The Myth of the Solitary Writer
This content is reposted from a guest post I wrote for the Writers' League of Texas blog on behalf of ACC's phenomenal Creative Writing Department. I stand by every word.
Once upon a time, I was infatuated with the myth—nay, the mystique—of the lone writer. A tortured (but gifted) soul, she labored well into the wee hours of the morning, surrounded by books and day-old coffee, tapping out her words while frogs chirped in the tree outside her window. Only in this dark solitude might she conjure an appearance from her mighty muse. Surely, I believed, this was how great stories found their way into the world.
As an introvert who still clings to solitude like a baby to its blanket, this myth validated me.
I reveled in the assumption that every committed writer was equally divorced from the world, and I would thrive as a member of an association whose members refused to associate.
But a myth is a myth is a myth. Yes, every writer benefits from “a room of one’s own,” but those four walls can’t tell you how to fix that first draft.
I bumped up against this truth two years ago. My commitment was real, my intentions were pure, but my writing was stupefyingly awful. This isn’t me being adoringly self-deprecating; on re-reading one draft, I actually laughed to the point of tears at a scene I’d hoped would make others weep with grief. That dark night of the soul was sincerely humbling.
I had no idea how to fix my work. Not a clue. But at least I knew that—myth be damned—all the self-study in the world wouldn’t help as much as taking a class. Still, as a “woman of a certain age” (bless the French), I feared finding myself adrift in a sea of young ‘uns with whom I shared nothing in common. I wasn’t too old to learn (we never are), but was I too old to return to class?
Quick answer: No. Any age is a good age to be in class. More importantly, every one of the six creative writing classes I’ve taken at Austin Community College has driven a stake through the heart of that lousy myth.
Maybe you’ve never considered the idea of a semester in class, or you’ve mulled doing it “someday.” Perhaps you’ve scanned a course catalogue, or you might be but a few keystrokes away from enrolling. Wherever you are on this spectrum, let me assure you that your craft will improve. Substantively.
But the icing on the cake, the benefit I hadn’t considered, and the reason classes will forever be part of my life going forward is community.
We may write alone, but community brings our work to life. It brings us to life. In class, we find the diversity that expands our thinking and challenges our assumptions. We find that the focused company of other writers has a way of opening our own creative spigots. We learn a common language and find common cause because, in a room full of like-minded souls, we share a common bond: the urge to tell a good story.
The community found in a classroom also helps overcome “imposter syndrome”—that scratchy mental yammer insisting on our worthlessness whenever that mythical muse has failed to make an appearance. Through a structured, safe, and wildly supportive environment, classmates come to cheer each other on. Strangers become friends, continuing to connect long after the semester is over. We learn to be good literary citizens in and out of the classroom.
The COVID-19 pandemic has isolated us like never before, but classes—even online classes—keep us connected. In fact, now is the perfect time to enroll. ACC’s creative writing program is online for the spring semester, and you don’t have to live in Austin to take advantage of this exceptional faculty.
I still love my solitude, and I still write while the tree frogs sing. But the world is a lot larger—and richer—because of classes. I hope I meet you there soon.
The fabulous Dorothy Parker may have written in solitude, but she partied pretty hard, too.