Can writing be a sociable activity?

Elephant house coffee shop

Two weeks from now, I will be a full-time author.

Becoming an author has been a long-held dream of mine. To be more specific, it became my lifetime ambition once I had realised that I wasn’t any good at football and couldn’t see well enough to drive a train.

From May onwards, I will spend my days pecking mercilessly at my laptop keyboard, concocting the masterpiece that will be my second novel.

When I told my mother that I was giving up my well paid job to become a professional author, she nearly choked on her cornflakes. ‘But you’ve only sold 27 copies of your first book,’ she spluttered.

How very dare she.

She wasn’t pacified when I had corrected her on the numbers. Or even when I told her that Six Months to Get a Life, my debut novel, had received yet more heart-warming reviews and praise on twitter over the past few days.

‘It’s not just about the money,’ she came back with, ‘you’ll go mad sitting on your own, writing all day.’

My mum has a point there. I love being with people. Sharing experiences, sharing views, sharing stories and sharing pizza is, for me, what makes me tick. I am a sociable person.

I can’t wait to be a full-time author, but the solitude of a writing life does worry me a bit. And being a single dad doesn’t help with the potential loneliness either. Will I spend all day writing, and all evening cooking, washing and supervising homework, with no adult company other than my friends at the supermarket checkout to keep me sane?

Obviously, I am determined that the answer will be ‘No.’

Over the past few weeks, I have spent some time looking in to a whole variety of ways of keeping myself sane while I write. It’s not as though I want to chat all day, but having the odd conversation with an adult every so often would be nice, even if I don’t get to share their pizza.

Being sociable online during breaks in my writing is one way I will reduce the feeling of isolation. I do enjoy engaging with fellow authors on sites such as the Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi) and with my small but growing reader-base on Facebook and Twitter. No doubt a bit of twitter banter during the day will spur me on.

But online sociability is no substitute for actual vocal chord-exercising conversation.

So how will I meet ‘real people’ during my writing day?

My dog, Albus, will demand that I take him for a walk at least once during the day. Last week, he brought a rugby ball in from the garden and deposited it on my keyboard just as I was getting to the climax of a tense scene. Walking the dog normally results in at least some interaction with real people. But saying things like ‘Sorry my German Shepherd ate your Labradoodle’ or ‘he’ll leave you alone in a minute,’ isn’t necessarily the sort of interaction that will make me feel good about my life. I’ll need more than a dog walk a day to improve my sense of wellbeing as an author.

A number of my friends work from home. There’s Pete the musician. I might need headphones for most of the day but I can cope with that. Or there’s Barry the civil servant. He watches the cricket – I mean works from home – regularly. There’s even Ed, my politician friend. He’d be good company but his talk of long-term economic plans, austerity and ‘hard-working British people’ might get a bit monotonous after a while. The one advantage of Ed is that he won’t grill me on where the money’s coming from to fund my lifestyle.

I am not sure whether Stephen King would approve, but so many authors have talked about establishing a routine in which they regularly write in a local coffee shop. J.K. Rowling apparently started writing Harry Potter in the coffee shop pictured above.

Whether or not such authors form a relationship with the proprietor or with fellow customers, this sounds like an idea worth exploring to me. The caffeine will certainly stimulate my creative juices, as might the comings and goings in the café. ‘Cheeky Monkeys’ on Grand Drive, you can expect a visit from me in May. You never know, I might meet the odd yummy mummy in there too, but let’s not digress.

I am also intending to join a writing group. Until recently, I hadn’t realised that writers gathered together just to write. But a bit of internet research tells me that they do.

Groups like the London-based ‘Write Together’ organise sessions for authors to gather together, work on their own writing projects for a few hours and then socialise, should they so wish. ‘Write Together’ advertise the get-togethers to their members via www.meetup.com. Meetings take place in a variety of venues, from cafes to coffee shops. Meeting likeminded authors would be a tonic for me, and I can see how being surrounded by fellow authors would spur you on to work harder. It may also piss me off if my fellow scribblers all seem to be typing more than me though.

If you have other ideas on how I might write in company, I would love to hear from you.

Ben

15 thoughts on “Can writing be a sociable activity?

  1. lucciagray April 20, 2015 / 2:04 pm

    Neighbours? Other children’s parents? Volunteering? Write together sounds good. Good for you making the decision to write full time 👏
    I work as a teacher, and although I love the interaction with students (I hasten to add I teach adults) and other teachers, I wish I had more time to write. This week we’re organising literary coffee breaks at school where we’re discussing our favourite books leading up to World Book Day on Thursday.

    • Ben Adams April 21, 2015 / 8:55 am

      Luccia, I can’t believe you have the energy to write after spending the day in the classroom! Congratulations on your A-Z blog challenge by the way. Nearly there!

