It’s right there on the Beeb:
This week Robert [McCrum] contemplates the loneliness of writers, and the things they give up to spend hours in their rooms with only their novel for company.
Ah, yes, the fabled “loneliness of writers.”
Where the pleasures of solitude are sometimes indistinguishable from the perils of isolation.
It’s thanks to one of my favorite colleagues, Sheila Bounford in the UK, that I’ve found this BBC Radio 4 “Sins of Literature” broadcast from Monday, 29 minutes in duration. It’s particularly well-edited, a quiet colloquy among high-profile writers, a nicely scripted narrative, light on the music, easy on the ear. To a person, these folks are glad company. And together they bring into focus one of those persistent assumptions about writing we rarely stop to question.
This episode is called Thou Shalt Not Hide—not, it implies, without risking those “perils of isolation.”
“It’s only one paradox of literary life,” host Robert McCrum tells us in his intro, “that the writer is only fully free in prison, sitting alone at a desk.”
To be fair, McCrum’s use of the word “prison” is keyed on a quote from the Nobel Prize-winning Nigerian writer Wole Soyinka about his solitary confinement for two years. Soyinka wrote and translated while a political prisoner. That sort of heroic achievement of creativity under oppression is beyond anything but our applause.
What does concern me, however—and what I bring to you today with Bounford’s help—is a question of why, when we speak of the act of writing, do we so frequently talk of working alone as punitive? And these tones of deprivation: “the things [writers] give up?”