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.