      • lucciagray April 21, 2015 / 12:18 pm

        I used to teach teenagers but they were driving me crazy, so now I teach EFL to adults from beginners to advanced. It’s not stressful, but it is time consuming. I’ll be retiring in 4 years’ time, then I’ll be able to write full time 🙂

  2. Suzanna April 20, 2015 / 8:10 pm

    I find writing in a coffee shop to be the best. It’s a small, independent shop, so there’s this “regulars” atmosphere. And this is the same shop where I did my first book reading, so there’s sentimental value. I like to listen in on other conversations and watch people. I would suggest staying away from libraries because, eventually, the books will distract you!

    Congrats on choosing to write full time. I wish you the best of luck!

    • Ben Adams April 21, 2015 / 9:03 am

      Suzanna, a library assistant advising me to stay away from libraries, whatever next! I know exactly wha you mean though. I am going to try writing at my local coffee shop tomorrow.

  3. eclecticalli April 20, 2015 / 10:56 pm

    I haven’t joined any (non-virtual) writing groups yet… my time outside of work is pretty limited, so I am worried about committing to something like that. But! I do have a writing buddy. We (try) to meet up once a week for a few hours after work. We sit, chat a little, eat or drink a little something, and write. If we’re having trouble with a piece sometimes we’ll talk about it, and sometimes we’ll just sit and write away across the table from each other. I’ve often been a solitary writer, but I find it really helpful to have someone else nearby with the same kind of goals — it pushes me to stay focused 🙂

    • Ben Adams April 21, 2015 / 9:01 am

      Eclecticalli, I know how you feel. It’s only now that I am giving up my job that I have felt confident that I’ll have the space to attend some of these things. I actually went to a slightly different event last night, ran by the London writers’ cafe. This was more than a communal write together. A few people read a sample of their current work, and others around the table offered constructive opinions on it. I didn’t stick my head above the parapet and volunteer to read last night, but nevertheless I learnt a lot that I can apply to my own writing.

  4. Icy Sedgwick (@IcySedgwick) April 21, 2015 / 10:47 am

    I tried writing in a coffee shop and I got distracted by people watching! I try to keep writing and socialising separate, so that when I come back to the writing after a social meeting, even if it’s just a chinwag over a coffee and cake, I feel more ‘refreshed’ and more likely to actually write than if I’m trying to balance chatting with typing.

  5. T.O. Weller April 21, 2015 / 3:27 pm

    Hey Ben! The day draws ever nearer; you must be so excited!

    I too worry about the social aspect. Not only will I be writing full time in the coming months, but we’re moving north, away from city life, crowds, traffic congestion & noise … and people. Yikes!! I like the idea and I don’t, all at the same time.

    The peace and beauty of our Ontario cottage country is what inspired me to first write when I was just a kid, and it has always fueled my creative spirit. Our property will have 140 feet of waterfront on a quiet lake off the beaten track. It’s the kind of retreat people pay big bucks for … but, what if the permanent nature of it drives me to drink … or worse?!?

    The thing is, and I have to believe this, there is community everywhere. I’ve already made friends up there, though they’re not writers and I don’t think they need to be. We meet plenty of fellow writers online anyway, right?

    I also wonder about online support groups and have played with the idea of starting one through my blog. Free to join, of course. We shall see.

    The adventure continues …

  6. bschmitt April 21, 2015 / 7:07 pm

    Hi Ben, great name by the way. I totally understand where you’re coming from. I am on the other side of the spectrum – recently married, and lots to do, so it’s hard for me to carve out an entire day to just write. Sure, I can scrap an hour here and an hour there, but ol’ fashioned hammering away at the pages seem elusive nowadays. So, that is a positive thing.

    I’m also looking for a writers’ group to have more of that community, etc… I find that scheduling my day as I would if I were at work helps a lot. For me, I get distracted easily. So scheduling an hour of writing, then a 15 minute break to do ______, then write more, then go to the park, etc… If my day is scheduled, the empty day seems less daunting.

    Enjoyed the blog, and I just followed. Looking forward to reading more of your stuff!

  7. Mandy Wallace April 21, 2015 / 8:56 pm

    You might see if your city has a coworking space. It’s the go-to for independent workers in web design and software development and copywriting these days. Quiet enough to work but around people in cross-related fields for company and such. You mentioned you were a social person, so you may like this even better than cafe writing.

    Congrats on taking the plunge and for your debut novel’s success.

  8. Wendy Clarke April 23, 2015 / 5:18 pm

    You don’t need friends, Ben – you’ve got me and Tracey! Seriously though, it is important to make sure you do meet other people in ‘real life’. I walk my dog but she hates other dogs so any conversation I have with other dog walkers is from a great distance. I also meet up once a month with a local writing friend and also with a group of romance writers from the RNA. Friday mornings, I walk with non-writing friends and then go off to my choir (don’t worry I’m not suggesting that!). Next month, next door are having major building work done so I shall be a fellow café writer – we’ll have to compare notes!

  9. Stuart Lennon April 30, 2015 / 3:53 pm

    Ben – I find myself going to the Gym. Really. The Gym.

    Gyms during the working day are a real eye-opener.
    Just hanging out in the snack bar, eavesdropping the conversations is incredible (As well as the obvious advantage of not requiring me to exercise)

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