Loneliness vs. Solitude and The Long Distance Writer

When I think about being a long-distance writer, literal distance is not what comes to mind first. My fellow Hamline students and faculty know that I travelled over 100,000 miles to get to Hamline during the two years of my MFAC, because I live in Australia. But it wouldn’t matter where I lived – for every writer, it’s the writing itself that is the marathon, the huge journey, and it can involve experiences of both solitude and loneliness.

(not to scale)

We need solitude to write. Oh, how we need it! One of the things I ask my students is – where do you write? Do you have a place that is all your own, where you can shut the door? I wrote at home, on the kitchen table, for more than 20 years. From that table, I could see outside and yet be inside, and inside my head, because I was the only one there.
Then my husband retired, and suddenly I realized that, no matter how quiet he was, it was almost impossible to write with him in the house. I tried the library, the café, the room outside with the dust and the spiders (even after I cleaned it up, there was still dust). It’s a little better now, but I still yearn for that wonderful daily solitude I used to have.
Residency at Hamline is the opposite! It’s all about writing for 11 straight days and every time, I couldn’t wait to get there and dive in. But away from Hamline, it’s easy to feel lonely, to miss that buzz and excitement, that total focus on what matters most – your writing. In between residencies, I kept the loneliness at bay through emails and letters to my advisors, and through my class Facebook group. I reminded myself that, hey, they weren’t all going out for coffee and having a great time together without me! They, too, lived long distances from each other. We were all in the loneliness together, and still connecting.
Writing can be the loneliest profession in the world, if you know no other writers. Writing groups, writing friends, mentors, friends who “get it” – make all the difference. They support you when your spouse grumbles about your daydreaming, when your mother asks you when you’re going to get a real job, when your kids throw tantrums because you’re not at their beck and call 24 hours a day. We have to fight every day to make time for our writing, to keep some of our headspace for our current novel, and to grab that solitude with both hands and hold on tight.

I’m about to go on a different kind of residency, sponsored by the May Gibbs Trust here in Australia. It will be four weeks (two now, two later) of time alone in another city to write. Blessed solitude.

Who knows what writing will come out of it? Big advances in current projects, or something wild and new? But I know anytime I’m feeling a little lonely, I can go online and be cheered up by a writer friend somewhere in the world!

Sheryll Clark is a July 2013 graduate of the MFAC program. She lives in Melbourne, Australia. To find out more about Sheryll and her writing, visit her website.