Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Writing and Loneliness




Yesterday on his blog, author Nathan Bransford (pictured at left) blogged about a very interesting topic: writers and loneliness.

This got me thinking that perhaps it would be worthwhile to post about it myself.

Who is the gentleman in the above black and white photo? A lonely man who misses his wife? Or perhaps he's staring out the window, thinking about his children and grandchildren who rarely visit.

Writing can indeed and of course be a lonely endeavor. It requires hours of isolation, either mental or physical or both. I love to go sit in a book store or coffee shop to write. But then when I get there, if it's busy/noisy, I put on my noise-cancelling headphones and/or a pair of foam earplugs. So it creates an interesting contradiction: being alone in a crowd.

Other writers sit at home while writing. Outside of a day job, it can be a place of self-imposed isolation. This can lead to depression and loneliness and the spiritual lows that come with them.

As Nathan writes:

"There was a really moving article in Slate last month about the dangers of loneliness. According to studies, the health dangers of social isolation and loneliness is comparable to smoking, and twice as dangerous as obesity."

Actual risk to one's health is nothing to laugh at.

But Ray Bradbury said “Find out what your hero or heroine wants, and when he or she wakes up in the morning, just follow him or her around all day.”

Who has time to be lonely when we're stalking our protagonist?

Seriously, though. Social interaction is important and is a skill which can atrophy over time. So make it a point to get away from your writing on a regular basis. It doesn't make you any less of a writer. Who was it that said "You can't sit down to write until you've stood up to live."?

So hit the gym, the supermarket, the park, spend 60 seconds on ChatRoulette, whatever. Get or give a hug to or from your spouse, child, parent, or friend.

Pick up your phone and call a friend or family member.

Do not text.

Do not email.

Do not tweet them.

CALL them.

Oh no! She's not hands-free!
Oh no! She's not hands-free either! Ah!

"What? You mean I'm not allowed to talk on the phone while driving anymore? I have to get one of those ear thingies?"

"That's right. You have to get your brain tumor at home from now on. Like me."

Seriously, though, with the advent of social media, we have more communication with others than ever before. But our communication is less SUBSTANTIVE. There is a difference between a text and hearing the person's voice.

So if you're feeling lonely, reach out and touch someone.

Who doesn't love a clown?

Besides me.

And Russell Blake, whose brand new novel BLACK is now available. And whose dislike of clowns is legendary.

And remember, tomorrow is a new day.

Bonus points if you knew that the man in the above black-and-white photo is none other than the late Ray Bradbury, who is one of the all-time great writers, and who was anything but lonely.


  1. Loneliness is perhaps not the best word to use in describing what writers experience--that is, as writers. Writers writing are surrounded by the characters they're creating. They aren't alone at all. If this isn't happening, writers aren't fully caught up in their work.
    But as persons, civilians, that's another matter. I think "isolation" is a better word than loneliness. To stop writing is to be open again to a sense of isolation. I think this helps to explain why alcohol is something of an occupational hazard for writers. Drink helps to jump-start social moments, and to bring writers out of themselves. Or so it is with me.

  2. You indeed bring up a good point. It's along the lines of the difference between being alone and being lonely. We're often alone while we write, or are alone in our minds as we focus on the story, yet as you said we are also deeply involved in the lives and setting and events of the characters. Or, as you astutely pointed out, we ought to be.