Much has been said about the noble solitude of the artist, the writer. But it is not always painful solitude; some solitudinous personalities find writing a perfect match. I used to wonder whether I became a writer because I like to be alone, or if I have come to like or need to be alone because I am a writer. Well, a recent web article in The Millions, and a holiday party with neighbours and old friends, at which a quarter of the guests were writers, have convinced me that we writers only think we are alone.
Besides myself and my house partner, both lifetime writers, the festivities included three twenty-somethings and one middle-aged woman who had published her first novel this fall. The twenty-eight year old young woman, an MFA student in Creative Writing, had just had her first story collection accepted for publication; the 25 year old young man is applying to MFA programs in CW, and the other young man, late twenties, is stubbornly, sometimes tortuously, according to his partner, writing a novel from which he has already jettisoned 120,000 words.
According to Dominic Smith's Millions piece, there was a 39 percent increase in the number of writers and authors between 1990 and 2005. In the nearly ten years since, with self-publishing having exploded, one can only imagine.
"After studying the data," writes Smith, "I’m inclined to think there’s a million people writing novels, a quarter of a million actively publishing them in some form, and about 50,000 publishing them with mainstream and small, traditional presses. Then again, I have a novelist’s penchant for rounding numbers for the sake of narrative convenience. Putting the numbers aside, what we do know is that there’s an army of folks writing novels — some bad, some glorious — against staggering odds. Writing a novel is like starting a small business and investing thousands of hours without knowing exactly what it is you’re going to end up selling. It’s a leap of faith every time, even for someone who is five novels into a career."
As I used to tell my writing students, just walk into a library and you will see that there are plenty of books for people to read. The only reason to write another one is that it comes from you, it is an individual... what? Effort, expression, exploration... It certainly should be an individual work - at its best a work of art - unique as a person's fingerprints.
The freedom to essay, to examine, to execute ... maybe this continues to compel me, so that, like perhaps as many as a million others, I am sitting in my study by myself, in the first week of a new year, about to make that leap again.