#WritersLife: Am I Becoming a Recluse?

I am fiercely protective of my writing time. Maybe too much. The other day a friend asked me to lunch. At first, I was excited about it, but as I was getting ready, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I’d rather work on the WIP.

This happens all the time. A friend will say, “Let’s get together.”

“Sure. Just let me finish the first draft.”

After I’m done, they say, “Now can we get together?”

“But I’m getting ready to do the first read-through.”

“Now that you’re letting the book cool, can we grab lunch?”

“Oooh, ahh, I started the next book.”

Okay, that may be a slight exaggeration. I say yes more than no, but begrudgingly. And I wondered why. Why would I rather be alone with my keyboard than out with friends? Am I becoming a recluse? Why is writing my favorite activity? And why, when life prevents me from writing, do I feel off?

This, of course, sent me down a rabbit hole. Some of what I learned about creativity and the brain I remembered from writing about this topic in 2017. This time, I wanted more. Why would I rather spend time with my characters than “real” people? It’s no secret that I prefer animals to humans, but I didn’t think that mindset extended to friends.

The other day, I did go to lunch. However, when she said, “We should make this a regular thing” I immediately thought, “that depends on your definition of ‘regular’.” Sounds terrible, I know, especially after I stopped writing for a solid hour without protest when a little black bear cub visited me last week. #CutenessOverload

Let’s see what the professionals at Brain World Magazine have to say…

“Writing is seen by many psychologists as a means for the brain to know itself. The brain is sometimes referred to as a meaning-making machine, and the process of writing allows us to examine the beliefs we have accumulated, to understand how we as individuals relate to the world, and to know our own minds better. In short, writing cultivates introspection that leads to better psychological health.”

Okay. I agree with that.

“All human cultures include speech, but not all have written language, and, even today, hundreds of thousands of people around the world never learn to write. Rather, writing is a complex linguistic technology that developed only in the last few thousand years.”

Fascinating, but doesn’t answer my questions.

“Writing requires a marvelous integration of multiple cognitive functions simultaneously: hand-eye coordination, language, memory, creativity, insight, logic, spatial intelligence, and abstract thought. And it is something you can only learn through consistent practice.”

Most writers know consistency is key. The brain is a muscle that will atrophy without regular exercise. And the more we write, the more we tickle the muse. Hence why too much social media can cause writer’s block and/or procrastination. 

“Writing may also serve as an indicator of brain longevity. One investigation, known as The Nun Study, conducted by the National Institute on Aging, showed a correlation between writing ability and the likelihood of developing Alzheimer’s disease. Reported in Neurobiology of Aging, the study looked at the lives of 678 nuns, all of whom had lived similar lifestyles, to determine what factor might account for brain health in later life.

Detailed records existed for all of the nuns, all of whom had joined the order while still in young adulthood. Each of the subjects had written an autobiography when joining the order, and their average age at the time was 22.

Researchers were able to look at the old biographical essays and assess them for linguistic fluency and complexity of content. Only 10 percent of nuns who were able to write well in their youth ended up with Alzheimer’s, while 80 percent of those with less proficient writing abilities suffered from the disease in old age.”

Did you know nuns penned autobiographies when joining the order? Do all nuns do this? I’m all for it. It just surprised me, is all. Although, writing an autobiographical essay would force the nun to detail her life and the circumstances surrounding her decision to join the order, so it’s probably therapeutic.

“The practice of writing can enhance the brain’s intake, processing, retaining, and retrieving of information. Through writing, students can increase their comfort with and success in understanding complex material, unfamiliar concepts and subject-specific vocabulary.” In other words, writing builds the brain’s muscles, which can then be used for all sorts of cognitive activity.

As you can see, I wasn’t getting anywhere with my questions.

Next, I looked at my writing process. If you were a fly on the wall, you’d hear me belt out a few lyrics with headphones on, then I go quiet, chair-dancing, then silent, all while the fingers are pounding the keyboard. I have an absolute blast!

Could it be that simple? An increase in serotonin induces feelings of happiness. Runners chase the same euphoria. Am I addicted to having fun? I’d say “alone” but we’re not really alone, are we? We’re with our characters, who are as real to us as anyone.

Or maybe—and this is an educated guess, after all the brain studies I’ve read—when we don’t write, our creative brain misses the workout like the muscles of an athlete who isn’t training. What do you think?

If you miss more than a day or two, do you start to feel off? Or do you look forward to long stretches away from the keyboard? 

This entry was posted in #amwriting, #writers, #writerslife, #WritingCommunity and tagged , , , , by Sue Coletta. Bookmark the permalink.

