People have different levels of social needs. That’s why this pandemic has been such an uneven experience for different folks. It’s hard for some to understand why staying inside all day, never seeing people, is much of a problem at all. For others (like me), the five months I spent inside on lockdown were some of the toughest I’d experienced in my life.
The same difference in personality is reflected in writing routines. There’s a reason writers by and large don’t have a problem with lockdowns: they’re naturally solitary people, capable of being alone for long stretches of time, in their own worlds. This is especially true of fantasy and sci-fi writers, cats who can bust out a thousand pound, fleshed-out world every year.
Couldn’t be me.
One of my favorites, Patricia Highsmith, was fine working alone. Bukowski, not so much. He once said “being alone never felt right.” He also drank a lot. Those five months in lockdown and the cases and cases of beer I went through can relate.
Sartre said that if you hate being alone, maybe you’re bad company. He’s also famous for that “hell is other people” line. Schopenhauer said that if you can’t be alone, you can’t be free. Miserable fucks, those two! Look at Schopenhauer’s hairdo. Dude had zero friends.
Some of us need interaction with other people. When I was a kid, my mother, grandmother, and aunt started a cleaning business. I’d go along with them during the day. They handed me a vacuum or rag to make me feel like I was helping. What I loved the most about that time was the conversation. I was basically raised by women, and these particular women could talk, and talk, and talk.
Listen to any of my podcasts, and you’ll notice that I love talking. It’s well-earned. Hours sitting with my elders while they smoked cigarettes and looped around and around subjects. The setups and punchlines. Laughter. Disagreements. I loved it all.
I call people on the phone all the time. I’m sure it’s annoying for my friends who have lives. I edit books for about four hours a day, and then I’m just…free. I do chores, I work on books, I watch YouTube, listen to podcasts. But I crave interaction with people.
It should come as no surprise, then, that creating in a vacuum is awful for me. I want constant feedback, praise, criticism. I need the work to be alive, I need to be changing hands, feeling around in the brains of other people, coming back to me. Art is, for me, a fundamentally collaborative process, even if it’s something as solitary as writing.
Different strokes for different folks.
I grew tired of reading people talking about their writing on social media over the years. The whole thing seemed so self-aggrandizing. However, in my quest to never be like them, I cut myself off from the wellspring of Creativity that I needed to move forward. Never talk about the work, I said to myself. As though I was some kind of stoic!!!
Once I started a private chat with my pals Lucas and Kelby, shit really started rolling for me. This was the missing link. A small group of people whose opinions I respected, who could give me immediate feedback. I needed ears to bend. And in turn, I lend my ear to them.
Get yourself a small group for feedback. Make a bubble for yourself. In that bubble, there’s no hypocrisy, no worries about the outside world. It’s just you and your friends smoking cigarettes around a kitchen table. Allowing ideas to snowball as they’re handed back and forth, each time leaving their host with a little something extra added.
Hell is being alone.