A Philosopher's Blog

Anti-Social Writers

Posted in Miscellaneous by Michael LaBossiere on August 28, 2011
Medieval illustration of a Christian scribe wr...

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While I do not make my living as a writer, I do consider myself part of that sometimes disreputable clan. While much can be said about writers, one thing that I hear rather often is that writers tend to be anti-social (at least when they write). Since I know numerous self-proclaimed writers who make a point of writing in very social settings, I am well aware that the anti-social label is not one that should be considered universally applying to all writers. It should also not be taken to apply to writers at all times. After all, while I consider myself to be a bit anti-social when writing, I am otherwise a rather social person-especially for a nerdtastic introvert.

As far as why I consider myself anti-social as a writer, it is because I prefer to avoid interacting with people when I am trying to write. When I am seriously engaged in writing, I do not check my email, I do not have any chat software going (okay, I never actually do), and I feel ever increasing resentment with every ring of the phone. While I can tolerate having people around when I write, I feel a perhaps irrational level of irritation with every interruption inflicted upon me. As such, when I am writing I endeavor to be away from people.

It is not that I do not like people or consider my writing to be of greater value than interacting with people. What it is, I think, is something that appears to be inherent in the nature of writing-or, more accurately, in the nature of my writing.

While I can hack out words under almost any circumstances, true and proper writing seems to require the right sort of conditions. These seem to involve relative quiet and a freedom from interruptions and distractions. Since other people are an abundant source of interruptions and distractions, it is natural for writers to try to avoid them while writing.

I have also found that writing shares a lot in common with running. While I can almost always run or write, there are times when I am in (as they say) the zone. In the case of running, I feel like I am flying over the terrain. In the case of writing, the ideas and words are pouring forth in an almost magical stream. Of course, this can be broken. In the case of running, if someone or something stops me, it is hard to get back into that zone again. The same holds for writing-if someone interrupts me and forces me to stop, the spell is broken and the magic is gone. Sometimes I can get back into that writing groove, but I often cannot. I can still push the keys, but it is just not the same.

Non-writers, as the Tea Party folks might say, generally don’t get it. Since they do not understand, they tend to resent any resentment shown by writers who they interrupt-especially when their interruption was an attempt to do something they regard as nice. For example, a husband might bring his wife a beer while she is writing and try to engage her in conversation about her writing with the intent of being supportive. However, he might not realize that she was in the middle of a very good idea and now has found that the thread of thought has become tangled. Writers, not surprisingly, often over-react to interruptions, thus making them rather annoying.

Some writers attempt to address this problem by making it clear that they should not be interrupted while writing (except for matters of importance). Wise writers are careful to make sure that this practice does not damage their relationships with other people. After all, many people find the idea of someone placing themselves “off limits” to be annoying. However, it can be useful to discuss the matter with such people and get them to understand by drawing analogy to activities they do that they do not want interrupted (such as watching a movie, engaging in a hobby or sleeping).

This method can be effective, provided that it is done with due respect for others and handled in a tactful manner. Of course, some people just cannot resist interrupting and annoying other people.

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5 Responses

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  1. ajmacdonaldjr said, on August 28, 2011 at 3:48 pm

    I learned a long time ago that my writings, like my prayers, are for people, so I do not require solitude to write.

    True, being interrupted can cause me to lose my train of thought, but I can do that easily enough on my own as well. It’s best, for me, to stay loose and adaptable to whatever circumstances may arise while I am in the midst of a writing frenzy.

    Like you, if I really need to focus on something I write in solitude, rather than at the coffee shop, but I try not to get upset whenever someone does happen to interrupt my solitude, because the people who interrupt me are the same people I am trying to reach through my writings: people in general, not one person in particular. I’m not, after all, writing something I will only read to myself.

    I’m writing for others, and I am usually writing about how we need to be nicer people, so it’s somewhat of a test, you see, that I not be so selfish with my time and my space that I feel bothered by people for interrupting my concentration. I will always get it back to my writing, and time spent with people is far more important than my spending time writing about how important it is that we spend more time with people, if you get my point.

  2. FRE said, on August 28, 2011 at 4:47 pm

    Before I retired, I had the same experience at work. Some computer logic problems can be exceedingly difficult to solve and require extreme concentration. Being pressured to solve the problem as quickly as possible makes it even more difficult. I remember once when I was struggling with a very difficult logic problem and several times I was interrupted with the question, “When will you be finished?” by someone who was anxious to keep the schedule from slipping. Finally I said, “If you keep asking, I will never be finished! Every time you do that, I have to go outside for a walk to calm down before I can continue!”

  3. magus71 said, on August 29, 2011 at 12:33 pm

    I think it’s one reason many writers were or are drinkers. It helps block out the world.

    I think writing is just an excuse for me to drink :)

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on August 30, 2011 at 2:50 pm

      I do most of my mental writing while running, suggesting that writing goes best in an altered state of consciousness. :)

  4. The book worm said, on January 2, 2012 at 6:04 pm

    I can’t write with anyone I know around. I can write in a room full of complete strangers but if someone I know is there, it complete breaks my concentration. I find I write best when not only the room is empty but the whole house is completely devoid of other lifeforms (including my sometimes obnoxious dog). I need to be alone with me head in order to create and I am thankful that for the most part my hubby get this. Right now though we are having to live with another family and I’m about to go insane because I can’t seem to write for more than a few minutes before someone else is barging in and interrupting me.


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