you’ve done your job well – if you’ve given them enough – theirs is easy. Because they don’t have to write it down.

They write only in their heads, and it’s only there that the story you started in your own finally finds completion.

The other authors finish what you started. And if they call you brilliant, it is their fault, too.

Thank God for the other writers.




8 thoughts on “The Other Authors

  1. Oh my, you know I so much respect you and I wait with bated breath for your every post … but my personal experience is different from what you have written here.

    *Grovelling apologies*

    I think it’s crowded inside the head of a writer who is writing. I think we just don’t notice because so often we’re egoists. When I begin writing for real – ie, with a deliberate goal of publication – I never feel alone. My muse is there sharing the process. My subjects are there – sky, water, dreams, opening their hearts, speaking to me. My characters are there, enacting their story, making it easy to write because all I have to do was open my heart and their words come. And my readers are there also. Lately, I’ve been sharing the writing/reading process with another, and although I used to snigger at that idea, it has made a huge difference, because her witness keeps me company too, shapes the things I write, forces me to stay up until midnight because I want to get to a part in the story which I know she’ll love.

    It is only between books that I feel lonely as a writer. And then I do feel truly bereft, and scared of writing the next book because “it will be such a lonely process.” But it never is. Writing connects me to so many different consciousnesses (?) that it’s no wonder I become addicted once I get going.

    Respect to you the master. This is just my humble opinion.

    1. First of all, I’m no master. I’m making this up as I go. 🙂

      Then, three thoughts:

      1) I’m perfectly content to be wrong. So if that’s the case here, I’ll consider this another in a lifelong series of teachable moments.

      2) It’s interesting to me that you list your muse, your subjects and your readers among those who keep you from being alone. I would argue (gently, of course) that we invite these folks into our writing experience because we know just how lonely it would be without them. And that’s kind of where I was going with the post – digging down to the barest place, where we sit apart from our inventions and our openness to the riches of others. There, we are on our own, I think. But I could be wrong. (See #1, above.)

      3) I believe all writing is ultimately a collaborative act – a thing we share with those you mention, and so many others – the readers in particular (thus the emphasis here). So I’m in agreement with you, even as I appear to be disagreeing. Those we collaborate with, however, are, in the most basic sense, apart from us – not us. Taking all their wisdom and insight and direction into consideration, the final decision still falls to one soul – the writer. She alone types the words, and perhaps it’s only there – in the typing, or the space between the decision and the fingers pressing keys – that this moment of loneliness I’m speaking of reveals itself to some. (Once again, see #1.)

      1. First of all, smooth and sweet as usual. I keep looking for the kinks in your writing style the way I look for kinks in my own…but I just don’t find them in yours. And sometimes it takes abandoning my story for a couple years, totally forgetting about it, and rereading it as if for the first time (again) before I find my own kinks in what would be a fresh reader’s thought processes. But with your writing, I have the advantage of approaching instantly with a swayable mind. Subjected to your pen, I wait for you to offend in some small way because, after all, you are writing to me and nobody else. Yet, I don’t find the kinks. I sail through it happily to the end, even enjoy it because of the smoothness ~ whereas some authors make me drop the book in the first chapter because they’re too busy preparing me for the “story-to-come” to actually just start telling their story from the first sentence. (I fit the category of “some authors”.)

        Even in your responses to others’ opinions of your ideas ~ I don’t find any kinks. And just when I think I found a kink, you put something in parenthesis that prevents it. (By the way, this is supposed to be a mixture of positive affirmation and praise of a talent that has taken you years to develop. It’s not supposed to sound too…kinky; close parenthesis.)

        Now, on to my response to your response to her response to your smoothly written article:

        I totally see your point and her point as well. Yes, it is the writer alone who must sort through all the people that we brought with us into the solitude of our writing space. The writer alone commands the keyboard. But once we are alone with our blank page, we must evaporate and let all those people use our hands to tell their story. Said again a little differently since that last explanation wasn’t very smooth ~ we must find a place out of the way of all other opinions and ideas to write. And when we write from that solitude, we must once again get out of the way of all others’ opinions and ideas so they can share the keyboard, share the story, share the writing experience.

        Thanks for the food for thought…

  2. I think of the solitude of the process and draw from the phantoms in the creation who appear and disappear with such ease and will as to constantly remind me of the loneliness, of the finality of bringing words to page/screen to keep them coming back until . . . the end. And at that moment it is perhaps the loneliest.

    1. Yes. The end is a lonely moment. I think the end of things in general brings lonely moments. But ends also often signify beginnings. So there’s that.

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