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  • Writer's pictureSharon Michalove

The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Writer

"I live with the people I create and it has always made my essential loneliness less keen."—Carson McCullers

How many of you remember the film, "The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner"? Voted #3636 in a ranking of the best British films of all times, it starred Tom Courtney in a breakout first performance. The screenplay was adapted, by Allan Sillitoe, from his short story of the same name. Superficially about running, the bleak social commentary about class and economics in postwar England is about rebellion and finding oneself, Colin Smith ultimately gives up acceptance by the establishment to stay true to himself.

"The use of this sport gives Smith the ability to escape from his life as a member of the working class poor. Sillitoe has used running to give his character a chance to reflect upon his social status and also to escape from the reality that the poor in Britain are faced with." Hutchings, William (1987). ("The Work of Play: Anger and the Expropriated Athletes of Alan Sillitoe and David Storey". Modern Fiction Studies. 33 (1): 35–47. doi:10.1353/mfs.0.1323. S2CID146663065.)

This post, however, is not about running, class, angry young men, or rebellion. But it is about loneliness and writing. For many writers, their endeavors provide the ability to escape from loneliness and isolation.

Some writers are natural extroverts who might have to rein themselves in to make time for writing. But many of us are introverts—even if we cleverly disguise ourselves when we're in groups. That gives us more time to work, but the downside may be spending most of our time, especially if we live alone.

For me, Zoom has been a lifeline. I have made friends all over in Zoom writing groups. While many people complain of Zoom fatigue and how they are so glad that they can meet in person once again, I spend a lot of time on Zoom, writing in groups the way I used to write in coffee shops. I can choose to join or not, I don't spend a lot of time traveling around the city, and I don't have to lug my equipment with me. And I get a research bonus. When I can't travel, I can watch presentations on history, art, and far-flung destinations to help with my research.

My writer colleagues and I write, talk, brainstorm, critique. That helps with some of the loneliness. But the work itself helps. My characters become real to me. We argue. They feed me dialogue, tell me when I veer away from how they would react to a situation, and scold me if they don't like a situation or a setting. Ask any writer. Our characters and stories take on a life of their own, whether we are meticulous plotters or write by the seat of our pants.

The many reasons why people write. Because they have stories that need to get out. To remind themselves of important aspects of their lives. For the sheer enjoyment of getting words down on a page. To see a shelf filled with books, the spines trumpeting their name. We'd write for the money, but most of us don't earn much unless we have a job that pays us to write.

But we also write to assuage the loneliness that lives inside everyone to some extent. And it's worth it for that.


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