“Writing, at its best, is a lonely life … For he does his work alone and if he is a good enough writer he must face eternity, or the lack of it, each day.” Ernest Hemingway
Loneliness and isolation are common problems for writers, but being an author doesn't have to be lonely. In this video and article, I talk about how to find a community. Watch below or here on YouTube.
When I started writing seriously back in 2006, I didn't have any friends who were authors. I thought writers were some rare creature, existing on another plain of reality, somewhere I would never be able to reach. I didn't know how to meet other wannabe writers, let alone ‘real' authors.
I wasn't lonely, because I'm an introvert and I love being alone. Time on our own is a necessary part of the writer's life. But I was missing a community, other people to learn from and discuss the journey. And I needed new friends because my corporate life was so different to the creative existence I was trying to cultivate. We all need someone to talk to sometimes.
Here's how I went from billy-no-mates to an active and warm community of author friends.
(1) Join a community online
You are more likely to find a like-minded creative soul online than you are in the next street or even in your town. Let's face it, writers are weird! We all have our crazy obsessions and strange thoughts and we need people who understand what it's like to tune in to this inner life.
I joined Twitter in 2009 and it quickly became a portal to a creative life. This is why it remains my primary social media channel and you can find me there most days @thecreativepenn. I discovered writers and authors and introvert creatives just like me. I found bloggers and podcasters and people to interview on my podcast, people who helped me realize that there were others like me out there. I was not alone.
In 2012, I became a member of the Alliance of Independent Authors and met a real-life community of writers and independent authors. I liked the ethos of taking control of my writing career and found my home amongst creative entrepreneurs. There's also a Facebook group where new writers ask questions, so wherever you are on the author journey, it's a place you will be welcome.
There are lots more Facebook groups and online communities these days, so whatever genre you write in, there will be one for you.
Just make sure the group adds to your creative life, rather than pulling you down. Stay mindful of the reason you're involved and leave if things go toxic.
(2) Find a community locally
If you live in a reasonably large city, there might be a writers' group that will suit you. As above, make sure the group adds to your creative life, as some groups focus on criticism rather than support. Try some out or start your own through a site like MeetUp.com.
“You can't stay in your corner of the Forest waiting for others to come to you. You have to go to them sometimes.” A.A.Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh
(3) Go to conventions, conferences or festivals
There are lots of events for writers and creatives. The trick is to go to the SAME events for multiple years running, because then you start to cultivate friendships with people who care about the same things you do.
I've been to Thrillerfest in New York four times now, and there are people I catch up with every year. I also attend CrimeFest in Bristol and London Book Fair every year, and being a regular means I can catch up with friends there.
Yes, it is a financial investment to go to some of these events, but choose carefully, do your research, and make the most of it.
Push yourself outside of your comfort zone and talk to people. Try asking, “What do you write?” It's a consistently good conversation starter!
I've found that meeting people in real life changes relationships and is the basis of true friendship over time, which is why I continue to attend conventions annually, even though they are a challenge for my introvert energy management.
(4) Start ‘friend' dating
If you meet people online or through writer events, the next step is to suggest a coffee or a wine sometime so you can get to know each other a little better. I call this ‘friend dating,' and I've been through it multiple times as I've lived all over the world and cultivated new friendships every time. It's the same if you start a new job, or if you want to find a life partner.
My best friends in real life these days are people I initially met online and then invited for a coffee. Most of those ‘friend dates' went nowhere or became short-term acquaintances on the rollercoaster creative journey, but others are dear friends for life. I also met my husband, Jonathan, online so I can definitely vouch for the process!
One important factor is to only do this with people you feel that you are equal with in some way in terms of your writing life.
So if you haven't finished your first book yet, you are unlikely to be in the same place as someone with twenty books. If you haven't even got a website, you won't be in the same position as someone who has had a site for five years and makes a living online. Your concerns and thoughts will be different and so you're unlikely to find common ground.
Start with writers who are in the same place as you, and over time, you will move along the journey and they will, too, or you will both find new friends.
(5) Combat isolation by getting out of the house. Go somewhere else to write
I worked in open-plan offices and low-rise cubicles for 13 years in my old corporate job. When I finally left, I thought it would be bliss to be alone at home in silence for days on end.
But actually, I found the sudden lack of people and even the routine of the commute very difficult. It was so hard that I ended up joining a library and commuting each day into the city, buying a coffee on the way in as I used to do in the day job and working regular hours in the company of others. I didn't talk to anyone while working – it was a library! – but I did meet other writers for lunch, as per the friend dating approach above.
Six years on, I write most weekday mornings in a quiet café wearing my noise-cancelling headphones. I don't talk to people, but the movement and bustle and coffee machine sounds make me feel like I am part of the real world and not entirely existing in my own head.
I highly recommend writing outside of the house, especially if you feel isolated.
Libraries are free and the price of a coffee per hour is cheap office space and good for your mental health. There is a world out there!
In fact, a general tip is to make sure you leave the house every day. Get dressed, put outdoor clothes on and walk in the fresh air. Notice the world around you, even if you are silent within it.
(6) Put your writing out in public and attract like-minded people
Everyone judges everyone else.
It's an integral part of life. We have to, because how else can we filter out the people we want to pay attention to, or understand who we might be able to connect with?
This might sound harsh, but I've been blogging since 2008 and a full-time writer since 2011. I know this writing life is hard work. If someone is not committed enough to put their words into the world, either on a blog, in a book, or even on social media, then I'll answer their questions and try to help them, but it's unlikely we will be friends.
If you want to be friends with other writers, you need to write and put your words out there for others to read.
Show a piece of yourself, reveal your heart and your life in whatever way suits you. Only in that way will you attract those who feel the same.
“There are no strangers here; Only friends you haven't met yet.” W.B.Yeats
This is an extract from The Healthy Writer: Reduce your Pain, Improve your Health, and Build a Writing Career for the Long-Term, available in ebook, print and audiobook.