Just Say No to Everyone But the Voices in Your Head

03/29/2011 01:01 pm ET | Updated May 29, 2011

Authors helping authors. That has a nice ring to it, doesn't it? Liberté, égalité, fraternité, and all that.

We're all in this together. We need to help each other. Pay it forward, etc., etc.

Except --

Really, we're not in this together.

Writing is a solitary act. It always has been, it always will be. Sure, there are occasional experiments with group writing, but the best novels have always been the vision of just one mind, one author.

Some of us are attracted to writing because of this. Some of us have a horror of the coffee break, the water cooler conference, the socialization expected in a traditional office environment. Some of us want to hide from the world behind closed doors, communing only with the people in our head.

Others, though, are more social creatures. So social, at times I wonder if they really understand the inherent loneliness -- even miserliness -- of the profession they appear to have chosen.

I'll say it. To be a good writer is, I believe, to be a bit selfish. On the road to publication, I know I have missed out on some friendships. When other soccer moms were planning team parties, I was sitting in my car with my laptop. I won't win any parent of the year awards, either; my sons, after passing their truly tender years, heard a lot of "Mommy needs to be alone right now, so go outside and play."

Creativity can sometimes take place in a vortex, but most often, I honestly believe, it occurs in a vacuum.

So I have a difficult time understanding the group mentality that some writers have; the "I'll read your work if you read mine" trade off. The "I can't write this week because I have to critique two other people's work" justification for taking five years to complete a manuscript. Perhaps in the beginning of a writer's career, this is more important. It's like learning to ride a bike; you need training wheels at first. And other writers' feedback and community can provide that safety.

But ultimately you have to steer your own path; ultimately you have to be selfish and say, "No, I need to concentrate on my own writing right now. My own book. My own career."

Which leads to my other curmudgeonly point.

The biggest truism (or misconception, depending upon your experience) of being an author today -- that publishers don't do enough to promote or market books -- coupled with the rise of social media, has intruded even more into the solitary selfishness that some of us find so soothing about the writer's life.

Authors today, more than ever, are banding together and pooling their resources to promote their books.

Fine. Necessary, even. In theory.

In practice, however, I find myself increasingly hunted.

Authors I've never met ask me to critique their work. Authors I've never met ask me to publicize their new books. Every week, it seems, I'm sent an invitation to join a group of authors whose purpose is to promote each others books online. Or I'm asked to join a group blog.

And I'm truly sympathetic to the impetus behind every single invitation and request. I know what it's like when your publisher won't put a penny behind your book, when you can't get a publicist on a phone (indeed, when you can't remember the name of your publicist because they keep leaving). I've been there, in the past. I remember, vividly, the burden of feeling responsible for hand selling every single copy of my book myself.

And I've joined a couple of these groups. I've since left one; I now belong to just one group on Facebook. It's a delightful co-op full of wonderful authors--as is every single group I've ever been asked to join. Writers are truly amazing creatures. Some of my best friends are writers.

But more and more, I am completely overwhelmed by the need, the desperation, and yes, the guilt that results in having to say "No." Over and over and over.

The truth is, if I were to say "yes" to every single request to help another author or group of authors -- whether it's by critiquing or promoting -- I would have no time at all to write. I would have no time at all to work on promoting my own books.

Ultimately, the harsh reality is -- we're each responsible for our own careers.

Yes, I'm a curmudgeon. Yes, I'm a loner. Again -- I was attracted to writing in part because of these traits.

But even if I were the Mother Theresa of writers, I would feel overwhelmed by the requests for communal support and sympathy that seem to be part and parcel of being a writer these days.

So I say "no," feeling guilty, feeling terrible. Wishing I could help every writer out there -- but understanding that if I were to do so, I would never complete another book of my own. And I love writing--the pure, solitary act of filling up an empty page with my own ideas -- far too much to allow that to happen.

So I say "no." Then I lock myself in my office and turn off the Internet connection --

And say "yes" to the voices in my head.