Talking to other writers who are busy with ongoing projects, the topic of loneliness is repeatedly mentioned. It is too simple to assume that a relative state of isolation is uniquely negative when it comes to writing. It’s a practical necessity after all, and even a coveted position for those who also have jobs and/or families to take care of. However, there is certainly a distinction to make between being alone and loneliness. Recently there have been articles about the impact on health that loneliness may have (https://www.nytimes.com/2018/02/09/opinion/sunday/loneliness-health.html). While I frown on dealing with such topics with absolute positivism either (there is, after all, much to gain in understanding why we may feel lonely and how we may find peace in ourselves), here are five which may help you cope if it’s getting a little too much:
- If you can deal with noise, work in public spaces. I used to have to write with earplugs to focus. Any noise would send me to an intense but quiet anger. It spoiled the prose. I would end up with short sentences, a fragmented rhythm (which, I suppose, worked well in certain tense scenes). But after years of being able to manage work conditions a little more, I found myself feeling increasingly isolated. I would look for noise. Background noise, but noise nonetheless. I started writing with music. But then my playlists lost their emotional impact as they became predictable (even Max Richter!). And so I went back to cafés, libraries, pubs. It won’t cure loneliness, I know, I know. But at least it will help you feel part of the town, the city, and it will force you to at least have basic social interactions.
- Make sure that you book some time away with friends or family, even if right now you feel too busy with your project. I sadly learnt this rather late. While self-imposed deadlines are great to have, I found that if I had to do or prepare something for someone else, then I would make sure to get at my work targets with more determination. I recently moved to London and I didn’t know anyone here. My family live across the Atlantic too. But applications such as MeetUp have allowed me to join groups with similar interests that are outside of writing. Going to community events like your local market is also a great way to feel like you belong to a community, and while it may take some time, you will end up making connections outside of work.
- Attend writing events. This goes without saying, but if writing has taken over your life, then it can help to know that others are on the same path, have the same worries. It doesn’t matter if you’re a beginner planning a project, but people at reading events (especially the smaller ones) are very approachable. Even if you’re shy, the mere act of listening to someone read a final project will make writing tangible (and writing communities too). You’ll feel motivated and full or purpose, and hopefully, less lonely.
- Join a class or take up a new hobby. While this may be tricky for people with a lot of commitments, starting something communal is a great way to get out there. Currently, for example, I’m interested in cooking and growing my own veg. This means I’m interested in allotments (check with your council), and taking cooking classes. Not only has it meant meeting people, but it’s also given me more to write about, and a new angle into a language I didn’t know before (how I write about food has changed greatly). While you can (and should) research activities that your characters are involved in, experience gives you a specificity in your expression which you would otherwise miss out on.
- Health first! While it’s a good idea to try and find ways to get out there and make connections, the truth is that sometimes this may not be enough. After all, all these examples make assumptions about where we live (a town or city with some level of activity) and how we live (that we are healthy enough to go out, for example, or that we can afford to get around). If loneliness is indeed having a marked negative impact in your mental health and you can’t partake in these activities, seek help. This may be directly medical (https://www.nhs.uk/using-the-nhs/nhs-services/mental-health-services/) or with counselling, if this is in reach.
Gonzalo C. Garcia is a writer and Senior Teaching Fellow in Creative Writing in the Warwick Writing Programme. His first novel, We Are The End, launched in October 2017 with Galley Beggar Press. He is currently teaching creative writing and working on his second book, a novel which deals with Chile’s transition from dictatorship to democracy.
Directed by Maureen Freely, the Warwick Writing Programme at University of Warwick prides itself in having writing staff who not only teach but are also published authors involved in the writing industry and literary scenes.
For more on the Warwick Writing Programme: https://warwick.ac.uk/fac/arts/scapvc/wwp/