About Sue Coletta

Sue Coletta is an award-winning crime writer and an active member of Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, and International Thriller Writers. Feedspot and Expertido.org named her Murder Blog as “Best 100 Crime Blogs on the Net.” She also blogs at the Kill Zone (Writer's Digest "101 Best Websites for Writers") and Writers Helping Writers. Sue lives with her husband in the Lakes Region of New Hampshire. Her backlist includes psychological thrillers, the Mayhem Series (books 1-3) and Grafton County Series, and true crime/narrative nonfiction. Now, she exclusively writes eco-thrillers, Mayhem Series (books 4-7 and continuing). Sue's appeared on the Emmy award-winning true crime series, Storm of Suspicion, and three episodes of A Time to Kill on Investigation Discovery. Learn more about Sue and her books at https://suecoletta.com

38 thoughts on “#WritersLife: Am I Becoming a Recluse?

  1. I don’t know about all the science, and at this point, I don’t really need any explanations. I like not having to mingle. When we moved here from Florida, I didn’t know anybody, and it didn’t seem to bother me. Whether I’m writing, reading, or working on my new photography hobby, I’m a loner. Our neighborhood has a pot luck once a month, and if the Hubster says he wants to go, I go too. It’s an enjoyable way to spend an hour, and everyone’s friendly, and I’ll converse, but I still don’t remember the names of more than a handful of people. I don’t make it to book club regularly, nor do I do any of the other “things” the women like to organize. Lunches, pickleball, mahjohng. Yes, I’d say I’m a recluse, but it doesn’t bother me, and I don’t feel I’m doing anything wrong.

    • Normally, it doesn’t bother me, either. I am who I am, and I make no apologies for protecting my time. The funny part is, the ones who comment about my absence are the same people who ask if the next book will be ready soon.

    • I’m with you, Terry. There are a couple of places we go regularly, sometimes lots of people, and I have to send in my evil twin to do the conversing. At times, I feel a bit guilty because I’ve known some of these folks 40 years or more. But does that mean I have to talk to them?

  2. I’m definitely a hermit, regardless of writing. I like going out with friends, but my idea of how often to get together is far less than theirs (extroverts. sigh.) & I can never seem to get through their head that I don’t do huge crowd events (like something at a stadium). Time is always at a premium for me so sitting in a noisy restaurant is not a great way to spend time. Plus eating out is expensive. Not everyone has the same budget.

    As to feeling off if you miss a few days writing, yes. I’ve never been able to develop the habit of writing every single day, but in an ideal world 3-4 days a week keeps things flowing. In recent months I’ve only been able to write on Saturdays. Better than nothing, but it is a weird feeling, having to ‘re-introduce’ yourself to your story and characters each week. But I was blessed this Saturday to get in some extra time and it was very productive. Awesome!

    Much better to write more often and stay in the flow. However I’ll take whatever time I can get. 😎

    • Glad I’m not the only one, Brenda! Ugh. Big crowds? No, thank you. When I do say yes to a restaurant, I request the outside deck. Too many people in a cramped dining room is not my idea of a good time. I’d rather be outside with fresh air.

      Congratulations on extra writing time! I’m blessed to be able to write every day. I can’t even imagine having to juggle writing with a second job.

  3. Fascinating questions and answers, Sue.

    “Why would I rather be alone with my keyboard than out with friends? Am I becoming a recluse? Why is writing my favorite activity? And why, when life prevents me from writing, do I feel off?”

    Thanks for the interesting information you cited. I would add these to the reasons given: Some of us may have left jobs where we were “inundated” with people, demands, and responsibilities. Especially if we are introverts, the “escape” into our writing is a refuge from the storm. Also, some of us may seek more meaning and purpose in our life than constant social frivolity. Creating something that lasts and others will read can give us a sense of achievement and serve as a contribution to those who follow.

    I do feel “off” when I’ve been away from writing for more than a couple days. I struggle for that balance of physical activity to keep the body healthy, and writing time for mental sanity.

    Have a wonderful day! Give us short answers, and get back to that serotonin scrivening!

    • Some of us may have left jobs where we were “inundated” with people, demands, and responsibilities. Especially if we are introverts, the “escape” into our writing is a refuge from the storm.

      Clearly, Steve, we’ve hiked the same path. 15 years at a cancer clinic, as much as I loved our wonderful patients, was an emotionally demanding career. My little office overlooking my sunflower garden is just the ticket for me. 🙂

  4. You really nailed it with this line, Steve…
    Also, some of us may seek more meaning and purpose in our life than constant social frivolity.
    As we age, I think, we find more and more meaning and long to share those beautiful gifts.

    Thanks, my friend. I’m heading back into my writer’s den now… Enjoy your day!

  5. I find I have about one hour of “hobnob tolerance” in me before I want to get away from any crowd and back to the quiet solace of my office. And if I miss more than one day, I definitely feel it, like a border collie who needs to be herding sheep to be happy.

