The Myth of the Solitary Writer


I will confess now that I only learn enough tech to survive. The hum of the computer brings no joy to my heart and my relationship with my laptop is purely professional. Until I started working with my partner on #NormalDeviation, I would have called myself tech savvy, then I met Lyle. About two weeks ago she sent me a message: “I can’t see your documents, can you make sure your Google Drive is syncing?”

I stared at the email for some time wondering how to respond. I knew what all of those words meant individually, but as a sentence, the implied action was lost on me. This message came after my first blog had posted under my partner’s name because of the way I had uploaded it, and after an image search lesson where my partner had to show me how to reverse an image search. In general, the way I learn software is to either click on things until it does what I want it to OR Google the answer to what I am trying to achieve. This approach, I realized, was making more work and stress for both of us. Lyle and I already had a partnership in place but taking that step to ask for help was difficult for me. I didn’t want to be more work for her. Somehow, without my noticing it, the underlying myth of the Solitary Writer had pervaded my mind and I felt that to admit that I was struggling with the tech somehow made me less of a writer.

If one of my students had told me they were afraid to ask for help, I would have instantly assured them that most of the famous writers in history had a support network. From wives like Sofia Tolstoy and Tabitha King who studiously typed and edited manuscripts, to editors and agents who wouldn’t let sloppy prose go to the press, writing is often a silent community effort. The writer pulls these talents and ideas together, but their published work is the result of finding the correct amount of social and individual input. Isolation, for some writers, quickly becomes detrimental to production and even the strongest work ethics are challenged when there is no one to account for progress.


This idea of the hermit writer who closes the door with a blank sheet of paper only to reappear again with a masterpiece is a delusion, and one I am not going to perpetuate. Cooperation, collaboration, and community are present in most great works of art. To those of you who are struggling under the Myth of the Solitary Writer, let go of the idea that you have to do this alone. Great writing needs great community, so find another human who has a goal to achieve and work beside them. Bitch, celebrate, and commiserate with them while you are both working towards your aims. The proverb goes, a problem shared is a problem halved, and nowhere is this truer than in writing. 

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