Wednesday, November 09, 2011

The Solitary Writer

Please welcome Guest Blogger Mary Sutton to Working Stiffs. Mary is one of this year's survivors of the recent Sisters in Crime Writers' Retreat. In other words, she's been initiated into the sisterhood.

The image is iconic. The writer sits in a darkened room, hunched over, alone. Maybe an empty bottle of wine and an overflowing ashtray sit nearby. The writer is solitary, an observer and scribe. She observes and creates. She is the lone wolf. Others may pass through her territory, but nobody stays for long.

At least, that’s how I always thought of writing. Oh, I had friends who claimed writing aspirations. I have a family that supports my efforts. But the work was down to me. Others could be my cheering section, but they could not help me create the words.

At least, that’s what I used to think. A couple weeks ago, I had the good fortune to participate in a weekend writers’ retreat sponsored by the Pittsburgh chapter of Sisters in Crime. I spent a weekend with five other women, all writers, learning, discussing and improving our craft.

It was glorious. For the first time since, well, ever I realized the tremendous value in finding a community of writers in which to work and play. The critique session Friday night gave me a lot to think about. My sibs had suggestions and I could see their points. But I was stumped as to how to start implementing their suggestions and changing my manuscript.

Then the most wonderful thing happened. I mentioned my troubles during a conversation. And the suggestions flowed forth. “You could do this.” “Have your detective do that.” “The motive isn’t strong enough; you could change things up to incorporate this.”

I’m told I spent two hours in oblivion working. I’ll take their word for it. After those two hours, I asked, “Does this sound too hokey and farfetched?” More feedback poured forth. It was glorious and energizing.

Community also provides personal validation. When I tell most people I’m a writer, they look at me funny. That weekend, when I said, “Do your characters ever talk to you and take your story in a completely different direction?” the reaction was vigorous nodding and cries of “All the time!” instead of looks of concerned distress. Finally, a group that understood: having your characters “talk” to you is a natural part of writing and not a reason to call the folks with the funny jackets.

So it may be true that writing is solitary in that I’m the only one who can put the words on the screen. But I no longer think of myself as a “lone wolf.” I’m part of a pack. I may hunt alone, but my pack will be there when I need them – with ideas, moral support, or a shake to bring me back to reality.

That’s not solitary at all.

Mary grew up devouring Agatha Christie novels and dreaming of being a published author. Years later, the dream has come half-true. A technical writer by day, Mary recently completed her first novel and hopes to write many more. She lives in Verona with her husband and two children.


Annette said...

Welcome to our pack, Mary.

Jenna said...

Great post!

Ramona said...

Hey wait a minute--we're supposed to have a bottle of wine while we work? So that's what I've been doing wrong!

Welcome, Mary. Nice post!

Liz Milliron said...

Ramona, I think that's what a lot of us have been doing wrong!

Thanks for the welcome, all.

Patg said...

Welcome Mary, great post.