The Loneliness of a Long Distance Writer

freelance writing message in a bottle under a sunsetAre words best written alone?

I’m pretty sure that my title is not an original one. Writing requires concentration and effort especially if like me, writing has been something to do as part of a job rather than something performed for pleasure. The truth is that as a professional writer, and by that I mean I write for a living, my working life is spent alone with no colleagues to bounce ideas around and joke with at the coffee machine. I never get to see my clients as they are dotted around the world as far afield as North America, the Far East and Australasia, so email and Skype are the communication tools.

Does any of this matter with your writing?

Unless you are a hermit by nature, the straight answer is “Yes” it does matter.

To my mind there are two principal reasons why isolation affects your writing, firstly the effect on your own general state of mind and secondly, writers thrive on ideas and I find many ideas from my social networks. When I have been key bashing 20,000 words on Androgenic Alopecia (baldness to you and me) the sense of cabin fever that pervades is palpable and a break has to be taken; by that I don’t mean a cigarette and coffee break – a real break away from the keyboard and your office.

In earlier posts I’ve covered the need to manage your time and your environment in order to deliver quality copy to deadlines for your clients. I touched on the need to manage yourself while writing; however, taking a step back from performing the actual work itself, very little is actually said of keeping your greatest asset in shape – your brain, your imagination and your mind. Writing while depressed or unhappy is not going to produce great copy that will sell Rogaine or Anadin Extra though you may be able to get Morrissey to buy it and rework it into a Smith’s revival tune. Write while tired and your writing will be tired and this aside from the increase in grammatical errors which multiply exponentially. Never proof your work while fatigued as that is a recipe for disaster.

Virtually all the resources I have encountered deal with the “How to” of writing, a substantial minority deal with the “Why” and there is nothing that I have found that deals with “You”. Going into some form of writers purdah, a necessity for me personally; however, is to be aware of the medium and long-term effects that such self-imposed isolation will bring. In order to continue producing quality content to order, you need to maintain yourself and that for me requires frequent diversions that do not include the keyboard.

Do not forget your friends and family, do not skip meal times (your brain consumes the largest amount of the calories you take in), and do not get into the mindset that the writing controls you – it is you that controls what appears on the blank page. Look after yourself physically, exercise frequently and tire your body naturally with a visit to the gym, digging the garden or walking the dogs. The idea is that when it comes time to lay that weary head upon the pillow, you get some sleep without the synapses firing away and revolving around a writing project.

Drinking tea and coffee forms a major part of my day; however, too much of either and I start getting a caffeine rush that simply destroys the ability to focus properly on the topic at hand. I have changed my habits, so a coffee is part of my writing ritual at a set time after I start work. I also only drink decaffeinated beverages once I’ve started work so my mind remains sharp and focused.

Part of my apprenticeship as a writer has been to take stock of my own life and how I live it. In my early writing days (a short two years ago) I would write endlessly on anything and everything with little thought about how and why my own mind was functioning. I noticed after six months how very tired I was and spending a short holiday in Cyprus led me to the realisation that I simply was not looking after my brain and inner self. This appreciation has spawned a new approach to writing work, as I place boundaries on writing time and ensure that other aspects of my life are not neglected. I do not miss meals with my family and cook the Sunday roast, I perform the “Dad’s Taxi” chores that anyone with children between the ages of 5 and 80 is all too familiar with, and I make it a rule that once a month we all dine out at a good restaurant.

My title may not be very original, but the thoughts and opinions are all my own. Read the interviews of famous writers and you will find the questions follow a common theme regarding ideas, imagination and motivation. Reading the responses will let you form your own conclusions about how writers of any description have to come to terms with the isolation of being a long distance writer. The words may very well be written in isolation but your ideas, inspiration and motivation will come from those around you.

Writing is only a fraction of the time you need to spend on creating high, quality work  research before you start and reviewing and editing after take far more time and energy.