Writer Struggles: Isolation & Loneliness

For me, one of the hardest things about transitioning from a screenwriter to a novelist is the isolation. Screenwriters always work with other people, especially in the television industry. You’re either in a writing room breaking stories with other writers, or on set talking to the director and crew, or in the office pitching producers and broadcasters. Even freelance screenwriters who mainly work on their own (vs staff writers) routinely talk to other people to pitch story ideas and get feedback on their script assignments. But novelists, especially those not yet published, most often work alone.

Early in this novel writing venture, I noticed I was lonely. I missed the camaraderie of screenwriting. I still attended television industry social events, but since I no longer worked full-time in the biz, I felt like an outsider, and soon I stopped going. I searched for novel writer meet-ups and found a few, but for one reason or another I didn’t stick with them regularly. Then as the years passed and I still hadn’t finished a book, I began avoiding all but my closest friends because I didn’t want to explain that yes, I was still writing that damn novel. I told myself to just buckle down, embrace the solitude, and write. Once the book was done, I could be social again. Until then, this was fine.

I might still be wallowing in my own denial if I hadn’t taken the opportunity to get some life coaching…

I have friends who have gone through life coaching and it seemed to help them figure out the next steps to take in their lives, which considering the state of my life, sounds appealing. But I’m a broke artist who barely makes enough cash to pay for rent and groceries; there are no pennies left over to pay a life coach. Then, about a month ago on one of my rare nights out, I ran into an acquaintance who’s training to be a life coach. Since she’s not yet certified, the coaching sessions are free. So I signed up.

I had no idea what to expect. I figured I’d complain a lot about how poor I am and discuss the writing career options I’m considering pursuing. Maybe she’d guide me towards the best path. Or maybe it would just be cathartic to talk it out. What I didn’t expect was her to say, “You seem really lonely.” Then for me to burst into tears. But that’s what happened. During our hour-long session, as I rambled on about every aspect of my life (money, career, romance, environment, family, friends, health, personal growth), the thing she picked up on was that I’m lonely for writer friends. 

So my homework was to connect with writers and begin creating a writer support system for myself. This is how I began:

#1 – Admit that Social Media is not a substitute for face-to-face interactions.

The Internet is great for keeping up with friends and connecting with people I’d never otherwise meet, but if all I do is lurk online and write the odd comment on people’s tweets/posts, I feel more isolated and lonely, not less. So I made a new rule for myself: every time I’m on social media, I must send a genuine message to a friend and set up an in-person date. Considering my life coaching homework, that meant messaging writer pals that I haven’t seen in ages and saying, “Hey, I miss you! Let’s get together.” And we did.

#2 – Go to Writer Meet-Ups even especially if I don’t know anyone.

I am loosely part of a few writer groups in the Toronto area, meaning I get their social media invites but rarely attend. However, because of my life coaching homework, I made myself go to a brand new one where I knew no one except the host (and I barely knew him). And it turned out pretty great! I talked to some nice people and even met a couple who are interested in getting together to write at a cafe once a week. Operation no-more-lonely-writer was going pretty well.

#3 – Attend Writing Workshops.

Lastly, I saw a tweet about an Interactive Fiction and Narrative Game Writing workshop put on by DAMES MAKING GAMES. Usually I would hum and haw over whether I should go, and eventually forget about it and not go. But because I was in “get out there and meet writers” mode, I signed up right away. Not only was the session useful, I met some smart people and ran into an author friend. We made a pact to be each other’s backup at these events and to attend more in the near future.

In just two weeks, I’m feeling a lot less lonely and wondering why I didn’t do these things before. But, of course, the answer is pretty simple — because I needed a gentle push. Most of us do. So if you’re feeling lonely and isolated, maybe this blog post will give you the nudge you need to go make some human connections. Or perhaps you have some other tips and suggestions for combatting writer isolation. If so, leave them in the comments!

Author: Heather Jackson

Heather is a freelance screenwriter, game writer, and novelist based in Toronto. For more, visit her website at heatherjacksonwrites.com or follow her on Twitter @HeatherJacksonW

12 thoughts on “Writer Struggles: Isolation & Loneliness”

  1. I live in Nebraska and the Nebraska Writers Guild Spring Conference is just 10 days away. Couldn’t function without it. I also meet twice a month with an off-shoot of the guild. (a 90+ mile drive) I live in such a remote part of the state, it’s been impossible to set up an in-person critique group, but I’m working on getting moved where there are more opportunities to do so. Otherwise, I’m accepting that writing novels is a pretty solitary business and introvert that I am, I’m okay with that.

    1. Conferences are a great way to keep in touch with other writers! Especially if you meet outside of the conference too. Sounds like you’ve got a decent support network even though you live in a remote area. 🙂

    1. Congrats on the transition, Lisa! Working from home has so many perks – comfy clothes, private bathroom, awesome snacks, five second commute – but sometimes that means the downsides – isolation and loneliness – can come as a surprise. At least they did to me. I love working from home, but need to remind myself to go outside too. Though if you’re already on top of the situation, you’ll be fine!

    1. Thanks, Sarah. I too think lots of writers have that problem. I’ve noticed writers tend to be very active on social media, perhaps because typing words from the comfort of one’s own home is easier than going outside. Also, we can tell ourselves that we’re writing and networking online! Which isn’t a total lie. But people, even introverted writers, need human contact. I feel much better after meeting a friend in person than spending an hour on social media. It’s just that I need to remind myself of that every single week. 🙂

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