Okay, Listen Here

Okay, Listen Here

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Only the Lonely...

Writing, by its very nature, is a lonely business. We withdraw into ourselves to create worlds and people that only we see and hear. I have noticed how I have become more isolated since I began writing. I resent people bothering me during my writing time (and I know you do too). Unless your head is on fire, please don’t interrupt me in the morning. I sometimes get so engrossed in spinning a story that I forget to eat or even get up from the computer. In order to maintain my sanity, I have recently begun to make a conscious effort to turn off the computer and go in search of people. I force myself go out and engage with live humans, even if a few of them irritate me. At least once a week I go to a restaurant where the locals gather to talk and, yes, gossip (great fodder for romance – small towns have a lot of drama). It’s fun and I get to see actual people, not just the ones in my head. You cannot write in a vacuum.

The other day, while looking through the mail, I stumbled across an article in the Nov/Dec AARP Magazine (no snide comments about age please). It was entitled “All the Lonely People” by Brad Edmondson. While reading this I realized that, as a people, Americans are becoming more lonely. According to a survey, loneliness has increased from twenty percent in 2001 to thirty-five percent in 2010. The danger of chronic loneliness (defined as “an ever-present, self-perpetuating condition that pushes people away from the relationships that sustain us and make us happy”) is not only mental but physical as well. A recognized expert stated that mounting evidence shows that loneliness is connected with increases in the chance of diabetes and sleep disorders. Research also shows a link to greater risks of high blood pressure, higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol, higher levels of weakened immune systems and higher levels of Alzheimer’s disease. Whew, scary.

The article went on to say that people shouldn’t substitute electronics – such as e-mails, texting, Twitter or Facebook – for face-to-face contact. Lonely people admit they are less connected now that they keep contact over the Internet. The article stated that people who volunteer or join social groups are less lonely.

Now, all this said or rather quoted, I want to point out the dangers we face as writers in isolating ourselves. Yes, it is important to take time to write. But equally important is the need to get out and associate with actual people, no matter how obnoxious. I am guilty of texting to avoid a long, drawn-out conversation because it is easier. I bridle at people who consume my time talking endlessly about their problems. I know these people need to talk and confide in me about their lives, however, I can’t do this all day. So what is the solution? How do I keep in contact with humans and still write?

My husband, God bless him, came up with an obvious solution – set a time to write and don’t answer the phone or the persistent knocking on the door (I have boys who knock on the door like Sheldon from Big Bang Theory), don’t check e-mails and DON”T leave the house. I have heard other writers say they do this and ignore everyone. Yet, being raised Southern I always worry that by ignoring the phone or the door that I am being impolite. I have to get over my manners and disregard others for a set period of time or I will not write three words. My hero, Stephen King, has said that he writes in the morning until he achieves a certain word count then he leaves the writing and goes out into the world. To stave off loneliness, we must do this – socialize.

Now I hear you: “I work. I have kids and a husband. I have little time to write so exactly when would I have time to socialize?” That’s a good question for which I do not have an answer (it’s always nice to be helpful). The real answer depends upon you. My suggestion is to consciously carve out one day or evening a week for yourself. Find a friend or better yet get a group of friends and just hang-out (remember high school?). I will say that you need to avoid the emotional vampires (I heard this term lately and I like it because it fits) who only want to drag you down with all their problems and who never listen to yours. The idea here is to interact and not become a sounding board for others. AND avoid those convenient little electronic devices as a means to contact people (I leave mine in the car). We need to take the time to be with real people and to be real people.

A balance of work and play is necessary. Don’t isolate yourself! Families and husbands/significant others are important but so are you. Give yourself some time to socialize with others outside your family. You’ll find you’ll be more energized and ready to write.

How do you feel? Are you lonely? What do you do to avoid isolation? How do you balance your life between work and play?


  1. I am not lonely. I love myself and I love to be with myself. That said, however, I have set social situations. I go to lunch with a group of girl friends once a week. The Guy and I gather with a entirely different group (couples plus Precious Angel) one night a week. There's my beloved book club and I still have two organization I volunteer with. (Down from my days three groups and 3 boards.) Right now, we go to the high school football games and usually get together with people to watch college ball. We go to church on Sunday. That sounds like a lot but, since I don't have a day job, it leaves me time to write. I control the phone. I usually make a few calls before I start to write and I'm not scared to look at caller ID and ignore it. I am also blessed in that I don't have any interest in just playing on the Internet. I use it if I need something but surfing for sport doesn't appeal to me. If only I had as much control over how much I watch ESPN.

