The artist in a lonely garret


I referred to myself as a Lonely Garret Writer in my last post, and I feel like I should explain myself a little, and what that means, since I fully intend to use that term in the future. I’m fairly confident that I’ve used that term in the past.

First, some definitions, copy-pasted from Wikipedia because they seemed right to me:


Loneliness is a complex and usually unpleasant emotional response to isolation or lack of companionship. Loneliness typically includes anxious feelings about a lack of connectedness or communality with other beings, both in the present and extending into the future. As such, loneliness can be felt even when surrounded by other people. The causes of loneliness are varied and include social, mental or emotional factors.

Which sounds admittedly less than super, but I’m kind of thinking more about this part:

The existentialist school of thought views loneliness as the essence of being human. Each human being comes into the world alone, travels through life as a separate person, and ultimately dies alone. Coping with this, accepting it, and learning how to direct our own lives with some degree of grace and satisfaction is the human condition.

Which may also not sound that great, if you’re not a LGW. Or, sometimes, even if you are.


A garret is generally synonymous in modern usage with a habitable attic or small (and possibly dismal or cramped) living space at the top of a house.

Which seems flat, but the origins and connotations of the word have greater depth:

Like garrison it comes from an Old French word garir of ultimately Germanic origin meaning to provide or defend.

A garret may be small and cheap, but it’s safe. It’s defensible. And it can exist as a living model of the writer’s mind, depending on the degree of clutter and isolation. (I realized as I was writing this that the room where I do the bulk of my writing is strikingly similar to a garret. It’s over the garage and the ceiling angles inwards. There is one window. I have tacked a lot of shit to the walls.)


A writer is a person who uses written words in various styles and techniques to communicate ideas. Writers produce various forms of literary art and creative writing such as novels, short stories, poetry, plays, news articles, screenplays, or essays. Skilled writers are able to use language to express ideas and their work contributes significantly to the cultural content of a society.The word is also used elsewhere in the arts – such as songwriter – but as a standalone term, “writer” normally refers to the creation of written language.

Okay, now I’m just being a dick. You know what a writer is, I just felt like I needed to put it in for the sake of symmetry.

Anyway, the LGW is the writer who finds fulfillment and inspiration in communion with their own psyche. Or, not necessarily through communion with their own psyche, but people who take in the stimulus that the world throws at them and then process it in solitude in their own space. Talking about their work makes them feel (and act) awkward. They’re more likely to balk at calling themselves a “writer,” and prone to doing it with a one-shoulder shrug. They’re the poised (or not so poised) introverts who like but don’t need people. People are distracting. They ask you to go places that aren’t in front of your computer, working on your story. And if you let them, they’ll make you feel like a weirdo for not going. Bit of (possibly bad) advice: don’t let them. Be boring and get shit done. In your lonely garret.

This isn’t a remotely new idea. Virginia Woolf talks about the idea of this in A Room of One’s Own (she also talks about the need for money, which … I’m working on it, don’t rush me, Woolf, I’m not scared of you!)(yes, I am, don’t haunt me). I just felt that I should define it because I feel like writers fall somewhere between two extremes, one of them being the LGW. The kind of person who, in another age, wrote until their fingers bled in tiny, drafty attics, succumbed to tuberculosis and died. We’re more advanced now. The spaces are still small, but the doctor’s are better, and since our mom’s can easily call/text/email us to make sure we’re still alive, we’re more likely to go to them.

The other type of writer is the Gregarious Barfly Writer, which I will talk about at some point.

I should preface this—I don’t think either one is better than the other, and I don’t think any writer is entirely one or the other, just as I don’t believe that there are any complete introverts or extroverts. We’re all an amalgamation of different tendencies. But most of us tend more towards one or the other.

And I’m a Lonely Garret Writer.




A pseudo-philosophical ramble about the importance of fiction


I don’t know if you guys read Brain Pickings but you should check it out, cause it’s awesome and full of a lot of food for thought.

