Hello From Mars
Writing can be a lonely occupation. It’s a singular pursuit saturated in observation, reflection, and sentiment. Self-drive fuels writing, yet subjective forces dictate it. It demands emotional honesty, personal scrutiny, and internal instruction. Most times, there are no collaborators, colleagues, or directors to evaluate your progress. To sum it up, writing is as sociable of a career as the woodland hermit.
Now, before I get hex-blogged by fellow writers, let me start by saying that writing is not a poor life choice. A CareerExplorer survey showed writers rate their career happiness 4.1 out of 5 stars, putting them in the leading seven percent for career satisfaction. Still, whether you’re a technical writer, social media manager, or novelist, chances are you work in isolation, and that feels like you’re living on another planet. Today we look at what it means to be a writer, how writers deal with isolation, and why a table for one isn’t as bad as you think.
Many accomplished writers categorize themselves as introverts, crediting their ability to create worlds in their head, work in seclusion for hours, and persevere through self-discipline to their lone wolf demeanor. As a self diagnosed ambivert, I callith ‘malarkey’ on this idea. Writers need to interact with people. It takes social connections, behavioral change, and communal exploration to create in-depth characters. Talented writers connect with diverse groups and cultures to build authentic content. Engaging with readers, communicating with editors, and conversing with publishers is crucial for literary achievement. Still, whether you’re an introvert, extrovert, ambivert, omnivert, or creepy pervert, there is one universal fact when writing—you’re going to do it alone.
RockContent.com states bloggers who post four times a week average sixty-four hours of writing per month. The Editorial Freelancers Association calculates editors spend seventy hours editing a standard manuscript. Kindlepreneur quotes that novelists take four to nine months writing a novel. That’s hundreds of hours each year composing drafts, researching, editing, and proofreading, void of any amity, companionship, or teamwork. In fact, a five-decade career writer will spend fifty-two-thousand-hours writing alone. Unless collaborating, no one, not even the company in your office, on the couch, or in a highchair, is contributing.
So how do writers deal with isolation? It depends on their character. While solitude can be a tool, hyper-focusing on a topic or orchestrating an imaginary world alone contributes to a sense of separation. Being alone and going through separation might appear comparable, but they are different states of mind. One can be by oneself without being lonely, while separation leans towards a reclusive sense of desolation. As per the observations of Guardian columnist Benedicte Page, writing is one of the top ten professions to have depression.
Top authors will tell you it’s crucial to have a healthy lifestyle, including supportive loved ones, a social circle, and outside pursuits. Engaging in the exchange of ideas and challenges with fellow writers on digital platforms, in meetup groups, or in one-on-one interactions is a beneficial approach to experiencing a sense of satisfaction in your profession. Authors need connections. As psychologist Martin Seligman puts it, “Well-being cannot exist just in your own head. Well-being is a combination of feeling good as well as actually having meaning, good relationships and accomplishment.”
One of my favorite stories follows the famed recluse author, Henry David Thoreau. The writer-observer’s tales of nature fill us with a sense of his withdrawn lifestyle. However, even the great Thoreau knew better. In an investigative report, W. Barksdale Maynard learned that the forest land owned by fellow author Ralph Waldo Emerson, and borrowed by Thoreau for his writing, was less than thirty minutes walk away from the suburban setting of Concord Village in a landscape heavily used by him for human purposes. “Thoreau was a social creature,” Maynard notes, “one who lived within view of a well-traveled public road, a popular pond, and access to a constant stream of visitors.”
Besides socializing, quick breaks are crucial for work-life balance. Psychology Today states that today’s work-culture suffers burnout far more often than generations past, which ushers less production. The column suggests a rejuvenating weekend off, quick trip, or extensive vacation for a healthier, happier writer. Therapy, exercise, and a healthy diet might sound like simple decisions, but the connection between these elements and writing can be a challenging interrelation for writers to make. Psychology Today adds that hobbies are a smart choice to combat loneliness for authors with time. So, if you're a writer in a state of desperation, I invite you to play Dungeons & Dragons with me on Sundays.
Consider science writer Florence Williams. The PEN-award-winning author suffered from major depression in her career, which led to medical issues, including weight loss and diabetes. In her loneliness, Williams researched the psychology of isolation, rejection, depression, and its adverse health risks. She researched studies on loneliness that involved mice, voles, and chimpanzees. What Williams found was profound and simple. The best psychological self-actions for isolation and depression were finding community and delving into leisure activities. Williams doubled down on coping mechanisms, tightening connections with family and friends. Williams took a two-week boat trip down a river and became an avid outdoors enthusiast. She put herself back into the community. All of it helped in her self-discovery as a writer. “I did experience a sense of collective awe, that I am part of a cosmos and that my own personal ego and my own personal problems are perhaps not as big as they sometimes feel. … I felt less afraid of the future and I felt better able to move on.”
Writers, you’re going to spend a lot of time working alone. Most often, it won’t create issues. However, if you fall into an isolation depression, it’s important to identify it and get into healthy habits. If you choose self care, the time spent alone is a monumentally rewarding experience compared to other jobs. When that sentiment occurs, writing becomes a fulfilling career. You have the privilege of shaping stories, freeing the voice within you, and engaging readers for as long as your career allows it. Some writing imparts knowledge to the masses, other writing shifts a myriad of perspectives, and even a few works revolutionize the world. But to do so, you’ll have to kindle that flame alone. Luckily, that’s just how writers like it.
Readers, if you are feeling overwhelmed with sadness, depression, or anxiety, or feel like you want to harm yourself or others, you can call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 800‑273‑8255.
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Bahrampour, Tara. “Dumped by Her Husband, an Author Dove into Loneliness and Resurfaced with Lessons for a Pandemic.” Washington Post, 9 Feb. 2022, www.washingtonpost.com/dc-md-va/2022/02/07/dc-author-loneliness-pandemic/. Accessed 5 Feb. 2024.
Blakemore, Erin. “The Myth of Henry David Thoreau’s Isolation.” JSTOR Daily, 8 Oct. 2015, daily.jstor.org/myth-henry-david-thoreaus-isolation/.
Chesson, Dave. “How Long Does It Take to Write a Book?” Kindlepreneur, 12 Nov. 2021, kindlepreneur.com/how-long-to-write-a-book/#:~:text=The%20Average%20Writing%20Time%20for%20a%20Book. Accessed 3 Feb. 2024.
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Katharina Schaffner Ph.D., Anna . “5 Surprising Ways to Combat Burnout | Psychology Today.” Www.psychologytoday.com, 23 Oct. 2023, www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-art-of-self-improvement/202310/5-surprising-ways-to-combat-burnout#:~:text=If%20we%20neither%20give%20nor. Accessed 3 Feb. 2024.
Page, Benedicte. “Writers “at Greater Risk of Depression”, Survey Finds.” The Guardian, 13 Dec. 2010, www.theguardian.com/books/2010/dec/13/writers-depression-top-10-risk.
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