TMM: A Lonely Job

“An artist is always alone – if he is an artist.” – Henry Miller

Writing is a lonely job, no doubt about it. And no matter how successful you might become, you’re still alone. It’s the inexorable truth of the writer’s condition: you sit at your desk, in an empty room or in the most crowded coffee shop, yet you’re alone. You just do your thing.

Of course, this poses a rather interesting question: if you spend that much time alone, how do you find stuff to write about?

I find that a lot of aspiring writers tend to obsesses about the what part of their craft, sometimes long before they even figure out the how part. I know I was like that. I wanted to find that brilliant, one of a kind idea… and I spent an awful lot of time searching for it, rummaging through my mind for something that kept running away from me.

It was there, but it wasn’t.

And I’m pretty sure when I say that no idea has ever come to me when I was purposefully searching for it. No, ideas came to me when I least expected them to, in the bus, or when talking to a friend on the phone.

The best of ideas came to me when I was as far away from a keyboard, a pen, and a paper as possible. The best ideas came to me in the middle of the night, in the form of a bizarre dream that lingered long after I’d open my eyes.

In my humble opinion, writing is not about finding something worth writing about, something no one else has ever thought of writing down, something innovative and brilliant and all that stuff. No, I believe it’s far more important to find something you care about so much, and yet you don’t entirely understand, that you have to write about it, in the hope of finding out more.

Big or small, interesting or not, the places and events and people that define who we are will always make good literature. At least.

Because, sadly, it’s not enough to be passionate about writing. We all are, otherwise we wouldn’t be spending so many hours of our lives doing it. But we need to live, to discover, to experiment.

And maybe it’s not about searching for something we care about so much that we have to write it down, but about that something finding us.

This is not a mad quest for original ideas, but just a really long road to self-discovery.

Who am I? is the most important question we can ask ourselves, and no matter the answer we might give ourselves at one point or another, we’ll never stop asking it.

And writing is just that. A way for us to discover who we are, and what our purpose is, and what are we going to do with the time we have.

Yes, writing is a lonely job, maybe the loneliest there is. It’s not spectator art, you can’t write with a crowd behind you, with people cheering and clapping like crazy.

And there’s one more thing about writing: that we can never be sure that our message, what we’re really trying to say, is ever going to reach the right people at the right time. Sometimes, some of our messages won’t reach anyone. But we never lose hope that, if we’re lucky enough, our words might reach someone exactly when they need to read them the most.

Ultimately, one of art’s many purposes is to make us feel less lonely because, in the end, we’re all utterly and inconsolably alone.

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13 thoughts on “TMM: A Lonely Job

  1. I like this column and I want to follow you. OK, I think I am already following you. The loneliness of the long distance runner. The loneliness of the long distance relationship. I’m so lonesome I could cry. But the loneliest loneliness of all, is the loneliness of the writer.

    When I logged in to my blog I saw this blog post featured. I am going to write about a song that has haunted me for a while, and it is Blue Guitar by Michael Timmins of The Cowboy Junkies. Townes Van Zandt is listed as a co-writer, but on further reflection, I find that while Townes toured with The Cowboy Junkies and wrote The Cowboy Junkies’ Blues for them, Michael Timmins wrote the song upon hearing that Townes had died that day. The other thing that I wondered about was if there was any connection to the poem, The Man With the Blue Guitar by Wallace Stevens. So far no connection but The Cowboy Junkies did a cover of Sweet Jane by Lou Reed, and he was a student of Delmore Schwartz at Columbia. Delmore once visited Wallace at the Insurance company where he worked. OK, I don’t remember if it was Lou Reed who went also, maybe it was William Barrett, anyway, in the song, Sweet Jane, there are a few lines that say, “Riding a Stutz Bearcat, Jim. Those were different times: Poets studied rules of verse, and ladies rolled their eyes.” Of course Margo Timmins probably left that part out of their version, but still. A tenuous connection is established. Synchronicity.

  2. I definitely think the crisis of a writer wondering “what” they will write about, points to the purpose of writing, and more broadly, art. Which is, a person expressing their relation to reality. The impact that life has upon them, and their subjective experience of this. Therefore, there must be a lived experience that evokes some degree of examination and reflection upon daily life and events. From here, art is created. And it flows freely from the artist, writer. So, shouldn’t there be a balance between times of solitude and non-solitude for a writer? And what does that look like for you?

      1. Interesting statistic. You think that is because of the drastic amounts of solitude? Or is that one of the burdens of the artist? Since they are creating something different than the concrete, everyday life. It seems they would have that tension between their ideal (expressed through art) and the real (where they are forced to carry out their existence). Which would lead to bipolar disorder.

      2. Well, correlation does not mean causality, so… maybe someone becomes a writer because they’re bipolar, or maybe they become bipolar because they are writers. Who knows? If I were to guess, I’d say it’s just because they are different. Their minds work differently.

  3. The title for my website came to be out of nowhere as well. I knew what did not want. I did not want a “niche” because I’m curious about everything. I was getting so frustrated that I just walked away from it for awhile. Then it happened. The University of Why were whispered to me in the voiceless voice we all know. The possibilities are endless!

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