Thursday, February 03, 2011

Author Guest Post: Emily White

Loneliness and Writing

About six years ago, when I was intensely lonely, I had to make a serious decision. Was I ready to give up work at a law firm and devote myself to writing? Writing was what I wanted to do. I knew that a first person account of long-term loneliness was necessary, and that I was the person to write it. But if I left my legal practise, my loneliness would only intensify. I’d go from feeling alone every day to actually being alone every day.

I’m not sure what finally pushed me to commit to the written word. There was a pull there, one that was finally stronger than my fear of isolation. And when the writing was going well, it was wonderful. I firmly believe that working on a project (be it writing, gardening, or preparing the perfect meal) can leave you feeling completely connected. It’s not just other people who provide you with a sense of inclusion; an activity can do so as well. There were times when I was working on Lonely that I felt linked in and almost surrounded by others, not the least bit on my own.

But trying to manage a writing career while you’re managing loneliness is a balancing act. It’s not easy to struggle with feelings of isolation, and then commit to days and months alone. There’s a lot to be said for office life—for the steady and easy sociability it can bring, the sound of other people’s voices, the casual coffee dates.

The writing life is different. It’s both the most and the least lonely thing you can do. It’s the most lonely because you really are entirely solo. When I was writing Lonely, I was generally alone for 10 to 12 hours a day. My isolation was often unbroken. But at the same time, many of these days felt oddly full. There were phone calls to lonely people and other loneliness researchers, and there were moments of connecting to the manuscript itself, moments that left me feeling rooted and fine and good.

It was went I sent Lonely off to my New York publishers that aloneness began to feel like loneliness once again. I think it’s this dynamic—of loneliness presenting itself when the writing goes away—that keeps writers going. Writers are people who’ve learned that writing itself can keep feelings of isolation in check. A lot of writers probably need writing to keep these feelings at bay. I certainly fall into this category. I write in order to not feel alone. It’s a magic trick of sorts—the ability to summon a sense of connection out of paper and pen. But when the trick works, when everything falls into place, there are few things better, few things that leave me feeling less on my own.

Emily White is a research lawyer and legal studies instructor and a writer whose work has been published widely in Canada. She teaches within the Law and Society program at Memorial University, and works as a freelance legal researcher. She lives in St. John’s, Newfoundland. You can learn more about Lonely at

A review of Lonely: Learning to Live with Solitude can be found on In The Next Room here.

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