Of Solitude and Support

“What a rude guy!” The class nodded in agreement. How dare Hemingway treat that poor man that way, refusing to chit-chat and insisting on getting his writing work done? At least, that’s how the majority of the class saw it that night, even the teacher, himself a writer. Many derisive comments were made, including an emphasis on how Hemingway’s writings were no longer “in style.” I slumped down in my seat, feeling too outnumbered to respond. Now I’m ashamed that I didn’t.

I think those in my class assumed that Hemingway could pop out stories with great ease, all while drinking, carousing, and carrying on great adventures. They didn’t understand that even the best writers have to work hard and may lose sleep over a single, elusive sentence. They didn’t realize that the Hemingway of those days was strapped for cash and enduring rejection after rejection while he and his wife scrimped on a modest inheritance of hers. They didn’t know that writers have to focus and concentrate, and that chatter takes us out of our groove. Like all writers he battled self-doubt and the sharp barbs of inner criticism, and the only way out was through, by working like crazy and trying to create publishable work.

For those of us who write, finding the solitude to create and to find the deeper places within ourselves where the bet stories lie, is a challenge. Even when we do that, we may get questions such as, “So what else do you do?” as though the writing takes ten minutes, and then what? Yet when we are writing new material and revising existing work, we desperately need quiet time to let ideas percolate and to resolve plot problems. Yes, some days it comes easily, but mostly it doesn’t.

Hemingway also knew that writers need support. He had friends in Paris, including Gertrude Stein, who could look at his work and provide qualified critiques. With these friends, he found his voice, the voice that still rings true to this day, whether or not he’s “in style.”

In my own life, I have lacked that circle of writing friends. There are the groups of people who want to talk about writing but never put a word on paper; the Ph.D. writers who want to bleed all the life and energy out of a piece; and those who aren’t geographically desirable. Online writing courses have been more helpful but haven’t created lasting relationships. So when I was invited to join She Writes, an online group for (primarily) women writers, I was skeptical.

She Writes provides social networking, allowing us to shamelessly plug our books, to blog, and to contribute to a variety of groups of our choosing. Now that the site has been around a while, people are starting to learn how to use the technology to create even greater support. We now have a weekly online chat for novelists, and I recently joined a new critique group that looks promising. The work I’ve read thus far is interesting, and the critiques are fair and helpful. I just posted some of my work yesterday, so we’ll see what happens on the receiving end. Most importantly, I’m starting to make friends with other people who understand what I’m doing and don’t think I’m rude if I say, “I’m off the site for a few days because I need to write.”

There are a few men on She Writes. Maybe Hemingway would have fit right in.

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