I was skimming back posts the other day and there was an article talking about David Foster Wallace’s commencement address to Kenyon University (the whole text of which has been transcribed and which exists as audio files all over the internet which I will link to when I’m writing on a computer rather than on my phone). There were a collection of quotes from the speech, which covered a lot of ground and discussed, among other things, the nature of art and writing, and the general solipsism inherent in every persons life. And the loneliness that can come with that.

Solipsism is, to a degree, something common to all people. You can view your life through the lens of your own experience. You can only know as much about a given situation as your own senses reveal to you. You are the center of your universe, not through a kind of deluded narcissism but because that’s all you really can be. You are the only person you are capable of ever completely knowing and you are the only one who is living and can live your life. And that can be terribly lonely. I’m not stating any of this as eloquently as David Foster Wallace did, but hopefully the point comes across.

Something I’ve always felt but couldn’t really articulate until I was reading that article, and the commencement address itself, was that the power of art and particularly of stories lays in its ability to make people feel less alone. Not just to show people that they are understood but through presenting people with an opportunity to deeply understand and connect with someone else, even if that someone else is fictional. The fact that we have the ability to empathize deeply with another can be vastly reassuring.

As someone who loves to read and write, who studied literature in school and who is studying publishing now, I’ve often felt a need to defend literature, why the love and the teaching of it should be protected and encouraged. I think that stories are part of what makes us human – both that we tell them and that we are told them. I think that empathy is one of the things that stories have the power to give us, the ability to feel a deep sense of connection to another person, to more than sympathize with them but to understand them so intensely that we feel what they feel. Good stories, good writing, have the power to do this. And I don’t think that’s something that people are ever going to stop needing.

Because I think everyone has felt alone at some point in their life, but stories give us a way to be alone together.



Emdash friends


A convention of Jane Austen’s literature and others of that time is an emdash followed by the word “shire.” So in Pride and Prejudice, Mr. Darcy is visiting from “—shire,” which a librarian led me to believe is intended to be said, “Mr. Darcy was from *coughcough*-shire.” The other day a friend and I were talking about what we had done over the weekend. I told her that I’d done absolutely nothing, and she said, “Nice!” And I said, “I know, right?!” Because I belong to the Mean Girls generation.

Anyway, this got us to talking about how some people don’t understand how awesome a weekend of nothing can be. How, after being busy with work all week, sometimes all you want is to be in your home watching television you’ve already seen and never getting out of your pajamas.

Which leads to this happening:

You are going about your business, content in the knowledge that you have a weekend of nothing-doing ahead of you. Your Emdash friend approaches/calls/texts/shouts across the room at you.

Emdash friend: Hey, a bunch of us are going to [insert club/concert/bar/bowl/country name], you in?

You: I’m doing nothing this weekend.

Emdash friend: Awesome, we’re all going to meet at [person you both know]’s to [pre-drink, probably], and then—

You: No, you don’t understand. What I’m doing this weekend (dramatic pause) is nothing.

Emdash friend: … oh. Okay.

And they leave, and never invite you to anything ever again.

End scene.

You see, the problem with Emdash friends is that they don’t understand that not wanting to go out one weekend is not the same as disliking them. Even if you remove the dramatic pause. They are also the kind of people who will ask you if you’re mad at them when you’re quiet. They are work.

But they are often really fun. And because they can’t understand wanting to do nothing, they are almost always doing something. Those things aren’t always appealing, but they’re happening. And if you don’t want to miss out forever just because you didn’t want to go to the club one Friday but instead wanted to wear your onesie and work on your night cheese, you kind of have to lie to them about your nothing doing. You have to tell them that you’re doing something so that they won’t fuck with your nothing.

I don’t have any real advice for dealing with Emdash friends, except to say that you should be as vague about your plans as they will let you get away with. If you can get away with a mumble and a cough instead of a location, do that. You don’t want to have to remember this shit later on. Especially if you have a bunch of Emdash friends.

(Sidenote: not all Emdash friends do fun things and not all fun friends are Emdash friends. That’s just a silly application of the transitive property that doesn’t have any bearing on reality.)

Anyway, just wanted to remark upon this phenomenon, and attempt to introduce a term into wider usage.

What do you think? How do you deal with Emdash friends?