You sit in a room devoid of human company, your eyes glued to a screen. You don’t so much as twitch. What’s on the screen fills you with loathing. Self-loathing. You are, simultaneously, emotionally barren, angry beyond all reasonable limits, and yearning for the approval of your peers; hell, yearning for the presence of your peers, somebody, anybody!…who is crazy enough to put themselves through this grinder for so little reward.
You are not “sucking the glass teat,” though it may seem so to an outsider, to anyone reading this limited collection of facts. In fact, you hate television! What you’re doing is the loneliest work on planet Earth, because you have to. You are possessed by a demon with no name, who compels you to come back and come back and come back again! You are punishing yourself for very little reward.
Death isn’t the only lonely business: with apologies to Ray Bradbury. Writing can be lonely, too. Very lonely.
I’ve been fortunate. I have had William O’Donnell as a friend. In 1992, Will talked me into going to a monthly meeting of the Garden State Horror Writers (GSHW), an organization geared towards supporting writers of genre fiction, even people who didn’t write horror. Will also cajoled me into joining the Horror Book Discussion Group at the late, lamented Borders Books & Music in East Brunswick, where I met the girl who would one day become my wife.
The GSHW was the brainchild of horror author Pat Graversen, who published a string of novels for Kensington Publisher’s Corp. during the 80s and early-90s. Without the friends and support I found at GSHW, the critiques and lessons, and necessary instruction on how one should structure a manuscript meant for publication and how to formulate a good cover letter, and before the internet age, the importance of accompanying with your manuscripts, a SASE (Say-Z), or Self-Addressed Stamped
Envelope. Every month, we had a guest speaker, often an established author or editor, and occasionally, an agent.
In such an atmosphere, even if only once a month, I felt ensconced in a community or writers, and yes, also artists. Writing was not lonely in those days. But in the early aughts, I began to have health problems, so I stopped attending meetings, though I remained a member in good standing for several years to follow (I was also a professional member of the Horror Writer’s Association (HWA)).
Gradually, with my only contact with the writing world the editors to whom I submitted my fiction, who increasingly rejected my work, the joy leeched away into the infertile soil of a fearsome depression. Writer’s block followed, and it lasted for ten years. The consequences to an artist, in any medium, of failing to practice their art range from dissatisfaction, pessimism and anger to major depression, failure to self-care (and care for your dependents) and suicidal ideation. High creativity is not a choice. Failure to practice it can ruin your life.
Author and psychological counselor Beth Pickens states in her 2021 book Make Your Art No Matter What: Moving Beyond Creative Hurdles, that “Artists need a community of other active artists who want good things for themselves and one another.” However, living in a suburban sprawl like Central Jersey makes for a virtual graveyard of “Creative Hurdles.” Yes, there are online groups and social media groups. But the hunt for groups that are as advanced as you, and not in the stratosphere, is in itself a disheartening endeavor.
And yet…and yet, there is something about meeting face-to-face with your peers and mentors that fosters inspiration in ways not found on Zoom, Google Meet, Microsoft Skype, and other cloud-based meeting spaces: mainly the private tête-à-têtes that allow one to speak freely and build friendships and alliances with like-minded people. With a single exception, all of my artistic friendships began with people that I spent real time with, in the physical world—people whose hands I shook (or in the age of COVID, an elbow bump would make for just as meaningful a contact.)