“The Writer Must be a Loner and Thus Always an Outsider”

9780593075401_1From the preface to The Outsider: My Life in Intrigue, a memoir by the novelist Frederick Forsyth:

After all, writers are odd creatures, and if they try to make a living at it, even more so. There are reasons for this.

The first is that a writer lives half his life inside his own head. In this tiny space, entire worlds are created or erased and probably both….In children, daydreaming is rebuked; in a writer, it is indispensable….

You may occasionally see a writer out on the town: wining, dining, partying; being affable, sociable, even merry. Beware; this only half of him. The other half is detached, watching, taking notes. That is the second reason for the oddness—the compulsive detachment.

Behind his mask, the writer is always watching; he cannot help it. He observes, analyzes, take mental notes, stores nuggets of the talk and behavior around him for later use….

The absolute need for extensive solitude and permanent detachment from what Malraux called “the human condition” explain why a writer can never really enter in. Membership involved self-revelation, conformity, and obedience. But a writer must be a loner and thus always an outsider.
A link to the Washington Post review of the book by Patrick Anderson.

A link to a digested read of the book by John Crace in The Guardian.


  1. When I first became an editor in Washington, one of my mentors was Frank Waldrop, a retired editor. Frank told me I’d be successful if I stayed an outsider and didn’t try to seek the approval of powerful people—or of other journalists.

    And maybe most important: Don’t get cynical. The way he put it: “You’re a small town boy from Wisconsin. Keep your sense of astonishment at what you see in Washington.”

    • So true. I agree with you, Jack, that Mr. Waldrop’s last piece of advice is particularly important and a must-idealism for writers. One of my favorite quotes is from Steinbeck, “A writer must believe passionately in the perfectibility of man,” even when chasing down and exposing the worst within us. I am always amazed at what a handful of humans can do even in the midst of idiocy or cowardice or corruption. I try to keep them as my beacon as I look for stories to write. Thanks for sharing!

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