Leaving the Hermitage: Writing & Isolation

Let me start this one with an anecdote. About a month ago, I met some friends I used to work with at restaurant to discuss a Dungeons & Dragons game I’m going to run (yes, I’m really that nerdy).Once everyone had arrived, we started chatting, catching up on each other’s lives, work, and so on. What struck me was how completely fucking interested I was in this conversation. That’s not to say my friends aren’t interesting people, but, you know, they’re not that interesting. Then I realized what was happening. I hadn’t really spoken to other human beings besides the baristas at my local Starbucks in weeks. I’d been cloistered away working on my novel and pretty much ignoring the outside world. I was starved for human contact.

It’s one of (few) downsides of the full-time writing gig. Writers work alone, and though we might need to be alone to get the words on the page, prolonged periods without significant human contact can make you feel a little isolated. This is my second go around with writing from home. I did a two-year stint from 2008 to 2010, and three months ago, I left Privateer Press for a (small) chance at fame and glory as a novelist. As much as I like the freedom of working from home, I can get so focused it gives me a kind of tunnel vision that makes the world feel very small. I start to feel cooped up, lonely, and kind of anxious because my perception of the world has become so one-dimensional. I’ve found that when I break this cycle, it recharges my creative batteries and makes me more productive in the long run.

So, here are three things I do to force me out of the ol’ hermit cave.

  1. Schedule human interaction. I know, sounds weird and clinical, right? But I think it’s a necessity. I try to schedule a lunch with a friend at least once a week, more if schedules permit (or I remember to). I like the lunch date because it forces me to take a break in the middle of my writing day. That break can be refreshing, and I usually return to the keyboard feeling more motivated than when I left it.
  2. Write away from home. I’ve only recently started doing this, and I know it won’t work for everyone. I’ve been taking my Surface (that’s an iPad for people who refuse to fucking rent MS Word) to a coffee shop a couple of times a week to break up my routine. I’m not having conversation with people while I’m there, but just being around folks interacting with each other is enough to break the feeling of isolation.
  3. Schedule some off time. This is the hardest one for me. I want to work all day, every day, but I know that isn’t good for me. So, I designate certain work-free times, usually in the evening or on the weekends. I also try to schedule some kind of activity in my work-free hour that involves other people. I find if I’m engaged in conversation, games, whatever, I won’t stress about that next 2,000 words I need to write. Okay, I’ll stress a little, but not as much as I normally would.

Let me just end this by saying this is definitely a case of “do as I say and not as I absolutely fucking do.” I try to do the three things listed above on a regular basis, but I don’t always succeed, and the siren song of my warm and comfortable hermit cave can be hard to ignore.

So, what do you do to avoid feeling isolated? Or do you thrive on it? Tell me about it in the comments.

7 Comments on “Leaving the Hermitage: Writing & Isolation

  1. Maybe you need a dog.
    Seriously — I suffer from the same affliction, but since I’m 90% misanthrope, I’m okay with it. Plus, I knock off at 1700 to take the pooch out. Once I’m back, it’s cocktail hour with the husband, dinner, and a movie.
    But some days I need to ruminate or read, so when I’m not writing, I’m listening to audiobooks in the genre of Current Novel while I either a) knit or b) put together 2,000-piece Gone with the Wind jigsaw puzzles.
    And I always work from home–the coffee is free, the Twizzlers are at hand, and there’s a pleasant absence of no-smoking signs.

    • Hah! My three neurotic, geriatric cats would love that. But, yeah, I get it, dogs are social critters, and you have to take them outside, which, of course, get’s YOU outside amongst the other humans.

  2. For this reason alone, even if I could make a living solely off writing, I wouldn’t. I would keep at least a part-time job that forced me to deal with people three days a week. Living alone far from friends means that all my social interactions happen at work. One more reason to not ditch my 9-5 gig completely (as if I could). Otherwise I would give in to the antisocial hermit that lurks under my skin. I write wherever I have five minutes and access to a keyboard–even if that means tapping away at my mobile.

    • Yep, I get it. Until recently, I did all my writing in an office environment , which was great because of the daily contact with other creative folks, but at the end of the day, I prefer what I’m doing now. I don’t mean to imply writing from home is some horrible prison sentence or anything. I’m grateful for the opportunity, and the isolation thing is just one of the few (and manageable) hazards of the gig.

      • You are very lucky that that is an option for you. Right now I need my day job to keep a roof over my head. But it’s interesting to hear about how other people live and approach writing

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