Balancing the Loneliness of the Writing Life

05/16/2015 10:45 am ET | Updated May 16, 2016

During an interview, Sara Paretsky, author of the V.I. Warshawski, was asked what she thought were the best thing, and the worst thing, about writing.

The best thing about writing is you get to explore a thousand different personalities, all by going deep into your own soul. The worst thing? You have to be alone to write... Being alone is very painful. An unsolvable conundrum.

Ernest Hemingway
is quoted as having said, "Writing, at its best, is a lonely life."

Both authors are absolutely "right about write." Their answers are ones that are all too true for every author. Writing is solitary work because it needs concentration, quiet and commitment. Being alone to write a novel or short story requires intense alone time. It's essential to your craft. There are times I have emerged from a day writing to find out that the day was warm and pretty and I missed seeing it!

Because your writing doesn't always show immediate results in the form of financial gain, something we have all been led to believe is the only thing that validates our work, we are tempted to see what we are doing as non-productive. Writing is often a frustrating business combining long hours alone and little instant recognition. In our hearts we know it is not non-productive; the gain, while not always financial, is always personally and creatively rewarding. We are compelled to write no matter what, and when we have successfully completed a story, it is a joy, an endorphin high!

Still there's the nagging fact of being alone constantly. Our work has its downfalls and some authors self-medicate to ease the loneliness. I once Googled "famous authors and alcohol" to see the connection between the two. I wasn't surprised to note that many famous authors had had, and some still have, many encounters with alcohol and other substances. The loneliness was overwhelming at times.

So, what can you do? You know being alone to write is essential, yet a part of you desperately needs that human connection. As with any profession, there has to be a healthy balance between your job and your personal life. But making time for personal activities is not as easy for a writer as for those in other professions. First of all there's the creative spark; it can, and does hit writers at odd moments and places. Anne Rice once said that she carries a small recorder with her in case an idea for a book or character comes into her head when she's not near a keyboard. Before the invention of the PC, Margaret Mitchell wrote her creative sparks for the epic Gone With The Wind characters and settings on scraps of paper and even napkins.

Even when we're in "down time" we're still wired to create. Like a sneeze, an idea can pop up in your head anywhere, anytime. Since we're writers, we do have to make some concessions to the creative spark. If you have to do so, it is perfectly alright to record a plot or scene for a book or story when you're away from a computer but make it brief.

Remember that there are certain times when personal time should be sacred. Dinners out, vacation, (it is okay to make it a working vacation but only up to a certain extent; don't spend hours each vacation day working!), exercise and just plain doing nothing. Believe it or not, doing nothing every once in a while rejuvenates the creative juices. Subconsciously, whatever story is in your head will become clearer and so will your writing.

When you are writing, make that writing time count. Treat this time as a creative business -- no distractions, no web surfing, or interruptions from anyone. Remember to also take a 10-minute break every couple of hours. This refreshes your mind and gets the kinks out of your body from simply sitting at the computer or laptop. If you do all this you will be better able to attend to your personal life and enjoy quality down time from your profession.

Hemingway also made the statement that, "There is nothing to writing. All you do all you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed." Leave to good ol' Papa Hemingway to be his dramatic best, but he has a point. We bleed creativity. It is a common ailment of all artists but every once in awhile you need a transfusion of life away from the keyboard. Take a break, commune with humans, animals and the outside world. Make it count and come back refreshed and ready to "bleed" again for our chosen, beautiful but demanding, taskmaster writing.

Kristen Houghton is the author of 6 top-selling books including the PI series A Cate Harlow Private Investigation. The first in the series FOR I HAVE SINNED is available where all books are sold.
©copyright 2015 Kristen Houghton The Savvy Author all rights reserved