Nothing Prepares You For The Loneliness Of Writing Your First Book

I’ve been a writer for my entire adult life, but nothing compares to the isolation that comes with a manuscript.

Photo by Neel on Unsplash

I’ve been writing for pretty much all my adult life. Every day. Publishing multiple articles a week, on average, for a decade. My family has watched me retreat to my office for hours or days at a time (like I’m doing right now), crank out something I hope makes sense, and ideally emerge with words close to being ready to publish. There’s a loneliness to that kind of life; I have to shoo away kids and tell my wife I’ll catch her later. However, it’s all been pretty manageable from an emotional and time-consumption standpoint.

But over the past year, I’ve been working on a book (*plug* The Movement Made Us dropping soon!) and it’s by far the loneliest I’ve ever been as a writer. This has been an unexpected development. Most of the time I’ve been writing this book has been during a pandemic that has caused my family and me to be isolated in a house together for months. I’ve spent more hours with them this year than any other time in our lives. And yet, I’m in an unusually lonely space while knee-deep in this massive undertaking. Authors have written about the loneliness of writing a book, but it’s impossible to truly understand until you feel it.

I’ve been thinking about this loneliness a lot as we all develop our new emotional selves in the wake of this pandemic. But I think I know why I have this feeling of isolation: nobody cares nearly as much as I do about this thing I’m obsessed with. I care about this book like 50x more than the person who cares about this book the second-most, whoever that person even is. That’s not a knock on anyone else, or some slight towards the people around me. It’s just that this thing I care about mostly lives in my head. The ideas I love and sentences that make me hug myself, rock back and forth, and smile don’t really make a lot of sense to a lot of other people. They barely make sense to me. I have friends and family with whom I share pages and thoughts and they care deeply about my book and the process. They may even love this work as I’m doing it. But not like I do. The space between our carings is an ocean.

And there’s nothing in the world that holds this sort of singular disparity in my life. Chances are, there’s something else in your life that cares about the things you care about the most almost as much as you do. For instance, your spouse’s parents probably love your spouse somewhere around as much as you do. Your spouse/co-parent, sibling, or parents probably love your kids in the ballpark of how much you love them. But this book? This fetus of roughly put together thoughts, incomplete ideas, and imperfect sentences is something only you love. You’re the only person obsessing over this thing. You’re the only person in the world awake at night thinking about this one endeavor. You are its only tether to the living.

Even the other articles I write on a given day are quickly dispersed to the internet so I can get immediate feedback from a wide audience of friends and strangers. And it’s usually about topics that other people care about as much as (or more than) I do. Those pieces of writing become part of a shared experience that bring me out of the brief isolation it took to write them.

While the loneliness of writing a book is suffocating, I keep telling myself to try to find some enjoyment in this process. These moments when I’m alone to imagine the infinitely beautiful and terrifying possibilities of a book vibrating with potential energy will eventually give way to something tangible that won’t be just mine anymore. It’ll belong to the world for readers to scrutinize, love, hate, tear apart, and analyze. My loneliness will give way to communal ownership. To people who will feel so comfortable with my work that they will invite themselves into that room where only I reside right now. They’ll ask questions I don’t want to answer and judge my life in ways that will feel invasive. When that moment comes, I’m sure I’ll long for the days when I was alone on a blank page, enjoying an island of my own making.

Level Sr. Writer covering Race, Culture, Politics, TV, Music. Previously: The Undefeated, The Atlantic, Washington Post. Forthcoming book: The Movement Made Us

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