writing alone

The Myth of the Lonesome Writer

writing alone

When you close your eyes, and imagine a writer, what do you see? A person hunched over their desk, candlelight flickering? Is tapping of the typewriter or the scritch scratch on paper the only sound in the room?

Historically, or archetypically, maybe, the writer is imagined as a person in solitude, wading through their novel and the deepest crevices of their mind and soul, to birth literary genius.

I listened to a podcast once about a famous Irish poet. Because my memory is so bad, I can’t remember his name. But basically, the interviewer interviewed this unnamed Irish man’s daughter. Turned out the guy, and his family as a consequence, was a tortured soul who got through life drinking and scribbling. He needed to take himself away from it all, which meant leaving his family behind, so he could produce a legacy, worth leaving behind.

Not for one iota of a moment in the last eight years of my professional writing career have I been alone. Or tortured, really. And I hazard a guess that in this smartphone driven, Google fuelled age of internet, most writers write with a whole world at their finger tips.

Of course there are advantages to switching off, and retreating from all distractions, so you can write. But personally I both need and like collaboration. I like knowing community is not far away. And hey, sometimes I even don’t mind my girls singing Frozen songs in my ear as I type. It has a surprising effect on output.

When writing learning and training material, I get given templates, information and guidelines. My job is to work relatively autonomously to piece it all together, and create something workable. My work then goes back to the instructional designer, who pulls it all together. The work gets edited. Designers do their piece. Tech people do theirs. And sales of course play their role. Eventually, a book is written, and produced. By a team.

Children’s books are similar. Particularly picture books. Even developing the manuscript can be a team effort. For me, it usually begins as a family project. An idea seeds from some game, or some conversation. It gets rolled around the kitchen table, and potentially workshopped by my husband and kids. If it makes it into a Word Document, I’ll do my bit. But then it will go to my editor, and she will work her magic. It will come back to me. Go back to my editor (and so on!) Sometimes there is more than one editor. The editing process could be daunting. But I think it’s great. Someone who completely gets story and the market is identifying things in your work you couldn’t have possibly seen. Sometimes their questions provoke entirely new and exciting directions. The original manuscript of Too Busy Sleeping for instance has a vague resemblance to the finished book.

If you are working with an illustrator, collaboration goes to a whole new level. I don’t have any input whatsoever into illustrations for my books. Other than the manuscript, of course. And I like it that way! The artist knows what they are doing. And so far, they have done amazing work. They see, and create a whole new aspect of your story. The story grows again.

There are countless others involved in the production of a single picture book. And each role is important.

But collaboration begins before all that.

For me, my network of author friends is so essential to my output. My friends keep me in check. They keep me working. We egg each other on, and celebrate each other’s successes. We commiserate when things are not so great.

And as a blogger, my online network continually opens my eyes to new articles, new ideas, new ways of doing things.

While the online world can provide a little too much distraction from actual writing, it does serve it’s purpose. Hey, I met my first publisher through my blog!

Last night, I heard from Chazda at Great Storybook that every single published writer she knows has a blog, or online presence of some kind. I thought that was interesting. I definitely know published writers who don’t do much online. It’s not a priority for them. But it just goes to show that it’s a growing world.

If you follow writers on Twitter, you often wonder how books are actually being written. There is so much twittering going on! Then again, that heightened energy online communication gives you can fuel your creative energy. And ducking over to your online life can be a welcome reprieve from a stuck moment in your writing.

I am sure there are many writers out there, working in a log cabin, deep in the forest, cut off from distraction and fuelled by tea and silence. For me, at least, writing amongst the chaos of life triggers ideas. It challenges me to stay focussed and productive. It connects me with others. Mostly, though, it keeps me writing. Because if my only means of producing work involved hibernation, then I would have zero output. And I may as well go back to making coffee.


Are you a lone wolf? Or do you write in a pack? What do you prefer, and where do you do your best writing? What benefits have you seen from collaboration?

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