~ Hazel Harps On

Alone, Not Lonely

Disturbing a writer can seriously damage your health. Just don’t do it.

A writer takes a huge amount of faff-time, head-scratching and numerous coffees before getting into that special zone. He or she (I’ll say she, as it’s me I’m talking about) needs to be in a finely-tuned state of focus before coaxing the muse into action. And when the muse is finally seated on her shoulder, dictating a fine flow of words into her ear, the last thing she needs is somebody popping their head round the door to ask what time Tescos closes. The muse instantly takes fright and bolts. The writer groans, adrift once more, desperately trying to pick up the threads of a lost plot.


Even a feline friend can ruin everything, given his habit of sitting bang in front of the computer screen.

Virginia Woolf stressed the importance of a room of one’s own, and ideally there should be a lock on the door. I’m afraid it’s true. Writers need solitude like fish need water.

Being a musician as well, I need a double dose of that solitude. A daily practice routine is a must to stay on top of that repertoire. This means time alone, playing all the things I’m not very good at ad infinitum. Slowly but surely they begin to sound better. Until that happens, no audience please!

Luckily music can also be a sociable activity. Anyone who has played in a band or sung in a choir will know the joy of making music together with other people. Other people always bring problems (Why does he always play so loud? Why does she always sing so flat?) but when it works, cooperative music is fabulous. There is nothing to match that buzz, bonding and sense of fulfilment.

But writing has to be a lone occupation. A tragedy in some ways, as writers are, almost by definition, completely fascinated by their fellow humans. Yet in order to write we have to shut out those fellow humans.

However, I’ve realised that writers don’t need to be lonely. We have the company of our fictional characters, for starters ... but they are not enough. Their existence hangs on inspiration from real people. Books are built on human interactions. The writer with no social life has nothing to write about and will eventually run out of steam. It’s a question of balance. Our stories are ultimately about relationships of one sort or another, and we must learn to juggle the real ones with the imaginary ones.

Writers need other writers, too. It’s easy to forget how important that is. I wrote in isolation until last year, when I suddenly found myself at Swanwick Writers’ Summer School. What an eye-opener that was! A week’s worth of writing tips in an atmosphere of total empathy and support. It was unbelievably good to know that other writers go through the same highs and lows, the same distractions, frustrations and exultations. I’ve now got a load of writing friends I can encourage/moan at/rejoice with/annoy. Needless to say I’m off to Swanwick again this summer…

Alone? Yes, often.

Lonely? No, never!

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