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?