So I was scrolling through the Twitter the other day, as I am wont to do, and I stumbled across this Tweet:
If someone is holding your hand throughout the writing process you haven’t gone through the wall of fire yet.
Fair enough, fair enough. Okorafor ought to know, as the multiple awards winning author of Who Fears Death, among many other novels.
And, to some extent, the writer’s journey down into the dark is done alone. There are hidden crevices, caverns, and black pools sightless fish each of us must journey alone.
But I also must disagree: a writer cannot go down into the depths of their own inner dark, cannot walk through the wall of fire, completely alone. It’s simply not possible. I don’t know Okorafor’s context, and I am not critiquing so much as extending.
A writer cannot create alone. From the start a writer must have supporters and mentors, or else they will give up. I would never have continued writing were it not for the support of first my parents and teachers, and now my peers and readers. Pretty sure none of these people held my hand, given that I’ve been in critique groups since I was 16 (got my ass kicked more than a few times) did a creative writing undergrad (more ass kicking!) and then graduated from one of the best creative writing programs in the world (so. much. ass. kicking.)
A writer cannot learn to write and to think about their own writing and writing process alone. A young writer needs the companionship of books to build an understanding of how stories and language work. A young writer needs the guidance of someone who can help them find different ways to approach the process of writing, so they don’t get stuck with a process or practices that might not be helpful. A young writer needs the support of more experienced writers to nurture them into mature writers.
A seasoned writer needs much of this too. And all writers need the companionship of other writers in some way. I hate critique groups – they disrupt my writing process something terrible – but I still meet with other writers to discuss the challenges and joys of writing. We need friendship, we need support, we need empathy from those like us. It keeps the proverbial creative fires burning, even when many aspects of the writing life are difficult.
And, a writer needs their readers to remind them of why they write; to show them they are not, in fact, alone; to have someone to talk to when they journey into the abyss.
No writer is ever completely alone when they write. Every time you sit down to writer, you bring your supporters – your peers and friends and mentors and readers. You would not survive the abyss, or a wall of fire, without them. It’s just not possible.