There’s a reason that many writers have odd personalities: writing is such a solitary exercise that you can see why they might eventually go quite postal, or at least start wearing funny hats and divorcing their spouses. I love to look at the Guardian’s online edition where they have a column called ‘Writers’ rooms’, which features a photograph of some one, well, writer’s room, and a short write-up outlining the space and how the person uses it, according to their particular routines, eccentricities and superstitions. It makes me feel very well adjusted because I don’t have, for instance, giant paper fish hanging from the ceiling, or a dessicated crocodile on the wall.
Anyway: it’s solitary, and yet people are not free of the desire for a community. You might have virtual communities like National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) in the US, or Novel Race right here in Delhi, where legions of unsung aspirants to novelistic fame get together online to set writing goals and then compare progress. But I’m not sure how many have real writing communities of the flesh and blood variety. I have heard of a few writing groups, for instance, but can’t be certain that they really do exist, because I’m too solitary and weird myself to join in, even though it’s a moot point whether I qualify as ‘writer’, because I just sit at the dining table pretending to write while actually secretly checking Facebook.
One of the reasons that writers find it difficult to form communities, in my unsolicited opinion, is that when they get together they spend a lot of time trashing other writers—not their work, which is fair enough, but their personalities, lifestyles, clothing, and sexual and other peccadilloes. This is, I suppose, the way of homo sapiens in most professions, and actually forms deeply bonded ‘us and them’ groups that can be effective teams, but in the world of writing it seems particularly difficult to do because the product is so intimately tied to ego. There’s nothing a couple of writers seem to enjoy as much as to get together and character assassinate a third, but then they’re just as likely to stab each other in the back at the end of it all. Three dead people is what you’d get at the end of that.
The cutthroat competition is even more ramped up these days when suddenly every second person you meet seems to want to be a writer (just to clarify, that means the kind with a photo on Page Three cuddling up to a Bollywood celeb, not the kind with a divorce and a funny hat). I met a man the other day who, at twenty-five, is starting work on his second novel; the first was written in between graduate school classes; I half expected him to add, “at night, after writing my university papers, tilling the fields and milking the cows”. (At the same dinner were multiple Foreign Service wives writing books, and journalists halfway through theirs—really, everyone is writing a book.)
So it’s wonderful to occasionally meet a writer who not only enjoys other writers but even seems to want to help them along their way. So far I’ve met exactly two such people, and even they were full of interesting tidbits about other writers, though those tidbits stayed on the right side of the line between information and gossip. Here’s to that, because if you keep dissing everyone else who writes you’ll have nobody left to talk to, and then you’ll end up wearing a wig and furry gorilla shoes and it will be your fault.