Living Arts: Writing is a Lonely Business

Tuesday 25 November 2014
This post was originally posted as part of the Hamilton Arts Council's Living Arts series.

When Tyler Keevil collected his 2014 Journey Prize from the Writer’s Trust of Canada earlier this month, he’s quoted as saying something that resonates with many writers. “Writing is a lonely business,” he said.“So, it means a lot to connect with the community.”

Every writer has his or her own writing process, but for many, creativity and solitude are connected. As words, ideas, and characters percolate in a writer’s mind, a quiet workspace, isolated from people, ringing phones, and other distractions, can be essential. Personally, I like to be surrounded by the whirr of a coffee shop’s espresso machine or the hum of voices at a local pub while I work, but despite this background buzz, I still work alone. It’s not a bad form of isolation. It’s voluntary and often temporary, but it’s isolation nonetheless.

When I jotted down Tyler Keevil’s quotation, I found myself circling what I thought to be the key word — community. I started to picture Hamilton’s writing community as a collective of individuals, each inhabiting a solitary space that can sometimes get lonely. And I started thinking about my own role in this community and how much it has changed since I moved into my first Hamilton apartment in 2008.

Back then, I thought in order to meet people who shared my interest in the literary arts, I had to put myself out there. I had to network. And for this introvert, face-to-face networking is anything but easy. I associate networking with standing in the dimly lit corner of a book reading or launch party, doing the dance I always do, thinking to myself: I should go talk to that person. I should go introduce myself. Instead, I awkwardly nibble on the free cheese. (Yes, many book launches have free cheese). Needless to say, this form of networking didn’t get me far. However, online networking is what helped me shake the feeling of isolation I felt in the first two years I lived in Hamilton.

You can tell a lot about a person from their social media outlet of choice. For me, my weakness is twitter. On twitter I found a social circle of writers and editors (and booksellers, reviewers, librarians, and readers). I was a skeptic, but in the quiet moments when isolation bred loneliness, tweets about what I was reading and what I was writing were welcomed breaks. Eventually, twitter became something more. It became a space to share ideas, offer encouragement to others, engage in discourse, and meet people feeling the same gnaw of isolation.

A decade and a half ago, parents and teachers warned us that only predators lurked online. But in the past handful of years, the relationships I’ve built through networking online have grown to exist outside the world of 140-character or less tweets. Some of the Hamilton writers and editors I first met on twitter have become my close friends and my support network. And that network continues to grow, all because of a social network I almost chose to dismiss.

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