Inspiration Engagement Pieces 2020-12-21 00:00

Lonely? 7 Ways to Stay Sane When Working by Yourself

man alone in an empty parking lot

When I started writing full-time in the spring of 2008, I was living alone in an apartment building. One month after I started, I graduated college.

At the time, I didn’t have a girlfriend. And because I was starting out as a writer with no savings, I didn’t have a lot of spending money. While my friends were all going out to bars, I stayed home to save money.

On the one hand, this was an exciting time in my life. I was working for myself, starting to make money, and had complete control over my schedule every single day.

On the other hand, it got lonely fast. With no office to go to, no school, no social life, no love life, there was no actual reason to leave my apartment beyond grocery shopping and church.

It wasn’t uncommon for me to go to church on Sunday morning, come home to watch the Green Bay Packers play football, and suddenly find myself on Tuesday afternoon realizing that I hadn’t seen or interacted with another human being in two whole days.

Many Tuesday evenings, I finished eating a home-cooked dinner and then ventured out to Target. I didn’t have anything to buy, nor did I have any money to spend, but I would just wander the aisles, smiling at people and enjoying being out among the living.

Just writing that out makes me sad.

The writing life is a lonely one. If you are working for yourself, whether that’s in a freelance capacity or through publishing books, you are likely finding yourself spending long hours at your desk at home. And if you don’t have a family that lives at home with you, that lack of interaction can really grate on you.

  1. Humans Need Interaction
  2. 7 Tips to Combat Loneliness
  3. Mix and Match

Humans Need Interaction

There have been plenty of studies that show how human beings wither away when they don’t have interaction with other human beings. Yes, it’s funny and cool to say that you don’t need anybody except your dog, but that’s just not true. Everyone needs to be around people at some point. Working for yourself makes that incredibly difficult.

And of course, in the age of COVID-19, this problem is even more pronounced. You may be struggling with loneliness because you never intended to work for (and by) yourself.

Fortunately, not all is lost. There are ways of handling this problem, and you don’t need to be a social person to do it.

Lonely Walk

7 Tips to Combat Loneliness

Tip 1: If you have a family at home, spend time with them

When you work from home, the boundaries around your work day are not so clear. It’s very easy to let work creep into the rest of your day.

You might take a few emails at the dinner table. Or you might be playing with your kids and get a Slack notification. Or you might simply push off some of your work to the evening, when you should be spending quality time with your spouse.

If you have a family at home, then the easiest way to deal with loneliness is by spending intentional time with them. That means putting away your devices and being fully engaged with them. That’s the quickest way to mental health.

At the end of your work day, establish some kind of ritual to switch off your work brain and get yourself in the mindset of someone who is coming home for the day. If you must work later in the day, that’s fine, but carve out time elsewhere to completely disengage from your work.

The best part about this solution, if you do have a family at home, is that it doesn’t require you to be an extrovert. Many of us writers are introverts by nature, but we’re comfortable around our own families. This gets you that human interaction without going out on a limb.

Tip 2: Work away from home one day a week

Depending on where you live, this can be difficult. But it is a solution that should be considered if the circumstances apply.

Before COVID-19 shut everything down, I spent one work day a week working somewhere other than my home office. It might be a coffee shop, or a library, or even just going to the mall. I grab my laptop and go work among the living for a little while.

I never intentionally interacted with anybody. I didn’t force myself to make any new friends. In fact, I kept to myself more than I do at home.

But just that feeling of being around other people helped. It gave me energy, and I could feel the difference it made in my mental and emotional health. Working from home as a writer can often make you feel disconnected from the world. Working among others in the world is a simple way to re-establish that connection.

Tip 3: Get involved in local writer groups

At this point, many people think of the internet as pushing people further apart from each other. Because we can all Zoom now, it feels as though we’re more disconnected than ever.

However, the internet is also a tool that can bring people together. Pretty much anywhere you live, there is probably a writing group available to you. This is true especially if you work in fiction. Writer groups exist almost everywhere, and they offer a way for you to get together with other like-minded writers and provide feedback and encouragement for each other.

You don’t write fiction? You actually have more options available to you. You are free to interact with other businesses, not just writers. That means you can go to your Chamber of Commerce or any number of local business groups. Often, when available, they meet at bars and restaurants over food and drinks to discuss business and network with each other.

This is easily the most intimidating solution that you can come up with for writer loneliness. But for many, it is a very effective solution. Plus, by networking with other writers and businesses, you give yourself a chance to expand your business overtime.

I don’t do this one. I’ve tried it in the past and I just don’t care for it. But for those who are comfortable with it, it works extremely well.

Tip 4: Join a group outside of your writing practice

Getting involved with other people in different ways can also provide you with companionship. For me, that means being involved in my church. But it can be anything. Church gives me the added benefit of getting out of my house once or twice a week. But maybe there’s another group that you can get together with. Look at your interests and see if there are groups that reflect them.

Tip 5: Get a pet

Not the same as human interaction, but it softens the loneliness.

Tip 6: Go wander around the store

I’m not saying it’s the best solution, but in a pinch, just going down to a store or mall and wandering the aisles can give you just enough of a boost to get through the week. There’s a reason I kept doing that.

Tip 7: Intentionally connect with other loved ones

Another easy solution is simply to look at the rest of your life and find ways to connect in person with the people that you care about. Just because your work life is lonely doesn’t mean your social life has to be lonely too. Reach out to friends and family that you haven’t talked to in a while and see if they want to get together. It can be more effective than you think.

Mix and Match

The most important lesson to learn from this is that opportunity is everywhere if you look for it. Maybe there is a solution that works for you that I didn’t talk about here. Play around with it.

You’re not married to any solution. Try some things out and see what works for you, and you can stave off the loneliness that harms you mentally and emotionally—and can harm your writing career as well.

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