I like being alone, but I’m a little afraid of it, so I make sure I confront it every few months or so. I hop on a bike and ride for a few days. There’s nobody in sight except for the few people I run into by accident at a campground or a stop sign. In between those meetings with strangers, I’m utterly alone. I can’t decide if this is confronting my fear or coddling it. But the trips I take where I see fewer people are usually the ones I get the most out of, emotionally and creatively.

The audiences in our heads that we imagine will read our words are, at best, potential people. These audiences are imaginary–at least at the time of writing. Will these pretend people get the points we’re trying to make? Will they find what we’re saying compelling? And are we writing for our own satisfaction, or that of the imaginary readers?

This could be why so many creative people say they make their art for themselves. You are the only audience whose tastes you can possibly be clear about. It’s probably not a coincidence that, when riding by myself, I’ve come up with ideas for songs, paintings, and essays.

Why does communication become easier without anyone around? Is writing a social activity or a solitary one? Resolving this paradox could be why some people are compelled to write, why they are driven to put their thoughts on the page, to display their dreams on the screen. And writers who actually do find a wider audience have simply found one whose tastes happen to intersect with their own.

I have a bicycle tour coming up, this one with a riding buddy. Perhaps I need to plan another one soon, one where I’m all alone with myself and my bike. And with a sketchbook.

Neil Fein is a freelance editor who specializes in novels. If you’ve written a manuscript or are getting close to finishing, you can get in touch with him here, and even ask for a free sample edit. He rides his bicycle as much as he can, and he paints when he damn well feels like it. He also plays acoustic guitar in the bands Baroque & Hungry, and The Trouvères.


3 thoughts on “Alone

  1. For me, writing is a solitary activity. So is photography. I want to get lost in what I’m doing without distractions. I often like to travel alone for a couple of reasons: I don’t have to accommodate anyone else’s preferences and I tend to meet more people and more interesting people. I can do what I want, when I want, how I want; and I can change my mind if I want to. Does that make me selfish? Maybe. Do I care? Not really.

      1. Be careful what you wish for. I have about 5,000 photos from a trip to India alone. I’ll bet a fair number of writing folk are also into other forms of creative expression. I, myself, know dozens.

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