  2. Before we moved to the area, I had a lot of social interactions with neighbors, school moms, friends I had long term friendships with and my writing buddies. After I moved here, I felt like I was in a cave. I wrote a lot more, but I had zero to little social contact. The Internet was my lifeline as were the few times I could make it to the writing meetings. I'm in an interesting situation because my darling teen's friends have all lived here forever. I only know one parent (in Fairfax, I was the go-to parent--here? Not so much) half way well. So much for connecting through the school stuff. Our neighborhood is brand new, but our neighbors are all in different walks of life. Like them, but the only thing we have in common is a zip code. I have made some wonderful new writing friends, but they work or live too far away to connect in person on a regular basis, like for a coffee to hash out contest results etc. I miss the spontaneity of my former life in Fairfax, but it is what it is. Therefore, I have made a conscious effort to connect here. I started a neighborhood ladies night with a few of the transplants in our 'hood. I call my friends long distance rather than rely on email or Facebook, and I actively reach out to people. I've met one lady at the grocery store who moved here a few months ago. We've made the effort to get to know each other. I think what I miss is the friends I could call up and be "real" with about life, the universe and everything and have them just be there in person to walk, talk, share, whine, cry with. Starting over is very hard. It is even harder when the community you move to is tighter than a vault in Fort Knox. I found it easier to connect up in DC because everyone was in the same boat. We were all from somewhere else.

    So that's my story LOL. I am reaching out, but I do miss my friends. I am also using this month to "play" a bit because I know it will get dark and cold and miserable soon. I need to soak up as much sunshine as I can before I get back into my hole and start pulling together my next first draft.

  3. Jean, you are one of the lucky people. The article talked about people joining social organizations or clubs to increase their interactions with others. I think you are doing everything right and I envy you!! It's wonderful that you have so many friends!

    Christine, I grew up in my small hamlet and I still don't really connect with the people I went to high school with. Most of them stayed here while I went on to college, law school and the US Attorney's office. I have a hard time communicating with them now. My life took a different turn and I don't have anyone, except hubby, to talk to either. The article discussed the very thing you hit upon - we all need confidants to confide in without fear of it coming back to haunt us. Edmondson said that the more confidants we have, the less lonely we are. I agree, to a point, but sometimes those relationships begin to consume us. I think it should be a happy balance.

    And, to everyone, I found a lot of friends with HOD. Every one of those women are smart, bright and intelligent. It is so nice to be able to converse with people who understand you. HOD brought me out of my shell and has made me become a part of something again. Before I pretty much kept to myself. It's nice to have these women around!

  4. My divorce recovery group has taught me there's a difference in being alone and being lonely. I live alone, but I have friends who help keep me from being lonely. The day of the HOD meeting is noted on my calendar as "HOD Day" because it's generally an all-day affair for me. My church has a group called the UFOs -- Unique Folks Only -- and I go to their potluck dinners. I've started volunteering with the divorce group. I facilitate at Level 1 but am a participant at Level 3. I'm also doing NaNoWriMo again this year and that group meets weekly. So I'm trying to stay face-to-face with people because my natural tendency is to communicate via email or Facebook.

    You mentioned cortisol. Hate that word. Stress causes your body to produce it and it is like a fat magnet to your middle. So I'm taking a yoga class at church to try and tone that middle up a little since my foot issues prevent me from using a treadmill or just walking fast enough to do any good. Strolling the mall doesn't expend anything but dollars. ::grin::


  5. I admire you Marilyn. You have brought yourself through a difficult time and have shown remarkable fortitude. You are right about the difference in being alone and being lonely. I don't mind being alone, I enjoy the peace. But I do mind being lonely - that's when I get myself up and out to join the living. Joining and participating in all those groups is definitely the right path. You are achieving your goals and making new friends. Keep it up!

  6. Like Jean, I never feel lonely. I teach all day and I am active in my church in several ways. I also have a group of friends in Decatur that I get together with a few times a month and the gang here in Jasper always has something going.

    I find that I have more energy when I hang out with others instead of just alone.

    Cheryl, great post on an intersting topic.

  7. Hey Stephanie, you are so right about the energy. It seems that being with social groups helps to prevent the depression that can accompany loneliness - thus you have more energy. I think we are such social animals that we can become physically sick when we isolate ourselves. Enjoy your friends and keep them close - you'll be happier and more energetic.

  8. Great blog post, Cheryl! :) (Sorry it must be an epidemic. I've had Jean's Internet troubles all day long so I'm just now logging on.)

    Writing is a lonely business. Anything a person does that requires one person to do it can be a lonely occupation. Though the Internet has given us a broader connection to the world and as a society we are in touch with what is happening in the world within minutes, does that benefit us as people? Is humanity destroying itself by inventing tools to keep us apart? Very philosophical. I imagine this will be a topic studied for generations.

    Yet, techology has given us so many more rewards too. As writers we can communicate more easily with people who understand 'us', and what we're going through. We don't have to wait on letters or pay long distance phone bills. There is a plus here.

    In the long run, a person has to do one thing and one thing only. This coming from my mom growing up:

    The only reason you are bored is because you allow yourself to be.

    Taking this further, the only reason you are alone, is because you choose to be. So, like everyone here, the key is to reach out to others. You can't have a friend if you aren't willing to be one.

    Networking is a great thing, no matter what field you're in. Whether we're talking about neighbors, church groups, fantasy football, facebook, volunteer groups, and so forth. One small step for mankind can be the one step toward a healthier, happier you.

    This is why I'm so grateful I have friends here at Okay, Listen Here, and elsewhere. I wub ye all!