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Loneliness, Depression, and Developing Your Writing Career

It can be lonely to be a writer. It is often a second identity, where even your friends and family define you by your family role (mother, father, sister, brother, son, daughter) or what pays the bills (your day job), and not by your passion – your writing.

You sneak away writing sentences in stolen moments, as a squirrel stores away nuts for the winter. Your year is filled with resolutions to get back on track, to find a system that works to really finish your book, to really grow your audience.

I love social media, but do notice that my feeds on Facebook, Twitter, and elsewhere are filled with mostly positive affirmations. We update Facebook to tell people we just ran 4 miles, not that we just at an entire pint of Ben & Jerry’s, then ate half a bag of potato chips. And then had a slice of cold pizza.

We don’t talk openly about things many writers face on a daily basis: the loneliness and depression of developing your craft and of building your audience.

Writing can be a lonely endeavor, with many ups and downs that those around you never see. You are creating something from nothing. You are trying desperately for an idea to be born, to grow, to spread. I often look at writers as entrepreneurs because of this. Most businesses fail. Most writers’ work goes unpublished, or worse yet: unread.

I work with writers to help them build and engage an audience for their work – to grow their author platform. Now, when you hear about a successful writer – you often imagine that they started with more than you did. What you don’t see in their story is the long lonely months and years of effort that went unrewarded. My favorite website is Mixergy.com, where Andrew Warner interviews successful entrepreneurs, telling their stories of how they went from a lonely idea to really having an impact in the world (and often earning millions of dollars along the way.) Here is a 30 second story that is not unusual, about how one interviewee’s wife’s blog went from nothing to something. Does the first part of this story sound familiar?

That’s Rand Fishkin talking about his wife Geraldine’s blog http://everywhereist.com.

This applies to most creative endeavors, and certainly to many writers. No, we don’t talk about it often, but it’s there. I like how Rand talked about the need to start with a small team – just a few people around you, supporting your work. I spoke about the importance of building a team in another blog post about how writers can learn from Weight Watchers. That we often need support and accountability in order to reach our goals.

A profile of author John Locke makes a similar point. He wrote his first novel only three years ago, and has since sold more than 1 million ebooks on Amazon. Even after he went through the process of writing and publishing his book, it was a lonely road:

“It took nine months before anyone bought anything. It wasn’t a matter of price point but word of mouth, people telling others, one sale at a time — just like insurance.”

How many would-be successful writers would have thrown in the towel at month 3 or month 8? Just moments before they would have found their audience and had their dreams become reality?

I recently came across some blog posts from the startup world about how to help reduce depression & loneliness when developing something new. I think writers may find lots of helpful tips here, things such as:

  • Get an advisor/mentor.
  • Be open with those around you about your challenges, not just your successes.
  • Create rituals.
  • Create stability in other parts of your life.
  • Connect with colleagues.
  • Sleep.
  • Break large projects down into smaller milestones.
  • Know when to step away and recharge your batteries.
  • Focus on one thing at a time.

Here are the articles, be sure to check out the comments in those posts as well for other stories/tips:

I work with a lot of writers via online classes, workshops, one-on-one consulting, and a mastermind group. I have found that these types of things often provide the structure and support to help folks stay on track in developing their craft and grow their audience. They provide not just a framework, but a team that works with you. This is not a pitch for my services, but just an observation about it’s value. LOTS of folks offer classes, groups, workshops, and events that may help you in your writing career. Find a partner that speaks to you, aligns to your purpose and goals, and take that step to reach out.

And of course, if there is any way I can be of assitance, just let me know:

-Dan

973-981-8882 | dan@danblank.com | @DanBlank

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  • Janet Oakley

    It is a lonely world sometimes, which is why I go to writing conferences and in the past 3 years joined the social media crowd to connect with writers all over the world. It’s taken years, but after pitching and rewriting a novel, I finally decided to self-publish it and have watched the number of sales and chatter in book clubs grow. I decided when I did this, that it was okay to be a turtle and to be steady as I marketed it. It’s lonely, but it’s becoming rewarding experience to see something I care about, being enjoyed by others.

    • http://www.wegrowmedia.com/ Dan Blank

      Thank you so much for sharing your experience Janet!

  • http://twitter.com/cynicalbynature Kevin Basil

    I haven’t read a post like this before and I’m glad that someone wrote it. You make great points and the advice is wonderful. I just started my blog and started using twitter a few months ago and it did seem silly at times when nobody but my friends or family were paying attention. However, every day new people came by and my followers started to grow. I’m just happy when I get to interact with even ONE person I don’t know.

    • http://www.wegrowmedia.com/ Dan Blank

      Kevin,
      Thanks. For most people, it is PAINFULLY slow to build an audience in the beginning. But I have seen time and time again that once momentum builds, amazing things happen. 
      -Dan

  • http://www.abiggerplay.com/ Anne Braudy

    As I work with new authors with tiny platforms, this is a fabulous reminder – the tortoise and the hare story – same ending, different subject.  Thanks

    • http://www.wegrowmedia.com/ Dan Blank

      Thanks Anne!

