Solitude is the school of genius. Or so said Edward Gibbon. It’s one of those widely accepted things that if you’re a writer you must be, in some way, antisocial and a little bit weird.
After all, writing is supposed to be inherently solitary.
Because the only fingers than can put your words on the page are your own.
Because you would likely be considered rude (if not downright pretentious) if you whipped out your notebook and started scribbling away whilst at dinner with your extended family, or in the middle of coffee with your friends, or just in the middle of the office (do you want to get fired).
And because there’s something mythical and energising about being free to explore your inner worlds without interruption.
I can buy into this. I can accept that yes, there is power in being alone.
And yet there is also power in having a writing buddy. Someone who you can talk to about all the weird things writers talk about. Someone who will plot a murder with you or help build an entire world from scratch. Someone who will laugh as you run face first into The Writer’s Block but will do their best to help you back on track too.
One of my earliest memories involves visiting Roald Dahl’s house in Beaconsfield. It’s open a few days every year for the public and down at the bottom of the garden is his writing shed. It’s not really a shed, however. It’s bigger on the inside. The most ghoulish villains in all literature emerged from the crooks and crannies of that hut. The fantastic and giant and the genius and the marvellous glinted in the sun on the windowpane. The profane and bizarre and black and absurd curled around his armchair, a thousand little stories that entrance child after adult after child.
Even now, I remember loving the Giant Peach exhibit (and would totally crawl back in there if I still fit), but I was mostly in love with that writing shed.
It felt like I had glimpsed inside Dahl’s mind.
So I mentioned this titbit of memory to one of my friends. She smiled and quoted Virginia Woolf on having a ‘room of one’s own’ as a necessity for writing and we launched into this long and rather rambling discussion on why a writer’s space – whether it’s a study or a shed or a particular desk or a particular café – seems so poetic. Likewise, for writers like Dylan Thomas, Mark Twain, Patricia Highsmith etc there’s even an element of romance as each and all of them remarked on how being alone allowed their imagination to tether those words, those insights, those ideas and bind them into something readable.
But there’s a reason why many great writers gather into groups and writing communities were some of the first to embrace the World Wide Web.
Throughout history creatives have banded together – The Beats, The Inklings, Stratford-on-Odeon. Virginia Woolf was part of The Bloomsbury Group. Writers fall in love with each other all the time. Like Simone de Beauvoir and Jean Paul Sartre, or Jonathan Safran Foer and Nicole Krauss.
And it’s not just writers – artists, scientists and entrepreneurs do the same thing.
In part this is due to what studies describe as the perfect symbiosis of intellectual, emotional, motivational and moral characteristics. Across all creative fields, there were common traits, including ‘an openness to one’s inner life; a preference for complexity and ambiguity; an unusually high tolerance for disorder and disarray; the ability to extract order from chaos; independence; unconventionality; and a willingness to take risks’.
In other words, it’s what Frank X Barron said: creative genius is “both more primitive and more cultured, more destructive and more constructive, occasionally crazier and yet adamantly saner, than the average person.”
This is what drives writers to seek out similar minds.
Far from being the archetypal, congenital loner or the socially inept egoist who drinks too much and listens too little, writers simply like to seek each other out for support. To partner with those who stimulate them and engage them and embrace the same openness to experience, disarray and determination, independence and sociability that they also possess. To befriend people they can trust with their brain-children.
And this is where finding your writing buddy becomes pretty great.
I’ve had writing buddies my whole life. Today I have Loredana (AKA High-heeled Books), who always has my corner and who can plot murder better than most people can count to ten. And of course the brilliant Hazel who types at one end of the table listening to video game soundtracks whilst I scribble at the other blasting anything and everything.
But I’ve had ‘buddies’ since I was allowed access to the Internet (that miracle of miracles). Thanks to Writing.com (then Stories.com), I found my niche before I was twelve. I fell into this world of writers where we revelled in our inner weird and where I could meet the one-and-only Quaddy.
We were House and Wilson, Poison Ivy and Harley Quinn.
We wrote and finished our first ‘novel’ (for lack of a better term) when I was about eighteen (though admitted we are – to this day – still editing). You’ll know her today as C from NerdCactus and no matter how much ocean lies between London and Florida, something absolutely clicks when we’re bouncing ideas between us.
In fact, when I said I was writing this blog, she sent the following:
Writing Buddies should be considered a human right. Hardly anyone wants to hear me drone on about my writing. They won’t let me talk out my ideas with them… or they can’t keep up with the way my mind works. My whole life, I’ve gotten blank stares and people trying to change the conversation…all the way down to people actively avoiding me. For a long time, my characters were my only real friends. The problem with that, beyond the loneliness, is I would get trapped in my own head… and sometimes my stories would stagnate.
Writing Buddies put an end to that.
People care about my stories. They listen and help them come alive. They’re kindred spirits. The kind of people who understand when your sentences seem to have absolutely no connecting theme. Who treat your characters like real people. Who treat YOU like a real person, and not a collection of worrisome eccentricities.
And this is precisely why having those special people you can turn to with a plot hole and can vent to about your repetitive strain injury from typing are so vital.
We may need to put pen to paper independently but that’s pretty much the only thing that requires solitude.
Sure you might find your best ideas come to you as you’re sitting alone, doing your laundry, thinking about the whirligig of life. But equally you could be just having a conversation with someone ready and able to go head-t0-head in a creative rally.
Writing buddies can pin you to the wall like no other person. When you stop writing, they’re the ones who know. Because they’re the ones who constantly check up on you. Because they actually care about what you’re working on in that big, old, crazy brain of yours.
Writing buddies are special. They play a special role in your life.
So here’s to you, writing buddies. You wonderful weirdos, you.