What do you imagine the most productive writing life to look like? The most creative? The most dedicated? Do you imagine it, like I often do, to look like a cabin hidden away in the woods with no wi-fi and food that appears with the snap of your fingers? Do you imagine a life of coffee shops and really good noise-cancelling headphones? I'll be the first to admit, I've often created elaborate fantasies of being imprisoned if that was what it took to shut the rest of the world out so I could focus solely on my novel. In today's world, the expectations on our time and energy have grown exponentially, but I'm finding that solitude isn't actually the best way to be the most healthy, and therefore, the most productive, creative, or dedicated writer.
We've all heard the story--the one about the writer who finally earns enough money with her work (or not, but has other means of financial support) that she quits her day job to focus all her time on her writing. And then she writes nothing. For months. She got everything she thought she always wanted (what we all want) but once she finally got it, things began to unravel.
We're Humans First
Over the last week I've engrossed myself in the book Daring Greatly by Brene Brown (some of you maybe familiar with her viral TEDx Talk of the same subject). Reading this book has confirmed everything I've been suspecting over the last few years since I moved 800 miles away from all the people I loved to find myself with no friends, no family, and no idea how to start to rebuild my tribe. Sure, I didn't have dinner commitments, no one stopped by my house unexpectedly, and my weekends were wide open, but not only did my happiness and mental health suffer greatly, so did my writing.
Studies have equated the health risks of loneliness and social disconnection to level of destruction caused by smoking cigarettes and obesity. For some reason, our culture has placed a high value on being able to do it all on your own, to embrace "independence," and to not need anyone. But what people may often forget is that we hardwired to need connection in order to not only thrive, but to survive. And that's before we even get to the issues of happiness and creativity.
Social Media Isn't Cutting It
But we're more connected than ever, right? Uh, not so much. Don't get me wrong, some of my online connections have blossomed into genuine, heartfelt relationships and even those on a more "in passing" level have brought me immense joy. I've been thrilled to meet some of my online friends "IRL" to discover that our sense of connection was as true in person as it was on Facebook. Our first meetings felt like getting together with a friend I'd known for years because, when people are genuine online (which I find is most of the time), those friendships can be very real.
But the truth is, those online connections simply can't replace eye-to-eye conversations. Studies show that the more real-life friends a person has, the higher their overall life satisfaction, whereas there has been almost no link to an increase in life satisfaction and online friends. Human beings rely on body language and physical touch to deepen emotional connection. And there's simply no replacement for having people in your life that you know will show up on your doorstep when you need them.
The Benefits of Connection
If you've ever been to a writer's conference or retreat, you know what I'm talking about. There is nothing that beats the energy in those rooms and often, the people you meet there will become friends for life. You come off that high with the feeling that you can conquer the world and any plot hole your WIP throws your way! And you also know the feeling that sets in as soon as the day you come home, or maybe a week or two after, when you realize that it's going to be another year before you get to see those people again, before you get to feel that energy again. Suddenly, that plot hole starts to grow from a crevice to a grand canyon. That's not a coincidence.
A few months ago, I started a local writer's group and I can't even begin to tell you how much it has meant to my happiness, my health, and yes, my writing. You see, the more strong connections you make with people, the more you feel valued, increasing your self-esteem and confidence. Being around other people who love and support you also lowers stress hormones. And what does self-esteem, confidence, and lower stress add up to in your writing life? It leads to trust--that what you have to say matters, and that whatever curveballs your art and your career throw at you, you are capable of handling it.
Put on Your Brave Face and Reach Out
Listen, I know it isn't easy. As adults, we simply have less opportunities to make friends. It isn't like in school where you had hundreds of people to try to build a connection with. Some of us have day jobs and may find friends there, but if we work at home alone (or in a cabin in the woods) we are hard pressed to put ourselves around other people. Even if we manage it, the older we get, the more intimidating it is to be vulnerable and just say it: "Will you be my friend?"
But start where you are. Start by building stronger connections with the family members you trust, or by calling that friend you always think about but struggle to make time for. Make the time. Put building connections with people first, and see if your writing life doesn't grow too.
What do you do to connect with other writers? Do you have tips on how to make writing friends?
Jamie Raintree is a writer, a writing business and productivity instructor, and the creator of the Writing & Revision Tracker. She is represented by Regal Literary and is currently working on her second novel. Subscribe to her newsletter for more blogs, workshops, and book news. To find out more, visit her website below.
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Oh my gosh, Jamie - that TED Talk was incredible!!!! Thanks so much for linking to it - I learned so much.
And, you could have written this blog for me, personally. I moved to a new state 2 years ago, with a new culture, new lifestyle...the works. I'm retired, and live out of town. I think I've made several acquaintances, but no friends so far. I've been surviving on the internet, and traveling to writing conferences.
Since there aren't many writers in my area, it is what it is, but I just told Alpha Dog last week, that I'm going to reach out and make connections in the coming year. I'm going to try new things and meet new people, and I'm not stopping until I have a supportive group of friends!
