Years ago, I watched the film, The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner starring Tom Courtenay. It’s a great film, very British, very much of it’s time; made in 1962. But it has a quality that resonates and made a lasting impression on me.
Courtenay plays Colin Smith; a rebellious teenager in a poverty-stricken town in northern England, who enjoys running as an escape from his harsh reality. He gets caught stealing and is sent to a reform school. The governor wants to impress officials and so forth by promoting sports as rehabilitation. Colin gets inducted to race against a prestigious rival school.
I won’t tell you the ending – that’s not the point of this post – what I am interested in is how this compares to writing. I’ve been growing my connections on Twitter recently, via the #WritingCommunity. There are people who write who are very much engaged with a wider community, not just their immediate friends, and who make an effort to help others to connect through list-making, shout-outs, #FollowFridays and so forth.
Now I’m a lot like Colin. I like my own company, I positively revel in the times that I spend alone, so that I can immerse myself into my world building, characters and narrative. I love to run alone, not only that – I want to run alone. Don’t get me wrong, I’m pretty sociable; when I am required to be. I don’t have anxiety about meeting people – I just don’t want to – I am not anti-social; I don’t behave inappropriately (well, not often!), but I am unsociable by nature; when I want to be.
Writing is a bit like being a long-distance runner. You might rise early and limber up with some brief exercises, or set about your working day in a casual manner. Regardless of when you write, where you write, or how you put the words down, you will do this alone. And alone you will be until you have finished the process. Then you will edit; alone. The whole process of creating, editing, re-writing etc. might take you months, even years. Only you can do this, no-one else. It’s your ideas, your work, your creation. Then you will send your work off – and receive rejections – alone.
This does not mean you have to be lonely. For those writers who struggle with this isolation, the community of writers on Twitter might be somewhere to reach out and relieve that feeling. There are professional writers as well as amateurs. Published and unpublished. Dabblers and specialists.
I have experienced authors who reach out and lend a helping hand; such as @garethlpowell. Gareth is an award winning science fiction writer, you’d think he would be too busy, but no, he gives of his time on a daily basis. A new arrival on Twitter, @EliselsWritinYA, stormed onto the writing scene by listing ALL the writers she followed, classified them and sent numerous Tweets out into the community. Elise Carlson just dived straight in there in her very first month.
The point is, you don’t have to be alone if you don’t want to be. I have encountered new ‘Tweeters’ who are very apologetic, filled with trepidation, are shy about announcing their presence. But I reckon 99% of the time, they find a warm welcome into the #WritingCommunity – sure, you get the odd dick who tries to tell you how things should be (I may even be one of those dicks myself at times), but you can be sure that you will make connections; maybe even friends. You can let off steam, ask questions, get moral support in times of need.
It will not, I hasten to add, make you a better writer! This can only be done by dedication, application, self-criticism and honesty.
Rachel Carson, author of Silent Spring once said – “Writing is a lonely occupation at best. Of course there are stimulating and even happy associations with friends and colleagues, but during the actual work of creation the writer cuts himself off from all others and confronts his subject alone. He moves into a realm where he has never been before — perhaps where no one has ever been. It is a lonely place, even a little frightening.“
So, back to Colin. The title of the film suggests he himself is lonely, not at all. The runner in this instance is a metaphor for choosing to be alone – so he isn’t actually ‘lonely’. Colin has chosen running so that he can, not only escape his mundane, poverty-ridden existence, but to allow time to develop his own thoughts, and through this, he comes to understand the societal differences and class divisions of the time. Colin sees through the authority figures; especially that of the prison governor, and the image conveyed to others of their ilk, and what really lies beneath. Colin questions; if only in his own head, the establishment.
As a writer, you will probably be doing some of the same things, questioning authority; of a character’s parents, the government he or she resides in, that of movements, peers, received opinions, taught mythologies.
You will live inside your own head until you have completed your idea.
You may work alone – but you don’t have to be lonely.