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Ask the Agony Editor: Stop hoarding your work-in-progress and learn to share

Dear Agony Editor,

Brian Francis

(Illustration: Evan Munday)

Writing fiction can be very solitary. How do I keep on writing when I’m always writing alone and no one sees my work?

Lonely Lady
Dear Lonely Lady,

While writers often talk about the loneliness of their craft, I tend to lick the other side of the lollipop. I think writing is one of the most social professions out there. You spend all your time with people. Mind you, the people aren’t real. But fictional characters are much less annoying than their flesh-and-blood counterparts. You can hit the backspace key when they talk too much, you never have to share your fries with them, and they rarely call you in the middle of night asking for bail money. They’ll never rescue you from a burning building, buy you a pony, or invite you over for cake, but you can’t have everything in this life.

Imaginary friends aside, too much solitude can hinder, rather than help, your writing. It sounds like you’re what I call a “hoarder writer.” Rather than share your work-in-progress, I bet you cling to it, telling yourself you’ll only share it when you’re satisfied. But feedback throughout the writing process is essential and provides clarity.

Case in point: I once wrote a novel that never ended. I kept writing and writing, telling myself I needed to get through the story first and then I’d show it to someone. Two years and 450 pages later, I had a meandering mess on my hands. My mistake was not showing it to someone in its early stages. Being a writer means being social. And while that doesn’t mean you need to skip around, passing daisies to strangers, it does mean you need to engage with the world you’re writing about. Show your work, even if you’re not happy with it. Talk about your writing. Get away from your screen. Engage with people you trust. And don’t assume loneliness is a necessary by-product of the writing life.

Brian Francis is the author of Natural Order and Fruit. He teaches creative writing­ as part of the International Festival of Authors.

Have a question for Brian? Email info@quillandquire.com.