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the lone writer
by todd w bush

The hero pulls on the reins, turning his horse away from town, away from those who he’d just saved, and toward the empty, barren expanse of the lonely prairie. Slowly, methodically, he makes his way into the safety of being alone. It is the quintessential image of twentieth century American literature brought to realization in the larger than life writings of Grey, L’amour, and McMurtry; played out before the eyes of millions on the silver screen in the persons of Wayne, Eastwood and Rogers. The icon has been enhanced and modernized in characters like Superman, Spider-Man, Batman, and even in King’s Gunslinger of The Dark Tower novels. A lone warrior, moral, unflinching, and cursed into a life of self-imposed solitude. But is this legendary illustration a glimpse at what every little kid wants to be when they grow up, or is it a glance into the personal struggle of the writers themselves? Perhaps, these creative geniuses weren’t merely giving the public heroes, but pulling back the curtain to reveal a deeper portion of themselves.

In their ever-popular song, “Desperado,” the Eagles sang of a cowboy roaming the great wide open. In the second verse, Don Henley sings:
Desperado, oh, you ain't gettin' no youger
Your pain and your hunger, they're drivin' you home
And freedom, oh freedom well, that's just some people talkin'
Your prison is walking through this world all alone
When he croons those words, one can almost imagine Clint Eastwood, pulling his wide-brimmed hat low over his squinting eyes, trying in vain to block out the scorching sun as he rides out of some west Texas town he’s just saved from the heel of some corrupt sheriff. As he rides off, one can also see a young woman, standing on the porch of her homestead, watching the man she could have given a home ride away, probably never to be seen again. But the cowboy hero is at home only in solitude, apart from the normal everyday tethers that he knows would smother his spirit.

So it is with writers. In his book On Writing, best-selling novelist Stephen King says “(the writing one) really needs only one thing: a door which you are willing to shut.” It is a self-imposed solitude that many authors would say is necessary to the writing process. The shutting out of the rest of the world, and the welcoming comfort of one’s own open range located in one closed off room, the blanketing sky of the pen (or keyboard), and the trusty “horse” that is the blank page. King continues, “the closed door is your way of telling the world and yourself that you mean business; you have made a serious commitment to write and intend to walk the walk as well as talk the talk.” Like Superman putting on the cape, or Bruce Wayne telling Alfred to get the Bat suit ready, the lonely writer has to make the vow, and live the destiny that life has bestowed upon them.

However, it is not a life of constant thrills, accolades, and praise. Writing brings with it a life lived within the desolate margins of the blank page. There is always that one more idea, the inspiration that must get down lest it be lost forever. In the same way Wyatt Earp always had that one more cow town to clean up costing him his marriage, and Peter Parker could since the next mugger about to violate an innocent female shopper taking him away from his beloved Gwen Stacy, a person who chooses to write must accept the sacrifices that are required.

Sacrifices though they are, let there be no doubt they are there because writers want them there. As the cowboy who has settled down with a family often looks out to the horizon, dreaming of days gone past and adventures not yet realized, craving the solitude, those who write close the door themselves. Lost in the creative process of inventing people, ideas or even new worlds and civilizations, they are at peace with themselves and, by shutting it out, the world around them. Whether they choose that destiny or destiny chooses them, it is where they feel whole, safe, and most secure. To them, like the hero soaring alone through the air or riding across the prairie, the closed door and the blank page are what everyone seeks and few find: home.


Todd's background includes military service, a stint at a movie theater, and getting turned down for a date by Sandra Bullock. All things that make him totally unqualified to be a writer. However, now that he's getting married in November, that might just do it.

more about todd w bush


ellen marsh
8.7.04 @ 11:26a

If he were a bit more literate, I'd ask my boss to read this. Since he can't seem to get past the first paragraph of a short e-mail, I fear there is no hope. So, he'll continue not to understand why I need to isolate myself (door closed or back to the wall if the door must be open)to write well.

robert melos
8.7.04 @ 5:18p

When Linda Ronstadt used "Desperado" to conjure up the image of Michael Moore, she was booed off the stage in Vegas, yet invoking Clint Eastwood works in your favor.

You definitely revealed the soul of a writer, but isn't there some compromise to the loneliness? Does one have to really be so alone in order to achieve creativity?

I don't have the answers to those questions. I'm just posing them. It seems the solitude does work the best. It's very hard for those outside the creative sphere to understand.


tim lockwood
8.8.04 @ 3:16a

You definitely revealed the soul of a writer, but isn't there some compromise to the loneliness? Does one have to really be so alone in order to achieve creativity?

Actually, it doesn't require loneliness, it just requires some alone time between you and your thoughts.

And the door of which King speaks does not always have a doorknob. Sometimes it has a dial tone, a remote control, or a keyboard. Whatever it is, you have to tune it out. You have to be able to just sit there and sort through all the input so that you know exactly what you think.

Once you know that, the rest is just committing it to paper (or disk).

todd bush
8.8.04 @ 8:07a

Glad I got you to think, that was the point. I'm not saying I'm right, or wrong. Just how I think the creative process works.

ellen marsh
8.8.04 @ 11:24a

I agree that the "aloneness" required to write is not the same as loneliness. It's a matter of being able to retreat from the social into that alone world for awhile. Many writers, including those here, clearly have active social lives.

todd bush
8.8.04 @ 5:01p

Yes, ellen. I might not have been clear, it's not a "loneliness" but rather a desire to be "alone." I don't think any of the characters or heroes I mentioned were "lonely" except maybe the superheroes.

robert melos
8.8.04 @ 5:58p

I understand the need for the alone time. Actually looking forward to being alone, or not having to deal with outside distractions for a few hours so I can write. That time is harder to find than one would imagine.

I see the comparison to the superheroes because they choose solitude. Solitude is essential to writing, at least it is for me.

casey pendelton
8.8.04 @ 9:43p

On Writing is a good book. Not necessarily a book about writing for the most part, but still, quite interesting and educational. One of the few Stephen King books I have ever finished.

ellen marsh
8.9.04 @ 11:41a

Todd, in regard to "loneliness," I was responding to Robert's quote:

"...isn't there some compromise to the loneliness.

I understood that you were talking about time alone.


james cooley
9.29.04 @ 1:16a

As we tell our sociopathic "heroes" in AA, living alone in the desert with your horse is weird.

So is writing. Nice analogy.

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