Lonely writers need not apply
“Writing,” Ernest Hemingway once wrote, “at its best, is a lonely life.” It’s a sentiment that we hear time and time again. The plight of the writer is to endure isolation, tap, tap, tapping on their keyboard or scribbling in a trusty note pad. We sit and nod sagely, acknowledging the tragic romance of the poor, lonely artist cut off from the world for his or her art.
Now, I’ve got nothing against Ernest, but I can’t say I agree with him. I’ve been a professional writer for over 15 years now and I’ve always considered it a rather social enterprise. Yes, there are those days where you find yourself in front of the aforementioned computer – that’s a given – but no writer is an island and a piece of work, be it an article, script or novel, is never truly one person’s vision.
Perhaps it just me. Perhaps I’ve been lucky. Perhaps it’s just the kind of writing I do. Granted, I learnt my craft on magazines where being part of a team is a given. When you’re writing for a mag, you can’t get away from people. There’s the designer, the sub, the commissioning editor, the editor. Everywhere you look there’s someone having their say and, nine times out of ten, the finest article is all the better for it. The sad fact is that those who keep themselves to themselves don’t usually make it in magazines.
Then there’s my work in the audio book business. For the last ten years I’ve worked with a wonderful little company called Big Finish, putting together audio dramas based on all kinds of properties, from Doctor Who and Iris Wildthyme to Judge Dredd and Highlander. Some of these I’ve written with my long-time writing partner, the redoubtable Mark Wright. Others I’ve written on my own. Well, sort of. There’s no such thing as ‘on your own’ when it comes to audios. There’s the producers, the script editors, the director, the actors, the post-production wizards and, sometimes – if you’re working on a series with multiple story arcs – other scriptwriters. You all work together to make sure that the production is as perfect as possible. It’s not always fun, I’ll grant you. There’s nothing worse than getting script notes you don’t agree with and working out whether you should fight your corner or at least try to make them work, but I know that works the other way as well. I’ve produced dramas and edited more magazines than I can remember. I know what it’s like to give notes and have an outraged writer throw them back in my face. Once quite literally as it happens. But there’s no way of getting around it, if you want to write and, more importantly, if you want to be successful then you have to play the game – you have to be part of a team.
Of course, nobody’s perfect. There are plenty of times when I’ve forgotten that simple truth.
Over the last couple of years, I’ve been lucky enough to write non-fiction books for the BBC and am currently working on a couple of novels. I don’t mind admitting that it was a bit of a dream come true and, yes, I did let it go to my head. Out of the blue, I became the lonely artist, the very same person I’d always dismissed. When I delivered my first draft of my first book and received my first set of – actually quite reasonable – notes I was incensed. What did they know? They hadn’t been the one tap, tap, tapping on their keyboard or scribbling in their trusty note pad. How dare they? After all, this was my vision.
Then, I sat down and had a word with myself. At the end of the day, writing a book – be it fact or fiction – is no different. All kinds of people are going to get involved. All kind of people should get involved. The folk you encounter during research, the friends and family that you coerce into reading it and, of course, the people who are paying you to write the thing in the first place. As soon as I reminded myself of that, writing became fun once again.
Why? Because writing, at its best, is a social old life.
Cavan Scott is a writer and journalist based in the UK. He is the writer of numerous audio dramas and books based on popular properties such as Doctor Who, The Sarah Jane Adventures, Judge Dredd and Highlander. He is also the co-producer of the Iris Wildthyme adventures for Big Finish Productions.
His next Doctor Who audio drama, The Many Deaths of Jo Grant, written with Mark Wright is out in October from www.bigfinish.com
For more information about Cavan’s audios, books, short stories and comics go to www.cavanscott.com