    Regarding writing and Alzheimer’s, that nun study is fascinating. As I expressed in a post a few weeks ago, one big reason for not turning over the majority of writing tasks to AI is that it chokes off beneficial brain work.

    • Me too, Jim. After an hour, I’m done.

      Wasn’t that fascinating? Yes, I agree 100%. AI will cause mush brain if folks rely on it to do the heavy lifting. Mine likes to flex, thank you. 😉

  6. Sue, we continue to grapple with your good questions no matter how long we’ve been writing. Yes, I feel off w/o writing.

    Steve’s comment rang the bell for me, also.

    One other reason: in the real world we have little control over what happens. In the fictional world, we control the destinies of the characters. We can right wrongs and mete out justice. That’s satisfying and heartening.

    However, back in the real world, I’m losing loved ones at a faster pace. I say yes to meeting with friends b/c I don’t want to miss an opportunity that might not be there next time.

    • Y’know, Debbie, I’m glad you brought up controlling our story world. It is deeply satisfying to punish the bad guys. Also, like I mentioned to Steve, when we find meaning — whether that be in nature or culture or spirituality — we long to share it to touch lives.

      Sorry to hear that, my friend. That’s rough. {{{hugs}}}

    • BIG motivator–being able to exert control over the fictional world, which we often can’t in real life. 😎

  7. Good stuff, Sue, especially that nun study.

    I don’t like to miss a scheduled day of writing. I almost feel like there’s a hole somewhere I need to fill. Sometimes, like probably later this morning (have to take my dad to an appointment), I take my phone out and use the notes function to catch up with my characters and see what they’re up to.

    Hobnobbing is not something I do well.

    We had to hobnob at a “remembrance” function at my sister-in-law’s house yesterday. Lots of food, about 75 people, 5 of whom I knew. But, I’m glad I went. My sister-in-law and her husband would’ve been married 64 years this year, and she’s taking it very hard. It was good to share the sad with her.

    Writing is great, but sometimes I just have to lay it aside for a short time.

    • Sorry for your loss, Deb. Funerals and memorials are different. We’re obligated to attend, and family time is also precious.

      Isn’t that interesting that you need a break from writing. We’re like snowflakes — no two are alike. 😀

  8. Thanks, Sue. Very apropos.
    We humans have an inborn need to make our deepest selves known to others. We do this with conversation, with writing, and by creating art. It’s no surprise that “talk therapy” has been commonly used for decades to treat mental ailments (though lately insurance companies prefer to pay for pills, instead.) Talk therapy meets that innate need, as well as reveals and heals the underlying issues that plague us.
    But even those who have mostly avoided complexes and neuroses, or the other mental abnormalities we’re subject to, need to connect and share our thoughts and minds with others, to get the inside outside.
    I’m fortunate to have found organizations that assist in this. I have friends I can reach as needed, day or night. I could move thousands of miles away and connect with like-minded others in a matter of minutes, either in person or otherwise.
    I meet weekly with friends at a local bakery to discuss current events. Writing workshops have also played a huge role in my life, as has a church whose philosophy more closely matches mine than the one I was raised in.
    Even so, at heart I’m an introvert. After a gathering, I need time by myself to process and relax.

  9. Insightful post, Sue! This is something I wrestle with. If I miss more than a day or two, things definitely feel off. I do beg off from things with others at times, too, in order to get to my writing. Part of my own challenge is that I have a split schedule for writing right now.

    I’m usually up a couple of hours before my wife, so that’s writing time free in clear, *if* I’m awake enough to take advantage of it 🙂 It’s the classic time before the rest of the world wakes up to use as I see fit. The problem is that I can be up late stargazing (I know, what a shock 😉 which makes early mornings get off to a slow start. Another problem is that I’m a serious news junkie.

    I took Becca Syme’s Writing Better Faster Workshop a couple of years ago and her strong suggestion, to “high input” people like myself, is to stay off the internet until you’ve gotten some words in. When I’ve done this, it’s had results.

    Afternoon is my other time to write, save for the weekends, when it’s right after breakfast. (Of course, if there’s a deadline looming, all bets are off, and my wife is very supportive when one does loom.) So, protecting that time is key.

    I love the image of you dancing around the writing room, then hopping back in your writing chair and typing a storm of words on a particular scene, and then doing it again. Having fun while doing this is so good for body, mind and soul, giving all of your brain a great workout!

    A very inspiring post. Have a wonderful week of writing, my friend!

    • Oh, and I did get in some Moon viewing time yesterday morning, after sun up, but in the shade of my house, in binoculars mounted on a tripod. Some wonderful views of the nearly third quarter Moon.

