People sometimes ask me how I deal with the isolation of writing. I’ve recently been in touch with a former co-worker from my days as a hospital social worker and communicating with her reminds me of what it was like to work with other people. It’s been a long time since I’ve done that! The hospital had a large social work department and my memory is of a deep bond between all of us. We did some emotionally difficult work, but we had each other to turn to for advice, support and—often–laughter. The work was so rewarding, and being part of a family of fellow social workers made it even more so. Nevertheless, during the years I worked there, I was writing my first novel in every speck of my free time. I adored my job, but I had a passion for storytelling that wouldn’t leave me alone.
Alone. That word brings me back to the question of isolation. One writes alone. It’s certainly true that most writers tend to be more introverted than extroverted. That doesn’t necessarily mean they’re shy or that they can’t be outgoing. Rather it means that their minds and spirits are fed by that precious time alone. They need it. They can’t create without it. That is certainly true of me, but I also need frequent doses of other people in my life. On the Myers-Briggs Personality Type scale, I fall smack in the middle between Introversion and Extraversion. While great chunks of time alone are necessary for my writing, they’re also. . . well, lonely.
I’m lucky that I live with someone who is also self-employed, so it is a bit like having a co-worker. John and I work in different parts of the house, but we stop to chitchat occasionally or to gripe with each other over computer problems or talk about our work. It also helps that we’re both in creative fields and seem to have similar requirements for alone and together time and that we’re both committed one hundred percent to what we’re doing. There is never the temptation to just goof off during the day.
So while it’s great having John nearby, the thing that really saves me from a sense of isolation is having friends who are also published novelists and who are as serious about their careers as I am. I’ve been lucky to have always had this outlet. When I lived in Virginia, Emilie Richards and Patricial McLinn and I got together frequently to brainstorm and talk shop. And I’ve blogged often about the retreats I go on with my group of writer friends here in North Carolina. We stay in touch by email and between our getaways, we meet for lunch whenever we can. I go home from those meet-ups renewed and ready to get back to work. When you work alone, it’s critical to find a way to connect with other people, not only to avoid insanity but to help you feed the creative well.
It’s hard for me to remember what it was like to have genuine co-workers. . . and to work for someone else. What I miss most about it is, frankly, the financial benefits of a “real” job: The security of a regular paycheck, help with the health insurance premiums, and most of all, an employer to pay half of that killer 15% FICA payment. (Do not quit your day job until you’ve thought all this through!)
Yes, it’s costly( and sometimes lonely) to work all by myself. But getting to work at something I love? Priceless.