Wednesday, May 5, 2010

When is being alone unhealthy?

It's been eye-opening these past few months, getting to know a variety of writers online. Writers who are just beginning their journey and those who have already been published. And all the rest of us in between.

It didn't take long for me to discover that we writers seem to have much in common. Well, not all of us. But many of us.

We don't seem to have a lot of confidence in our abilities and talents. We can be very sensitive to criticism, even when it's constructive and delivered oh-so gently. We're not very good judges of our own work and talent. And we're all about 15 degrees off center, as my friend Josin says. (I'd say closer to 25 degrees off, but what do I know?)

But the one trait I've noticed over and over among us writer-types is this: We all seem to relish being alone. I know I do. Most of the time, anyway.

But it can be a bit of a conundrum. For me, anyway. In order for me to properly conjure the real world, I need to actually get out and experience it. I mean, Google is great and all, but it's a poor substitute for getting out and watching and observing real people. It's amazing how many ideas I get, how many characters my mind creates, all while sitting having a latte at Starbucks. Or shopping at Kroger. Or eating lunch with a buddy in the city.

But if I get out too much, I'm not sitting here, butt in seat, writing. And that seems to take up an awful lot of my time these days. My wife jokingly (I think) refers to me as a hermit. And she's not far from the truth, to be honest with you. If I didn't force myself to go to the gym and take my son to Little League, I'm not sure when I would get out.

This is a big change for me. I spent many years as a working journalist, which is as much about socializing and schmoozing as it is about writing and reporting. I spent years cultivating sources, working them on the phone and over lunches and coffee (and early on in my career, over drinks). The newsroom I worked in was always full; loud and chaotic. Our desks sat next to one another, no cubicles for us. It was people, people, people.

It drove me nuts.

I mean, I like people. I do. I really do. But man, do I relish my solitude. And now that I am a "writer," I have a built-in excuse to be a full-time recluse. I spend my days alone, writing and researching and editing. When my phone rings, I grumble. I hate to be interrupted when I'm working, even if it's my lovely wife calling just to chat.

I suspect this isn't healthy.

So my questions to you, dear blog buddies, are these: When is alone too alone? Are you a hermit? By design or by necessity? Do you consider yourself a loner? Antisocial? Is it healthy?

Let me know. Have a great Wednesday night. I know I will, if these damned Cubs can come back and beat the Pirates! :)


  1. I like my space. I spend all day at work dealing with hundreds of people, and when I get home I like it to be quiet. Right now there is only the sound of my CPU and one annoying cricket outside my window. I've managed to write two pages tonight. When my daughter has friends over or I know I'm supposed to go hang with the 'rents, I don't get anything done. I hope that, if I do get published, I'll be able to quit my sphincter of a job and write more than I ever could before. I know most writers don't quit their day jobs, but I could if things go 'according to plan.' Then again, my plans blow up in my face all the time. Most of the time, I doubt my luck more than I doubt my talent. I figure someone years after I'm dead will discover my stories and THEY will get published. Oh, well. At least the stories will get told.

  2. I think I'm part cat : I like having people around, but only when I'm in the mood, and always on my terms.

  3. I love meeting people and talking with them, as it always allows me to learn something new that will help me with writing and projects. But I also love my alone time, which is usually from now till about three in the morning. Speaking of which, I gotta go be alone! Goodnight everybody!

  4. Being who I was, and what I did then, and who I am now, I am a total hermit. I despise people.

    If I could remain somewhere in the woods, or on a private beach with internet access, I would gladly.

    I have experienced too much prejudice (yes prejudice) in my lifetime to really ever give a shit about 'people' anymore. And that includes family.

    I just want to write my books, get them published and sold, and be left alone.

  5. I think if you so anti-social that you can't interact with anyone, that's too much.

    I mostly like to be alone, unless I'm with a loved one. I could happily live on an isolated piece of land as long as I had a television and internet (I don't even want a phone really). But I'd still need to get out and interact with people every once in a while (maybe monthly?).

    I have tons of friends and could go out all the time if I wanted... but I like keeping to myself, so most days I do just that.

  6. Being able to shuffle around home on my own schedule is definitely one of the joys of writing full time for me. I can choose to go for coffee with a writer friend so we can talk about sitting alone in tiny rooms all day, or I can just stay in and work or read until my girlfriend gets home from work.

    I think too alone starts around the same time that you can't open your door for pizza boxes and stacks of old newspapers.

  7. Okay okay. Well, you can see what it does to me. I have found in my transition in making the decision to be a writer to be quite natural. I would read for many years what a lonely endeavor writing can be. This scared me and kept me from it for many years. Alone was not something I liked to be. When I threw my hat over the fence and quit my job to write, it came surprisingly natural to be alone. I actually enjoyed it. Like you, I get annoyed when the phone rings.

    As of late I have found that I have been alone too much and didn't realize it. I used to be very social and have become quite the opposite. I now feel as if I am socially challenged. My personality has taken on one of what I would think a writer would be like. Very focused but yet all over the place. Not far from my personality anyway.

    I am very passionate about many issues and topics, even fake ones. I can be quite intense and not many people I know are like this. It's hard to find people who can actually engage in an in depth conversation with me and keep up.

    Like right now. Before I came to visit your blog I was researching a touchy subject and it would be a good idea to actually engage in a real conversation with someone but there is no one I know who is as passionate about this subject as I am. So here I sit alone with it until it passes. I am writing about it though. I really should be a reporter but my college education won't allow me.

    Thanks for bringing this subject up.

    Oh, and YOU rock.

  8. Oh. And I saw that my pal Meleah is now following you. She rocks too.

  9. Oh man I completely agree. If it's not work or something for the kids why leave home? I did the social butterfly thing in my twenties I've got things to accomplish now!

    But you're right. It's not that simple. If you've never smelled saffron growing wild in the world how can you hope to describe it properly?

  10. Ah, the challenge of finding time to write but also finding time for your friends. I haven't got it quite right myself yet. I seem to always be doing one at the expense of the other. I don't know where that perfect balance is.

  11. Great blog here! Just popped over from Wendy's blog. And this post is all about my issues-- how did you know?


  12. Heh - I ripped it from Bill Engvall's 15 degrees off cool ;-P (Funniest comedy show EVER.)

    I'm one of those loner types. For me it was easy as I was the main caregiver for one family member after the other from the time I graduated high school. I went spans of years without having a conversation with anyone who wasn't a blood relation or 60 years older than me. Got the internet in '07 when we moved slightly closer to civilization and finally got a way to converse with the outside world - no joke.

    For me, alone is when the characters can talk. It's when the noise outside can't break in and cut them off, because they're timid things that don't want to speak out of turn when they first find their voices.

  13. Really good point, Josin. Sometimes the work just can't get done with all those outside distractions, and it's nice to sit at home alone, cell phone turned off, and let your characters take you where they may.

  14. Alone? Wish I could be, the thoughts in my head never cease. Isn't that the torment of being "creative"?