  • Cynthia Morris

    Thanks for bringing this up, Dan. I don’t suffer from depression but loneliness is an issue for me, working at home by myself as I do. 

    It definitely helps to be connected with my peers and students in my online classes and social media. But I have to be sure to get out into the world and meet people in person. I have to proactively make sure that happens. 

    A related issue is that my work is fairly consuming. I like that – I’m very engaged in what I do, it’s challenging, creative, exciting and meaningful. 

    But I have to be able to talk about other things when I get together with my friends. Much as they support me, we’re not going to talk business all night,  mine or theirs.  I don’t watch TV (okay, I watched Downton Abbey) so there’s not a lot of chat about that. I try to keep up with other reading and current events so I’m not operating in a vacuum.

    People keep warning me about post-publishing depression. I don’t know what I can do to stave that off, but I’m working now to make sure I have a social life and time off. And a vacation in August, as you suggested!

    Thanks again for this post. 

    • http://www.wegrowmedia.com/ Dan Blank

      Thank you Cynthia. Yes, I should probably write a post about “post-publishing depression,” something that I think many feel couldn’t possibly exist. My advice at the moment would be plan some projects (nothing huge!) that happen in the months after publication, after your publicity efforts die down. Something that keeps your creative juices flowing, and that connects THIS book to the NEXT book. 

      And yes, take August off! :)
      -Dan

  • Diana Pierce

    Dan–thanks for the post.  I am running into this exact problem and have found myself backing away from my writing when writing is probably the thing I need to do the most!  Trying to keep my “day job” but also find time to write (while I’m still coherent enough to do so!) has become almost overwhelming.  Your post made me see the depression I’m feeling must be fairly normal.  Hopefully I can get back to my writing schedule–and make it the priority again instead of the other way around.
    Thanks again,
    Diana 

    • http://www.wegrowmedia.com/ Dan Blank

      Diana,
      Yes, I do think this is more common than people realize. The advice in the posts I linked to is really good. And mostly, I think TALKING ABOUT IT is a key to managing it.
      Thanks!
      -Dan

  • http://writerreinvented.wordpress.com/ Afia Lee

    Dan, Were you really reading my mind? This post was right on for me. In fact, I just posted about this same theme. Your interview with Rand Fishkin was encouraging and exactly what I needed to hear. Since taking your Blogging 101 course in February, I have been committed to my blog, even in these lean times. Thanks for sharing your words of encouragement.

    • http://www.wegrowmedia.com/ Dan Blank

      Thank YOU!

  • Anonymous

    Dan, this post shows that you know what writers go through. Ironically, two of the things that make for good writing—rumination and self-focus—also create risks for mental health issues. There is a tension here that perhaps cannot be resolved, though we can be aware of it and use mindfulness skills to not identify with any of our mental states.

    • http://www.wegrowmedia.com/ Dan Blank

      Doug,
      Really good insight, thanks for that! I think developing skills for managing these issues is key, not trying to banish them. Most feelings are 100% natural, and sometimes even very helpful. So management is critical.
      -Dan

  • Shelly Immel

    Community is key. Grateful to be part of yours, Dan. Glad you are continuing to help people build this into their lives and work in meaningful, intentional ways. 

    • http://www.wegrowmedia.com/ Dan Blank

      Thank you Shelly!

  • http://TENACULAR.com/ TenacularDogs

    I have been writing for a national magazine for almost four years and now am on the masthead as a Contributing Writer. Prior to that, there was a two decade interim during which I had not submitted anything to be published. Prior to that, I worked as a newspaper stringer, then a reporter, then a freelance reporter. I will begin writing on commission for a media company, in addition to the magazine, at the end of this month. Fortunately, getting published is not an issue for me.

    I have written several books and am finding it challenging to get a proper mindset about getting them edited and published. The more I try, the more I’ve been writing lately, to the point I’m questioning if I have a light case of manic-depression. Whatever state I’m in mentally, it is good that it is productive. And, I believe the work product is good. One of the complications I’m facing is that when I’m in such a ‘zone,’ everything else takes a back seat. In some areas, I am keeping up; but others are so far out of my ‘zone,’ I seem to be tuning them out completely.

    I am very isolated, by default, rather than choice. I have to make an effort to connect with the outside world in real ways. I count online and phone as connections; but spending my time outside my home is getting less and less appealing. If I had more compatibility with just a few folks out there, it would increase my appreciation of spending time with them. When I spend time with my few favorite people, it always seems very rushed. Still trying to figure out solutions….

    • http://www.wegrowmedia.com/ Dan Blank

      With more people working from home, I think that the lifestyle you mention will be more common. I work from home as well, but I also spend one day a week in New York City in meetings; I also have my wife and 1.5 year old son to keep me “social” during the days! Sounds like you are at least aware of the positives and negatives of your situation, and awareness is key to ensuring you right the ship when needed. Thanks.
      -Dan