The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Writer

Perhaps everyone would be  in a better mood if someone added a shot of whiskey...

Perhaps everyone would be in a better mood if someone added a shot of whiskey…

Out in the old Airstream office again, starting to work on an essay. “Starting to work” means looking out of the windows for a spell, straightening a counter that’s already ruler-straight, peeking at Twitter—but with eyes wide open, so that a peek becomes a stare—and on and on.

If you’re an at-home working writer, and one for whom discipline is a comrade who sometimes leaves early for lunch, you might shy from the tyranny of the page, and look for like cronies to complain to. But it’s been years since I’ve had office mates that could tolerate hearing my sighs about bad sentence structure over the cubicle walls. Sometimes my cat comes out to the trailer to discuss subject-verb agreements, but most of the time, it’s just me.

A great privilege it is to be able to work from home, and a greater gift to be able to work with words, the dizzying whirligigs that they are. Writers need to sequester their minds in order to stew, consciously or not, over their word soups, but sometimes the kitchen seems a little quiet. The habitual patter of your mind can be a little wearing, especially when it flies off center, and you start thinking things like “Tom, when you tilt your head just so, you look a lot like Madeleine Albright.”

When the Idea Salon Is an Asylum

But when you realize that the errant voices in your head are, shockingly, less crazy than the ones on the Internet, you know that going out in that uncivil commons is no way to relax and exchange ideas in the idea salon, finger sandwiches at the ready. I have a standing policy to not read the comments pages of many postings, because their curdled sourness doesn’t offer companionship to any but the crazed.

Even more crazed than me.

But thankfully there are a few spots on the InterTubes that can offer solace—and even fine writing advice, so you can coddle yourself into thinking you are working, sort of. One of the best is WriterUnboxed, with its daily postings on craft, marketing, personal writing foibles, the publishing industry and much more, written by a splendid range of seasoned experts, newbies and specialists. Equally as helpful as the sound writing advice is the collective community of peers and writing chums, who share comments in the sandbox that are insightful and warm, but without too much mush. (Mush causes mold.)

For writers like me, living in their hollow, echoing wooden heads, a place like WriterUnboxed is a godsend. Now and then, they even let me write something there.

Combat the Loneliness of the Long-Distance Writer: Collaborate

Another way a writer, who might be out in his ’66 Airstream with screaming orange plaid upholstery for eight hours a day, might reach out and still get some writing done is by collaborating with another writer. Rick Wilson and I have been working on a novel together, based on this short story, for a couple of years, and the final chapter is just a whimsy of words away from being done.

Working with Rick has been delightful, and in the many moments when I’ve staggered in the process and lost my oxygen, he’s opened the valves on new tanks of enthusiasm. And since Rick’s a dentist, I’m going to ask for nitrous for the home stretch. I’ll post more about the book in blogs to come.

Lastly, when a writer is feeling low or lonely, there are the works of other authors to lift and educate. Books are great companions too, and have been through my life. I just finished the delightful and hilarious Where’d You Go, Bernadette. I shock myself by never having read a Toni Morrison work before, so Jazz is next.

Books themselves are quiet company, even if the upholstery is too loud.

Warm Applause for Writers Who Give Generously

'Writing Home In Calling Lake Alberta' photo (c) 2011, Mennonite Church USA Archives - license:

I spend entirely too much time reading about writing and reading about writers rather than writing myself, but when I am reading, I want to be provoked, challenged, stimulated and amused. Over the course of 2013, many writers I read have done these things, and some of them consistently do them all. Here’s a list of writers who through their blogs, podcasts, newsletters and ululating cries from the tops of (non-ivory) towers give generously of their time and talents to the benefit of other writers (and readers of every stripe, of course). To all of you, a hearty thanks!

Carol Tice is a long-time freelancer and author who is the brains behind the great Make a Living Writing blog. She founded the equally great Freelance Writers Den, which is a rich resource for support and education for all levels of freelancers. She knows her stuff—and is willing to share.

Linda Formichelli is the head renegade at the Renegade Writer blog, and one of the helpful “Den Mothers” at the Freelance Writers Den mentioned above. She sends out to her email list daily (and juicy) “Morning Motivations for Writers.” She recently published Write Your Way Out of the Rat Race … and Step Into a Career You Love, which I recommend to those weary of rat-racing.

Ed Gandia is an exemplary freelance copywriter, author, speaker and coach—and a great guy (at least from seeing, reading, and hearing him online). His The High-Income Business Writing podcast hosts informative writers talking on practical freelancing topics. He’s the co-author of the bestselling and award-winning book The Wealthy Freelancer, as well as the founder of the International Freelancers Academy.

Peter Bowerman is another great writer, strong writer’s counselor, and also a great guy, one whom I’ve had the pleasure to meet in person. His The Well-Fed Writer and The Well-Fed Self-Publisher are essential books on the freelancing life. Check out his Well-Fed Writer blog.

Joanna Penn is one of the standout voices in the maelstrom that is the publishing world. She provides an always perceptive take on what’s what in publishing, and how to take the reins of your writing career in firm hand. Get her fine counsel at The Creative Penn and check out her novels and nonfiction too.

Jon Morrow is the agent provocateur who regularly kicks writer’s butts with his posts on not just thinking or talking about writing but actually taking risks and getting real writing work done. He was the associate editor of Copyblogger (a marketing/copywriting site I can’t recommend enough), and now throws lightning bolts from his site at Boost Blog Traffic.

Jonathan Fields is a guy who almost seems like a data-delighted high priest of writing, and you’ll often see on his blog a winning blend of logic, science and especially the human touch to plumb and understand the depths of communication. His Good Life Project is a probing, reflective series of interviews with people who have struggled in their work and personal lives and gained great (and instructive) ground in understanding and elaborating on the human condition through work and play. And how to live richly and well within that humanness. Fields is a fine author as well.

Hope Clark has long sent out a writing newsletter that’s been chockablock filled with writing tips, grants and other publishing opportunities for writers. I’ve subscribed for years, and am always delighted, particularly with her thoughtful editorials. She’s also a mystery novelist of some acclaim.

Chris Brogan is an author, entrepreneur, and genial gadabout who runs Human Business Works and other ventures to help other entrepreneurs and businesses make their fully realized and authentic way in the world. His weekly newsletter supplies great motivational tools—and he will answer every reply.

Porter Anderson is one smart cookie, who writes with insight and wry wonder at the crazy minefield of the publishing industry. He blogs seemingly all over the durn place, but prominently at Publishing Perspectives, Jane Friedman’s (see below) site and (see below again, if you dare) Writer Unboxed.

Jane Friedman’s site, magazine and general work examine with an analytical but empathetic eye the windings of many writing roads, from individual authorship to self- and traditional publishing to diverse matters of writing craft and business. She is on top of the latest developments—and offers clear interpretations from that peak.

Writer Unboxed is not a single writer, but a site that hosts daily posts on issues of writing craft, writing business and the vagaries of the writing life. The posters run the range from aspiring writers to authors with decades of experience and decades of publishing success. And the spirit of the site is open, generous and deep. (And they’ve even let me post a few times, despite my hairdo.)

And I wasn’t going to include any of my personal friends in this list because I don’t want you to think I can be bought off (I can, but send fifties), but I’m compelled to salute Joel Canfield, who counsels authors looking to self-publish at his Someday Box site, guiding them from the starting of sentences to the polishings for print (and wiggling electrons too). He’s a mighty nice fellow as well.

Thanks to all these writing stalwarts, and great success to all in 2014!