Thanks so much for this great inspiration today!
I'm glad you found it inspiring, Laura! You should really check out her book Daring Greatly. It delves even deeper and is really eye opening. And that's the perfect goal for the coming year. With your personality, I have no doubt you'll make connections easily! 🙂
Great post for many of us solitary writers out there! I cannot tell you what blessings have come to me from forming a writing group. I'm retired and suddenly all my work related friends were no longer there. It was lonely and I turned to writing to keep myself busy. I did write a book, but I know the process was flawed. Shortly after I e-published the book I had the opportunity to start a writing group at the Senior center I go to. Having that support group made a world of difference! More than anything it was being accountable to them to produce work - even when I felt defeated or lazy! And hearing their wonderful stories, made me even more eager to improve my work. I can't tell you how much my writing has improved by being part of a group. I would encourage everyone to find that connection!
I love this! Sounds very much like my experience! It certainly isn't easy to put yourself out there as a leader--talk about vulnerability at its max!--but as we've both seen, it's totally worth it. And yes, that accountability factor is priceless!
Wonderful post, Jamie. I'm so happy you found the connections that nurture you!
I've often thought that one of the reasons I aspired to the writing life while I was in the biz world was that I craved solitude during those years of having 60+ employees. And now that I've got it... it's every bit as glorious as I imagined. So obviously not every gal is like the one in the story. 😉 Seriously - I could go for days, weeks even, seeing only my wife and my black lab. And I often do. And my online connections - along with the occasional IRL meetings - with my writerly family are just perfect. They keep me from becoming a total curmudgeony hermit (well, at least I'm not quite a hermit).
One of the greatest things about living in a cold weather resort community (where summers are paramount) is that I get lots of neighborly and community interaction from Memorial Day to Labor Day, then it's back to "Splendid Isolation" (as Warren Zevon phrased it). To each their own!
Wishing everyone in the WITS community all the nurturing connectivity they crave, and the happiest of holiday seasons, and a blessing-filled writerly year to come.
Sounds like you get the perfect balance, Vaughn! And no doubt all that beautiful nature you're surrounded by feeds your soul too. 🙂 Happy Holidays to you too!
Thank you, Jamie, for the validation about needing human, rather than just electronic, connections. And like Laura said, the great links!
Very welcome, Fae! I hope you make some great connections in the coming year!
[…] over at Writers in the Storm today talking about why writers need to get out of their caves and connect with other people. I can […]
So true...human beings need human beings. We can't interact solely in the vacuum of cyberspace. Thank you, and Merry Christmas! 🙂
Merry Christmas to you, Linda!
It's so true. We need not just human interaction but meaningful interaction. That's one of the things that I've found being a stay at home mum as well as a writer - it's not just about finding time to write, it's about finding time to create experiences and interactions that fuel my writing. Sometimes that means saying yes to coffee, even when you don't think you have time.
YES! I think being a stay-at-home-parent definitely makes this all the more important. I am one too. One of my friends and I often get together to write but sometimes we end up chatting the whole time instead and we never get upset about it because the interaction often feeds us more than the writing would have. And then, feeling good, we head home and get to work! Lol!
Jamie - so happy to see your post! It gives me a lot to think about as I am one of those that have an incredibly hard time asking anyone for anything - including help of any kind. I am enrolled online working to receive my Masters Degree; I have writing sites that I often interact with; and very few friends or close friends. So much I could say here as to 'why' I attempt to be so independent. I will watch that link as well, see my therapist more, (he he) and attempt to become more open to leaving my house - I need this. !! Thank you for the insight - much needed. 🙂
Hi Jozzy! You are preaching to the choir, my friend. I have a really hard time asking for help. I've been making it a point to ask more often because I tell myself--and maybe you've noticed this too--that I always feel honored when someone asks me for my help and I feel like it strengthens our relationship. People like to feel needed, appreciated, irreplaceable. Letting someone know that you know you can count on them is a beautiful way to validate your relationship. So ask away! And yes, get out of that house! There's a big, crazy world out there! 😉
Hi Jaime, thanks for a great blog., parts of which described me totally! I fled to a lonely beach in Mozambique for sixteen months to write. I did get a lot of words on paper, but now that I am back in a community I find I put just as many words on paper - it's all to do with your commitment to your craft! But I do miss the beach ....
[…] Why writers need human connection. Jamie Raintree guests on Writers in the Storm. […]
Thanks for this inspirational message, Jaime! I live in a small town, and have yet to make those face-to-face connections to other writer's you mentioned, so I've been focusing on building an online writing community. But you're right, even though it's great, it's truly not the same. Your article addresses perfectly what's been missing in my life. Much appreciated!
[…] Let’s celebrate community! In the comments, give a shout-out to your favorite tribe and the way it feeds you, or use this supportive blog platform as a place to announce your commitment to finding a tribe in 2016! Still not convinced? Read Jamie Raintree’s December post, “Why Writers Need Human Connection.” […]