      • Ooh, I’ll have to check out the pics! Twitter and I have a love/hate relationship ever since Musk bought the site. I haven’t popped in for over a week. Ugh.

        On Thursday night between 10 p.m. — 2 a.m. the Northern Lights will show in New Hampshire. Normally, I’m in bed before then, but I may have to make an exception. Viewing the Aurora has been on my bucket list for years.

    • I understand that conundrum, Dale. I’m an early bird for sure. There’s something so magical about writing before dawn. As you know, I’m also a stargazer. No matter what time I stay up to, my body still wakes around the same time every morning, so late hours and me don’t mix well. Hence why I live vicariously through you and your telescope. LOL

      Yes, I agree about social media. Once I learned to ignore social media till the late afternoon, my word count tripled. Social media sucks the creativity right out of writers.

      Thank you! Wishing you a wonderful week of writing, too!

      • Thanks, Sue! I’m actually taking the step of having a writing-only computer at long last, which will not be connected to the internet (files will be transferred via USB drives) and the only software it will have will be word processing and a music app. This is something Dean Wesley Smith has long advocated, and I finally decided it was well past time to do this 🙂

        • Great idea, Dale! Gotta have the music app. 😉 I research little things throughout the day (for example, this morning, I needed proper women’s attire for a sweat lodge ceremony), so it wouldn’t work for me.

            • Me? Well, as long as my headphones are on, music cranked, I have no problem ignoring the outside world (including social media). I write on a MacBook Pro with separate 20″ monitor. I also have an iMac, but it’s getting old and slow, so I only use it for Zoom meetings. For my playlists, I use Pandora Premium ($5/mo).

  10. Okay, I’ll admit to being the rare extrovert around here. I enjoy being with other people, (I’m the social butterfly at church, flitting from one person to another). Other people, of course, include my characters… 🙂
    And I’ve long known that writing is addictive for me. Just like exercise used to be…well, it still is to a degree, but not like writing.
    Great question for this morning, Sue!

    • Thanks, Patricia! When I was in the nine-to-five-grind, I never considered myself an introvert. Then I moved to the country, and my soul sang. Ever since then, “real” people wear me out.

    • I was definitely an extrovert up until I retired. Now I consider my self an extrovert-introvert mix 🙂 Years ago I attended David Morrell’s writing workshop, and he finished by talking about introverts (like himself) being able to easily go off and write, while extroverts would need to find ways to do so while still getting in their people time. Sage words.

  11. This really resonated with me, along with almost all of the comments. Along with those who have worked in the medical field, I have a not always pleasant history of being that one with the badge who answers when you call 911. So many of the ugly calls we took, upon investigation, turned out to have some kind of personal relationship gone bad at the core. I couldn’t fix anything for those people, many times because it was horribly too late. So in part my writing is to give those people the happy ending they never got in reality–and to make me feel like it wasn’t all hopeless and pointless. And as others said, to live in the world where you have some control, the good guys win and the bad guys pay.

    And I echo the sentiment: people wear me out, give me animals any day!

    • I couldn’t fix anything for those people, many times because it was horribly too late. So in part my writing is to give those people the happy ending they never got in reality–and to make me feel like it wasn’t all hopeless and pointless.

      Those sound like powerful reasons to write, Justine. Good for you! I love that.

      Animals are better people than we are. 😉

  12. Interesting stuff! I haven’t been able to work on any book stuff for about a week cuz of computer death and getting back to normal with new one. But today, I finished my blog for tomorrow post and you know? It felt great. Like getting back to the gym, minus the aches. Must be the serotonin. Thanks for the boost.

    • Good for you, Kris! It does feel good, doesn’t it. I banged out some serious words today in between responding to comments, and I feel fabulous. 😁

  13. Wonderful post, Sue. Sorry to be late, but we’re out of town and offline most of the time.

    I’m a certified introvert. I find a great deal of joy in reading, writing, and studying. This sentence from your article resonated with me: Writing is seen by many psychologists as a means for the brain to know itself. Knowing myself is important to me. (Didn’t Socrates say something about that?)

    I don’t care for large groups of people, but we live in a community where our neighbors like to get together every few months. It’s a little hard for me, but we’ve made good friends here, so we go and try not to talk about our books too much. I also belong to a book club and I attend several classes and lectures that meet on a regular basis. Therefore, I don’t have as much time to write as I’d like, but I do try to commit to a word quota each week.

    I also liked these statements: An increase in serotonin induces feelings of happiness. Runners chase the same euphoria. I can confirm this is true.

    Have a great week.

    • You never have to apologize for being late, Kay. Hope you’re out of town for fun reasons!

      I thought of you when I wrote the sentence about runners. 😉

      Wishing you a fab week, too!

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