The Lonely Life of the Writer

I’ve been asked before if I was lonely, and my answer was always immediate:

No! Of course not! Why would I be lonely?

I’m not an unhappy person. Far from it. I love writing. I love that I have the means and opportunity to be creative, and express myself in new and exciting ways. To tell stories. To inspire and entertain others. I can’t think of anything else I’d rather be doing. And it makes me happy doing it.

But being lonely and being unhappy is not the same thing. Not that being lonely can’t lead you to unhappiness, but you can be a happy and productive member of society and still be lonely. To still want, or even need some connection.

It’s what makes us human.

Why else do we tell stories? To connect with others. Whether they be fictional or otherwise. That desire is intrinsic to our profession.

When I really think about it, I suppose I am lonely, but I’ve normalized those feelings to such a degree that I don’t recognize them as such. I wish I had a better way of making those connections with people. I’ve developed habits and mindsets that I recognize are harmful and encourage a lonely life rather than prevent it.

This is not going to be an instructive post as much as it’s going to be a reflection and some attempt at a discussion around the ideas of creativity, loneliness, happiness, and social media. It’s been on my mind, and I want to unpack my feelings a little more. And I don’t doubt that I’m one of many who suffer from these feelings.

The Stereotype

We’ve all heard it. The archetype of the lonely, brooding artist. The loner. The quiet sufferer.

While I don’t think that stereotype holds as much weight as it used to – artists all over the world are resourceful enough to make a living off of what they love and breaking those old notions, it still holds that being an artist can, and often is a lonely affair.

I feel that is especially true as a writer.

I spend a lot of time alone. Even though I have a handful of people close to me who I can and often do discuss elements of my writing with, ultimately it’s all up to me to write the thing. And that involves potentially hundreds of hours sitting by myself, just me and the screen.

The Era of Social Media

I’m sure a lot of writers spend time a lot of time online. We’re sitting at our computers for extended periods of time, after all. It follows that we enjoy spending time on social media. It’s a chance for us to share our work and connect with other writers.

In a way, you might think social media would be a boon, and for many it is. A lot of people forge genuine relationships with those they meet online because it creates that opportunity to connect. And that sort of thing is invaluable. These days especially it can be hard to find good friends who are readers and writers and share that same passion.

But it also can feel a lot like shouting into a void, wanting to reach out but having no one reach back. I think in many ways social media connects us, but at the same time, it reinforces our separation. Especially when you comment or post and get no response. Or when you compare yourself to other writers or artists who do. It can make you feel even more lonely.

A Problem of Priority

It’s not just the process of writing that can be lonely either. I think it’s hard for the non-writer to understand what that life is like. How much time we spend alone, in our own heads or in someone else’s. How much the self-enforced isolation is part of the job. Sometimes you have to skip social events if you want to meet that deadline.

But it’s unhealthy to isolate yourself. It’s unhealthy to neglect your relationships, even if they sometimes seem peripheral.

We can’t do everything alone, but we learn to rely on ourselves. We’d never get anywhere if we didn’t have that discipline. You get used to the loneliness in a way that feels manageable and you rationalize it. It becomes second nature. It’s the way you have to be. To be a writer, you have to write. You create convenient excuses about skipping important events to keep working on that manuscript. I know it because I’ve done it. Many times in fact. I do it all the time, forgo social events because I think staying home to work is just a better use of my time. Is it any wonder writers are lonely?

Comparing Ourselves to Others

Being exposed to the process of other, more successful writers can leave you with an uncomfortable feeling of shame and failure. The idea of writing every day, while in some ways is a wonderful one and will probably help you get a lot done, is going to make you incredibly lonely at the same time. Maybe it’s the self-discipline that makes us invest too much into our writing and not enough into our social lives.

Work-Life balance is important for that very reason. To relax. Destress. Have fun. Reduce loneliness. But when you see someone else achieve more, you might think you have to work twice as hard. It gets easier to throw yourself into the work. And you feel guilty trying to enjoy a social life when faced with someone else’s success.

You Are Not Alone

It’s easy to forget when you are feeling your loneliest. Especially when we see the highlight reels of someone else’s life and wonder how they seem to have it all together but you can’t seem to do the same.

But they rarely if ever have the perfect life they seem to. What’s more, I wonder how lonely they are in trying to make it seem that way, because I honestly think it would be more lonely and exhausting trying to make it look like I was neither. I like when people are genuine. I want to know that other people have the same problems because I know that they do. I know I’m not alone. I know that there are other artists who have had the same struggles as me.

It’s an unfortunate reality of being a writer. It means spending long hours alone, in front of a computer or with a notebook. It’s unavoidable. And it can be lonely. And maybe because of the illusion that social media creates we feel like we are one of the few who feel that way.

And while it’s easy to say you shouldn’t compare yourself to others, or stay off social media, dealing with the emotional effects is a lot more complicated. It can be hard when you don’t have people around you to talk to, or if the idea of doing so just makes you uncomfortable.

Sometimes you have to accept a little discomfort. Whether it’s in the day-to-day interaction, or online, at some point you’ll have to find peers to connect with. You can’t go through this process alone. And neither can I.

Don’t be afraid to reach out, and don’t be afraid to make those connections. You’re not alone, and even if part of the job description demands some time to yourself, it doesn’t mean that you have to be lonely.

I want to hear from you!

My primary reason for starting this blog was to connect with others who enjoyed what I enjoyed, and who were on a similar creative journey. It’s the whole reason why I invite you to comment at the end of every post. It gives us a chance to talk, even while we are sitting alone at our computers or on our phones. It’s a chance to feel a little less alone. I would love to hear from you if, like me, you have normalized some unhealthy social habits. How did you combat those feelings of loneliness? How do you deal with social media? How do you find a healthy balance? Let me know in the comments!

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