Is writing lonely? That's a question many new writers have.
Well, it's a cliché to describe somebody who earns a living from words as just another lonely writer.
Sure writing, demands spending extended periods by yourself working on articles, stories, or books, often without feedback from others.
Look at the workspaces of many famous writers, and you'll find them typing away in basements, coffee shops, and rooms at the tops of their houses or backs of their apartments.
The American poet Raymond Carver, for example, often wrote on a notepad in his car. But that doesn't mean every writer is lonely, an idea this article will explore.
We'll also consider how you can balance solitude vs loneliness.
Are Writers Loners?
Despite rumors to the contrary, writers aren't necessarily loners.
After all, many top screenwriters, like Vince Gilligan of Breaking Bad fame, spend hours in a room with other writers crafting screenplays. However, many writers need time and solitude to think and create.
Perhaps it's better to say a lot of writers veer towards introversion. It's almost a requirement for the craft. American science fiction writer and professor Isaac Asimov once said,
“As creativity is concerned, isolation is required. The creative person is, in any case, continually working at it. His mind is shuffling his information at all times, even when he is not conscious of it.”
“The presence of others can only inhibit this process, since creation is embarrassing. For every new good idea you have, there are a hundred, ten thousand foolish ones, which you naturally do not care to display.”
Asimov is mostly right, although I think he was describing solitude rather than isolation. But before we get into that distinction, let's cover the one personality trait most writers share: introversion.
Why are Writers Introverts?
An introvert is somebody who feels more energized in their own company or near close friends and family, rather than parties and crowds.
Introversion naturally lends itself towards thinking and reflection. If you're concerned with telling stories and forming ideas on the page, this personality trait is conducive to creative work.
Introverts are also more likely to notice the little things in the world around them and use these as an idea for their stories and projects.
It's harder to write if you're an extreme extrovert as you're more than likely energized only when in the company of other people, and that's less conducive towards reflective work. You'll probably have less time and patience for sitting in a quiet room, writing.
Even if you're not an extreme introvert, you probably need some solitude to reflect and think about what you're writing. And that's different from loneliness and isolation.
Even screenwriters need solitude to write, together.
Solitude vs Isolation
Solitude refers to a quiet bubble where you're free to write or create without judgement from others. It can be alone or with other people.
Isolation, on the other hand, describes cutting yourself off from others for extended periods without caring for your mental health.
You can create moments of solitude while around others, for example, in a coffee shop or screenwriter's room. However, isolation is to lock yourself away from others without seeking connections.
The Benefits of Solitude
Solitude supports the creative process; whereas isolation hinders it. It's a rewarding experience during which you're usually free to write with fear or expectations.
- Gain clarity about your ideas
- Have more time and space to write
- Reduce stress
- Become more productive thus increasing your word-count
- Have more energy
- Collaborate with others
And yet many new writers feel guilty about cultivating solitude. Why do you think they dedicate so many books to their families?!
How to Turn Loneliness Into Solitude
If you're struggling with the question is writing lonely, these three strategies will help:
1. Create A Bubble for Creative Work
If you want to write and finish articles, stories, and books, cultivate solitude for at least 30 minutes, ideally every day.
You could rise early in the morning before your family. Or you could work late at night when your house or apartment is quiet. Go to the same place to work on your ideas until you can slip into a bubble of solitude more easily.
While there, turn off all notifications on your devices and close down distracting computer apps. If you're working on an early draft, practice outlining with a pen, paper, and index cards or dictate it.
Computers are better for self-editing later.
Avoid company or software that intrudes on this bubble of solitude. You could even wear a pair of noise-canceling headphones and listen to instrumental music.
When you're done for the day, seek out other people.
2. Avoid Draining People
A sales manager of a large team once said to me,
“I hate working from home. I don't know how you do it Bryan. I love coming into the office and talking through my plans with the team. It recharges me.”
He is a classic extrovert. However, many writers are introverts. They recharge by themselves and feel drained after spending time in large or noisy groups.
Once you understand your personality type, you'll be better able to create moments of solitude to write and feel less guilty about it. Know thyself!
3. Journal About It
If you're struggling with loneliness or other dark emotions, journal about these feelings. Better yet, use them as fuel for your stories.
When asked, “What's your best moment of solitude?” I often think of rising at about 05.00 to work on a messy first draft of my book, The Power of Creativity.
While listening to music recorded with a background of rain on repeat, I edged towards my target word-count for the day. All the while I avoided self-editing and kept thinking, “This will do,” and “ I'll fix this later.”
As I worked, the rising sun began pouring through the window at my desk, and by the time my alarm sounded at 08.00,
I realized I'd written 3,000 words without giving in to my limiting belief that this first draft wasn't good enough. I wrote, on that morning at least, without fear or expectation.
How To Fight Loneliness
In short: form connections with other family, friends, other writers, and readers.
Almost every writer creates feedback. So plan to show early drafts to the people close to you or members of a local writing group. Better yet, start a blog or share excerpts of your work on Medium.
Become more comfortable with feeling vulnerable, if possible. American comedian and screenwriter Steve Martin said about his creative work,
“Being alone onstage is the eagle’s last stand. No one is more vulnerable than a stand-up comedian standing alone.”
You can also cultivate interests outside writing that demand spending time with others.
For example, I enjoy long-distance running with members of a local athletics club. I also go out of my way to attend CrossFit classes with others because it prevents me from isolating myself for the day.
You might not necessarily enjoy these sports, but perhaps you can pursue other interests in the company of others after you've produced 500 or 1,000 words for the day.
Is Writing Lonely? The Final Word
When you're engaged in an exciting creative project, hours will by quickly even if you're not collaborating with other people.
Being a writer is lonely only if you don't see anyone else when you're not working or writing. That's why it's a good idea to cultivate side-interests and hobbies outside of writing.
Solitude can be a wonderful thing.
You can work on a single, a dozen, or 100 foolish ideas before finding one that captures your imagination. You're free to work without judgment or expectation, and it's a privilege many can’t enjoy.
A writer is only vulnerable to loneliness if he or she spends too much time alone. So take care to cultivate connections with family, friends, and readers.
The trick is to understand the difference between solitude and isolation.
When you're done working for the day, step out into the real world.