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The Most Important Thing I’ve Learned as a Writer

In July 2017 I achieved something I never thought I would do. I published a book. I’m 46. For me, it wasn’t a lifelong goal. I haven’t harboured aspirations to be an author since I was 12 years old. It literally happened because I believed I had some good ideas for a story, could write pretty well, and probably most importantly, live my life with a pretty solid armour of perseverance.

Writing a book, like all journeys, involves the stuff you know is going to happen, and the stuff you either know about but are not prepared for, or don’t know about at all. You know it’s going to involve time on your own, putting words to paper, typing it up, revising, editing, making it sound amazing.

What was hard to contemplate from the outset was the magnitude of solitude involved. And how solitude changes you.

When I started writing in 2015, solitude was not something that featured significantly in my life. I live in an urban environment and have access to technology and social media. Like everyone else, I can choose to be connected 24/7, every minute, every second, of every day if I want. This connectedness, so we are lead to believe, is the ultimate ‘cure’ for the loneliness often associated with solitude.

Anyone who has ever tried to spend significant periods alone knows how hard it is. It was something I had to work at. I was fidgety, restless, craved distraction. I was stuck with my own mind and it was an incredibly uncomfortable experience. Thoughts came into my head and possessed me. Thoughts like who-the-hell-do-you-think-you-are-writing-a-book and not-so-gentle reminders that I was nowhere near as good as all the authors I love and admire. I came to the rather sobering reality that being a writer means sitting with your own mind for long periods of time. It was not something I was warned about, but you REALLY get to know yourself when writing a book.

The ability to be alone is an essential condition to write a book. That’s pretty obvious, no surprises there. The same could be said of any undertaking that requires concentration and focus from crocheting a blanket, to tinkering on an old car, or painting a picture, or reading a book. What I’ve come to learn is that the ability to be alone is also an essential condition to love. That’s right, people, love. It’s only through time on your own you truly discover who you are, and it’s only once you truly know who you are that you can give love unconditionally to another. When you build solitude and stillness into your life, you notice things that may have otherwise gone unnoticed. All that matters is the activity you’re immersed in and giving your whole being to it. It really doesn’t matter what it is, all that matters is giving it your full attention. And such is the requirement of love.

Paradoxically, all this busyness, all this connectedness which is meant to make us feel less alone is often having the reverse effect. We’re feeling more alone than ever because we’re often not learning who we are and how best to tend to our needs. We’re running away from alone time, repudiating it. We’re hoping other people will just ‘get’ us when we often don’t even know ourselves.

All our gadgets and technology purporting connectedness are here to stay and they certainly have their place. It’s now about how we find a balance between alone time and worldly stimulation, how we quell our fears of aloneness and embrace what’s on offer from a bit of solitude: time to get to know yourself. It’s a practice. It’s not the solution to everything, but it’s likely to yield some beautiful surprises.

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