The most common view of the writing life is that it is a solitary one. Even many writers who should know better make the claim. But the writing life is not quite that simple. True, most people are alone in their heads when they begin to put fingers to keyboard. Writing cogent sentences and paragraphs requires a certain level of concentration seldom experienced outside of combat or fly-fishing. Still, while some writers are introverts, very few are actual hermits. Almost none of them do their writing from their mother’s basements (we prefer garrets).
And, more than anything, we frequently seek out the company of other writers. There is a reason we go to coffee shops – even if we are initially alone, pretty soon we notice others engaged in a similar activity. We may share a smile or a small word of encouragement as we pass on our way to pay of the barista. We will occasionally catch other’s eye as we wind up staring into the same empty space. It is a very rich life.
All joking aside (a third of my writing friends are now saying, what joking?), writers are often a gregarious lot. We enjoy being alone together. For example, tomorrow I am heading off with my wife for a write-off in Mississauga (I know, we get to go to all the exotic places). There will be seven other writers there, all staying in the same penthouse apartment. We will each find our own niche and spend the days with our heads down, typing away on our respective projects. We will nod and smile as we pass each other in the hall – after all, we’ve been friends for years.
Eventually the demands of nature will draw us together for a communal lunch – at Moxies or Swiss Chalet – where we will sit silently, thinking about our work and occasionally making a short burst of non-sequitur laden conversation. It will be monk-like.
So I am pulling your leg now. We will chatter incessantly, exactly like monks released from their vow of silence. Because really there is only one thing writers like to do more than write. And that’s drink… sorry, I meant to say, talk. Especially about writing but also about missing (writer) friends and about research and whether or not we are going to make next month’s rent. Well, the successful ones have already got next month’s rent…
None of this should come as a surprise. Writers have always gathered to compare notes and talk about ideas. Byron and Keats and Mary Shelley vacationed together; Hemingway and Fitzgerald and the rest drank together in Paris. We crave each other’s company precisely because we spend so much time alone in our heads. We crave it because we know that writing is another form of conversation; indeed, it sometimes seems that every writer and every book has been engaged in the same centuries-long discussion.
That’s why, when we are not writing or talking or eating or, yes, drinking, we are usually found reading.
But that’s ten minutes.