Friday, October 17, 2014

The Lonely Older Writer

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I know that my blog is called “The Lonely Young Writer,” but I think it’s important to note that young writers are not the only ones who can feel isolated and misunderstood.  The truth of the matter is that those feelings of isolation sometimes come with the territory of being a writer, simply because writing is not really a social activity.

There are, of course, exceptions: writing seminars, collaborations, classes, and the like, but for the most part, writing consists of you and your writing implements.

Now, combine that sense of isolation with the fact that most adult writers need to write around their full time jobs.  I can tell you that writing is difficult during school and college—but try it when you work overtime at a physically exhausting job.  I speak from experience on this, but it’s nothing compared to what some other people deal with.  I have a friend who works somewhere around nine to ten hours a day, with a one hour minimum commute.  She writes in the evening and on weekends, assuming she has the energy.

To top it all off, older writers still get to deal with the fact that people tend to be very dismissive of your writing until you actually have something published.  So, if you’re a young writer, you need to brace yourself.  Things do change, and they do get better, but it’s not like it’s a night and day distinction.

What really makes the biggest difference is that as you grow older, you tend to learn to be less self-conscious.  At some point, you learn that you don’t really give a rat’s behind as to whether people think you are weird for being a writer.  You sort of learn to embrace your own oddities.

As you get older, you gain independence.  You are able to go out and find writing friends in ways you weren’t able to as a dependant in your parent’s house.  You control your own money, so you can go to writing conferences. It makes finding those connections a lot easier.  Internet groups are great, but there’s still something to be said for being in a huge room full of writers.

There are still struggles with friends and family who don’t “get it.” But a lot of how you cope with this as an older writer depends on how you cope with it as a young writer.

When I say “young writer,” I generally mean adolescents.  Somewhere between 7th and 12th grade, possibly a little up into college.  By “older writer,” I mean college graduates and people who are entering the workforce, really moving out on their own into the world.

Young writers, you are going through one of the most tumultuous times in your life.  Your body is changing, and to top it off, you’re entering an entirely new social tier altogether.  You are being hurtled toward this scary thing called “real life” at a hundred miles per hour.  So believe me when I tell you that the coping skills you develop now will be with you for the rest of your life, for good or for bad.

I had terrible coping skills as a teen.  I put myself down.  It really set me on an emotionally unhealthy path.  By the time I’d entered college, I was dealing with bulimia and self-injuring. (Self-injuring is the same idea as cutting, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be cutting.) The problems dogged me into adulthood. Fortunately, I got help and support from my family and friends.  I got counseling and all of that good stuff.  But it’s taken me seven years to get to where I am now.

You might imagine that none of that was especially good for my writing.  I loved writing, but it was perpetually blocked from me.  But once I’d dealt with all the crap, my writing abilities soared. 

I still tend to lapse back into those self-derogatory coping skills when I struggle with writing.  That, more than anything, is what affects me as a writer.  I don’t worry much what other people think of me when it comes to my writing—even adults grow and mature every day.

Young writers, start thinking now about how you are going to cope with the stresses in your life. If you feel like you aren’t dealing with your stress well, then you need to get help now.  Your mental state is at its most pliable right now.  Now is the time to learn the skills.  There are a lot of resources out there—I really like just about anything by David M. Burns.  Talk to your highschool counselor, or if you’re at college, they usually have counselors on staff.

If learn these skills now, your writing will flourish.  But it’s not really the writing that matters.  Your writing flourishes when you flourish.  The health of your coping abilities is important for so many other things.  Work on your coping and time management skills while you’re still changing, and they will really stick with you once you’ve left this really awful period of transition from kid to adult.

Your writing life will get better as you get older if you put in the energy to improve it now.  Young or old, there will always be sense of loneliness in our writing lives—but if we learn to connect with ourselves in a healthy manner, and connect with others in a healthy manner.

Of course, it’s never too late.  Older writers who struggle can also work on their coping skills and time management skills.  It’s what I’ve had to do.  But if I could go back to highschool freshman me, I would tell her what I’ve just told you.  There is no shame in getting counseling or life coaching—in fact, it can change your life for the better.

What affects you for the better, obviously affects your writing for the better.

How does stress affect your writing? Do you feel like you have positive coping skills? What kinds of steps do you think you can take to improve them? Share any thoughts or questions you might have in the comments.

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1 comment:

  1. I don't know that I've ever really experienced stress in a way that interfered with my writing- but then, I haven't been writing on a regular basis for very long. In terms of coping skills, I'm usually the one helping other people cope, and don't often find myself in need of the same. I've got a great support network that I seldom have to use; for that, I'm grateful.

    Oh! There's one! Deadlines. Deadlines stress me out. Only I can calm myself down when I'm panicking over an approaching due date. NaNoWriMo is going to be insane. 1,666 2/3 words a day, preferably more in case of writer's block later... Thank goodness for the Dare Machine, am I right?

    Have you seen that? It's on the site for younger writers...