By: Tim Knox
One of the downsides to becoming a fulltime author or writer is that, by its very nature, writing can be a very lonely business. Typically, it’s just you and a computer, shut off from the rest of the world, all alone with your thoughts.
If you’re someone who is not totally comfortable being a literary hermit like me, you might experience feelings of loneliness and depression, or what I call Lonely Writer Syndrome.
There are things you can do to avoid such feelings. The process starts with changing your surroundings and your routine. To that end, here are my Top 10 Tips on how to avoid lonely writer syndrome and become a happy hermit.
1. Create A Positive Workspace
For me, it all begins with the space where I spend most of my day writing, which is my home office. The space must be comfortable and convenient to work in, and conducive to the task of writing. Otherwise, you may spend most of the time being distracted by negative things like a messy desk or rickety chair, or outside distractions like traffic noise or the kid next door banging a ball against the house.
I’m also a bit of a neat freak. If my workspace is a mess, I’m unable to focus on the writing, so my creativity goes to pot. There is nothing on my desk but a computer and the legal pad and pen I use to doodle when my brain needs a break from writing. I don’t buy into the adage that “a messy desk is the sign of a creative mind.” To me, a messy desk is a sign of a person too lazy to clean up their desk.
The same is true of the ergonomics of the profession. Writers sit a lot, usually hunched over a desk or a table at Starbucks. If your chair is uncomfortable or your setup awkward, you could suffer back or wrist pain, or lose feeling in your backside. That’s going to affect your creativity and your mood.
Investing in a chair or desk that is ergonomically-designed for how you work could be the best money you’ll ever spend. Notice that I didn’t advise you to buy a comfy chair. It’s been my experience that getting too comfortable can be just as detrimental to the writing process as being too uncomfortable.
Remember high school typing class from the dark ages, boys and girls: feet flat on the floor, spine straight, shoulders back, arms extended at the elbows, wrists in a relaxed position, fingers on keys. Who knew that old Mrs. Reed the typing teacher really knew what she was talking about?
2. Invest in Modern Technology
Nothing is more frustrating (at least to me) than being in the middle of a thought and having my computer crash, which is why I recommend investing in a good computer that doesn’t freeze up every time you launch Word or Scrivener.
Trying to write on a 10-year-old laptop is like hammering words into a stone with a dull chisel.
Basic, reliable computers are cheap. Buy one. Today. You’re welcome.
3. Take Frequent Breaks
When I tell people that I make my living as a writer, they say witty things like, “It must be great being a writer. All you do is sit all day long.”
What they don’t understand is that sitting too long at a computer can be mentally and physically exhausting. I’ve found that taking frequent breaks helps refresh my body, mind, and mood.
I write in thirty-minute chunks, which means every thirty-minutes I get up and stretch for a few minutes, or grab a cup of coffee, or just walk around the house. Thirty on, ten off is what works for me. Try it and you’ll soon figure out what works best for you.
4. Get Out of The House
At least once a day I shut down the computer and get out of the house for an hour. I may go out to lunch, take a walk around the neighbourhood, go to the gym, or run errands. The point is to disconnect the digital umbilical and come out of your cave for at least an hour every day, even if you have no particular place to go. I find that I’m usually eager to get back to work after such a break, which increases my productivity and satisfaction.
5. Interact with Others in The Same Boat as You
As I said in the beginning, writing can be a lonely business. That’s why I recommend that you find ways to interact with other writers, virtually and in the real world.
Joining online and local writer’s groups is one of the best way to do this—if you can avoid the aspects of such groups that often eat into your writing time (drama, committees, you read mine and I’ll read yours).
Spending time with others in the same boat as you will often keep you from having those feelings that your boat is sinking.
One additional word of warning: don’t waste time writing long Facebook posts or getting into philosophical arguments in forums to prove how well you can write or how smart you are. These groups can have positive and negative effects, so participate and contribute wisely.
6. Attend Writer’s Conferences
This takes No. 5 to the next level. If you can afford to travel, check out the various writers and publishing conferences that are held around the country every year. Choose the one or two that you feel are best for you and plan to attend. Some writers prefer small regional conferences while others enjoy the big nationals.
My advice would be to choose a conference that fits your niche and needs (romance, sci-fi, etc.) rather than a large general conference that may not focus on things you’re most interested in.
Either way, conferences are a great way to meet other writers, agents, editors, and publishers. I always come away from conferences with a renewed energy and list of new contacts. Since attending conferences can be expensive, do your research and attend only those that you feel will give you the biggest bang for your buck.
7. Coauthor with Other Writers
This is one of my favorite ways to shake off those feelings of loneliness and depression because it forces you to communicate with others on a regular basis.
Coauthoring simply means that you write a book (and share credit) with a writing partner, or someone who can provide complimentary skills to your own.
For example, I coauthor with several writers in the science fiction and space opera genres. Sometimes, we both contribute to the writing equally while other times I might do the lion’s share of the writing while they handle most of the editorial and marketing tasks.
Coauthoring is a great way to build your brand and reach a wider audience. And while the project is in full swing, you will have frequent chats with your writing partner. You may find coauthoring so appealing that you never want to work alone again.
8. Ignore the Bad Stuff
There’s nothing more depressing to some writers than getting a bad review or receiving yet another rejection letter. Those things used to bother me, too, but now, not so much. If I get a bad review, I determine whether it’s just some jack wagon who didn’t even read the book or a serious reader with something genuinely worthwhile to say.
Genuine reviews, negative or not, should be considered valuable feedback from readers, and can give you great insight into what you may need to do differently next time.
Don’t let the bad reviews get you down. Garner what lessons you can from them and move on.
The same is true with rejection, typically from agents or publishers. I have enough agent rejection letters to wallpaper my master bathroom.
Every author, from King to Grisham to Rowling has been rejected dozens of times. Consider yourself part of the elite club: authors who are not afraid to try.
9. Learn to Meditate
One of my favorite ways to recharge my mental batteries and shake off feelings of loneliness and depression is through meditation. The thing I love most about meditation is that I can do it anywhere, anytime, all I need is ten minutes and a quiet place to sit.
You don’t have to take classes or read books to learn how to meditate. I simply go into my den or office where there’s no noise or distractions, sit in a comfy chair, close my eyes, focus on my breathing, and let my mind wander for a few minutes.
At first, you may find turning off your thoughts to be difficult, but over time you will learn to shut out the world. In the meantime, you can wear noise-cancelling headphones or listen to soothing music to block out noise.
The key is to keep at it until you are meditating for at least ten minutes a day. Or ten minutes in the morning and ten minutes in the afternoon. Or whenever you feel stressed or alone. Meditation is a tool you can use at will. I highly recommend doing so. I think you’ll find it to be a great way to keep the writing process positive and productive.
10. Listen to Upbeat Music
When I write, I prefer a quiet environment, but many writers believe that listening to upbeat or inspirational music helps them stay motivated and in a creative mood. The key is to listen to music that inspires rather than interrupts the thought patterns, which is why many prefer instrumentals. If you find yourself singing along rather than writing, you might want to change your playlist.
Once more, writing can be a lonely business, but there are ways to help battle those feelings of loneliness and depression.