Reaching out: loneliness and the extroverted writer

I’m an extrovert.

I really like people – I like meeting them, talking to them, being in their presence and not talking at all. I’ve found out (and I’m not proud of this) that my upper limit for going crazy from not seeing anyone is just under 24 hours. That isn’t to say I can’t spend time by myself – I’m an only child. Half of the reason I write is to be “talking” when other people aren’t there. I’ve been talking to myself and telling stories to my imaginary friends for years.

The problem though, is that writing is pretty much a solitary, introverted and isolated art. You need time and space and a computer or a journal and your own thoughts. You can’t do that when you’re having a conversation. You have to go over and over the same words trying to figure out what you were really trying to say, when there’s no-one in the room to “talk” to.

I’m sort of jealous of artists who perform or collaborate as part of their art. I wonder if I’ve maybe picked the wrong form. As if I got to pick it anyway, right? But they get to jam on ideas, brainstorm, has out the initial drafts and move things around together and then show them to other people and get immediate feedback. All of that doesn’t really happen to writers, I don’t think, or, if it does, it doesn’t happen to me. I sit down, alone, somewhere and type or scribble on pieces of paper and read over it again and again. It’s lonely.

But I’ve found coping mechanisms without realising it.

I work in communal spaces – I suck at working in studies or cubicles. I crouch down at the coffee table in the loungeroom, I perch at the kitchen bench.

I’ve recently started using Twitter and this blog to try and inject some human interaction into my isolated space. It’s like a little electronic lifeline reminding me other people are there.

I ramble at friends and The Boy about plot holes (I always try to write that “plotholes” like “potholes”) and character motivations and ideas for short stories I have. I never know what I’m thinking until I talk to someone else. In order to make them get it I have to figure out how to get it and express it myself.

I’ve started going to workshops and talks. If the contact isn’t coming to me and it’s something that makes me happy and keeps the loneliness at bay it’s my responsibility to seek it out and make it happen. I’ve never been to any festivals, but I think that’s got to be my next step. I have to see other people doing it, I have to get that little thrill of seeing other gregarious, passionate groups I could approach and talk to.

And I go to writing group. This, more than anything, keeps me sane. I first went to my writing group years ago when my life was a little less stable than it is now. I flaked out after two sessions. One of the members died shortly after and one of the (still alive) members texted me saying they were working on a project to remember her by… and I flaked out on responding. And then felt like I could never go back. It was too embarrassing. Not only had I wasted their time, but I hadn’t even had the balls to be supportive and care. I cut and run and felt guilty and immature afterward.

So, this year I started looking around for a new group. All trace of the previous group had evaporated. Nothing on the Writers Victoria website. Nothing in google, or the community house’s website. Folded. Gone. Which sucked because looking back at it I realised it was pretty good. The writers there were all working on novels – second or third drafts, pitching them to agents, someone had a nibble from penguin, they were submitting things to magazines and getting them accepted in anthologies. They wrote young adult and middle grade and sci-fi.

I found another one nearby and went.

It was the wrong fit. I realised I’d gone into this whole “finding a writers group” thing half-cocked. I had no idea what I wanted to get out of it or what I had to offer, only that it was what you “should” do. Have a support network, get your stuff critiqued by your writing group. It was like a box that had to be checked. At the first attempt this year everyone was quite new to writing – they were sketching out the first two or three chapters of a novel, usually the first thing they had ever written ever and then bringing it along for feedback. There’s nothing wrong with this! I’m all for people starting to get feedback and learn and communicate, but it was the wrong fit for me. They were all trying to write literary things or historical crime novels that they hadn’t figured out the ending to yet or memoir things. I like all of these genres… but it’s not what I write. I write about kids fighting demons their parents don’t believe exist. I write about fairies and zombies and weird little isolated towns and insecure little people who don’t have anything close to what’s required to knock out cthulhu. Sometimes I write about spaceships and glorious battle amid the stars.

They couldn’t give me much feedback about what I wrote, and I couldn’t give them much except general commentary about not head-hopping in tense and how to depict actions more clearly. Wrong fit.

I flaked out on going back again. I started wondering whether I was doomed to be a one night stand writing group attendee.

Then I flipped open my recent copy of The Victorian Writer mag, because it was on the bench, and there in the back under “Writing Groups” was the first writing group. The writing group I had abandoned and felt terrible about never returning to. The one with the young adult sci-fi writers. With the people working on second or third drafts. The people who had gotten some traction.

I went back.

It was perfect. It’s super small (3-4 people per night) but they get me. And I get them. The feedback is apt, I have to stretch to keep up. I can see the flaws in my work when they pull it apart – and they kill my darlings so good, you guys. They’re working on novels. They’ve self-pubbed or found agents or submitted to magazines and had things published. They’re at the step up on the ladder I want to be at. In return I pick out continuity errors, talk about themes, ask them critically about the choices they’ve made in their plotting. It’s reciprocal. It’s the right fit.

And I get to touch base with other writers once a fortnight. I get an accountability system – I have to have something to bring – and real people to talk to and work with.

Some people love online forums, they love mailing lists of anonymous critiques. I need the real people. I need to put my money into the tin and print off my pages and scribble with a pen. It makes me happy.

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