Writing is a lonely job. Every time you sit down to work, you wonder whether you’re up to it. But you show up, you stare at the blank page and then, all by yourself in your room, you do your best to create an atmosphere so the muse can have her way with you.
I imagine there are countless creative endeavors that can only be done in solitude. And when you finish it — the painting, the symphony, the novel— you can make the mistake of thinking exactly that. That you did it in solitude. That you did it all by yourself.
I have news for you. You did not do this alone.
We’re human. We have friends, lovers, spouses. Don’t tell me we haven’t talked their ears off (or refused to) about this project. Either way, it’s been hard for them, too. All those people, in one way or another, have helped us come to the other side of the work.
For instance, let’s Look at it from the perspective of your intimate other. Writing is a lonely job for them, too, I can assure you. So many times, my wife has eaten alone, or spent the evening alone at the TV, or gone out biking alone because I was in the grip of the paragraph that wouldn’t let me go.
It can even be a pain at the other end of the spectrum for her: maybe we just won’t shut up about the work. Maybe we go on and on about some aspect of it that’s absolutely fascinating…whether it’s fascinating to them or not.
And then there are the friends in our lives. The best friends you had those long conversations with about what to do with the main character who’s in jail and you don’t know how to get him out, but he has to because the clock is ticking and the whole story falls apart if he doesn’t.
Writers vary, I’m sure, so I can only speak for myself. But in my case, the “lonely” work I’ve done has been underwritten by my wife’s unending patience, her life-saving, soul-lifting food, and her own emotional health. It has been helped along by conversations with my friend, a fellow writer herself, who had given me crucial feedback and encouragement when I needed it.
But all of us, whether we live with people or not, whether we share the work with friends or not — we are sustained by water and food and shelter. I can only take a shower in the morning before sitting down to write because someone designed that system whereby I can turn a little handle and water comes out, and I get to choose whether it’s hot or cold. I can only write inside a house protected from the cold and the rain, because someone actually made the tools that the builder used, or built the truck that delivered them, or delivered the two-by-fours to the right address.
You get the picture. Nobody writes alone.
Writing is not a lonely job. It’s a job that everyone in the entire world had a hand in. Everyone close to you that you know and love. And everyone you’ll never know — the woman who pulled the potatoes out of the ground that ended up on your plate. The man who worked at the mill that made the fabric of the t-shirt you’re wearing. And let’s not kid ourselves—a lot of them were probably children.
And that’s only the humans involved! The elements had a small hand in things, too. The earth under our house, the rain that fed the plants we eat, the wind that helped pollinate everything. The fire (the sun, my oven) necessary for all of it.
If you’re a creative in the world, take a moment right now to remember the people around you that might have receded into the background so far that you forgot how important they were. Let them feel your gratitude by telling them directly.
And then pause for a bit and acknowledge all the rest of it, the part we can’t possibly be aware of because it’s too vast and we are too far inside it. But we can bow our heads and say thank you.
Living here is a fathomless mystery. Really. Just sitting here at this table and munching on a piece of bread. There is value in turning the lens so that everything but me comes into sharp focus.
When we’ve opened our eyes to all the support systems at work in the moment, we can go back into our studios, buoyed by all the visible and invisible companions present in our work.
We do not do this alone.