Writing is an introverted art form. It can make you insular, self-absorbed, and reclusive. You can sit for hours, days, weeks at a time at a desk or in front of a screen, immersed in the world you’re creating, unable to share the experience with anyone else. You can tell your loved ones what you’re working on… explain or even summarise it if you choose to, but you can’t share what’s really taking place in your mind. And most non-writers are uninterested in the nitty-gritty details of plot, characteristion, world building, sentence structure, tense and point of view. So you’re alone with your craft, and there’s really nothing to show for your hours of hard work until you have a completed piece of writing in your hands.

Writing, like all art forms, is meant to be shared. Or at least, your edited, polished, carefully targeted pieces are meant to be shared. But it’s an art that requires effort on the part of its observers. Real effort. Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings movies are beautiful, epic pieces of film art that can be enjoyed by anyone with very little effort. But Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings remains a magnificent work that takes much more effort to observe and appreciate. Those of us who live to read enjoy that effort tremendously, but those who don’t may not be able to experience a story in its written form. And for us writers, there will always be people in our lives who won’t really get to see the fruits of our reclusive work because they don’t read for pleasure.

A painter can create something beautiful on a canvas and show it to anyone with a functioning pair of eyes. A composer can share a piece of music with anyone who can hear it. The painting’s full meaning might not be apparent to everyone, and the music might not appeal universally, but both can be shared instantly. Writing isn’t like that. It’s not a performance art. It’s not something you can reveal with a flourish. It’s something you can present to a friend or relative and hope that they’ll take the time to read it. It might be something you can read aloud and hope that they’re listening. Words on a page are meaningless until you take them in. I’ll never have a room with examples of my art hung on the walls for anyone to gaze at. I can’t fill the house with the sound of my art and know that someone’s hearing it in the next room. And at the end of a hard day of writing, all I can do is tell my loved ones I’ve had a productive day. There’s nothing to show them yet, and even if there is, I have to grapple with the selfish assumption that they want to take time and effort out of their own day to take it in.

Sometimes it can feel quite isolating to have a head full of fascinating characters, painful conflicts, and tough dilemmas that have no real bearing on the mundane realities of life. When you finally manage to convey their meaning through pages of words, you can share them. But only if people want to put in a little effort of their own to find out what you’ve created.


One thought on “Seclusion

  1. Well said. I was having a conversation about this the other evening with a woman I’m seeing; she had questioned the time that I put into writing (honestly, in a nice way. she’s not a big reader) and I had to think a moment before replying, to say: that it’s like anything else that’s good and worth doing. It’s not easy and it takes time and to the casual observer, doesn’t look like much is being accomplished. Your reference to art, there’s no half finished work, there are no ideas sketched out, lying about on a table for someone to look over. And if you’ve not yet….arrived, not having a book in a bookstore or on Amazon, and yet you’ve been writing for several years, progress is not evident, is it. And I’ve learned not to show something I’m working on to friends and family because whatever faults are apparent, are quickly noted; that’s just the way things go.
    The only payoff, or satisfaction, and there’s plenty of it, to me and likely you, Eleanor, is both seeing improvement as you move from one thing to the next, sometimes in the same bit of work, and getting a story down on paper, seeing it realized. And the world may end and no one will ever read it, but it existed, and it was good.

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