Shop Talk: combating writers’ isolation

Photo of Hilari Bell



By Hilari Bell

The other day, a fellow writer told me she was beginning to suffer from “writer’s isolation,” and wanted to get together with other writers—but also that, with everything else that went on in her life, any getting together she did would have to come out of her writing time. So, she asked, was she better off taking time to talk with other writers? Or should she spend that time with the seat of the pants on the seat of the chair, writing? After all, that’s what writers are supposed to do. Right?

Not necessarily. Yes, you have to work to protect your writing time, or it will vanish. But that feeling of isolation is common among writers, and totally justified. It wasn’t till I quit my library job that I realized what a deep-seated, universal need humans have to “talk shop.” It’s very important to be able to discuss your work with someone who understands. And no matter how hard they try, your family and non-writing friends probably can’t.

The best way to combat writer’s isolation is by joining a writing group, like the WildWriters, who have taught, sustained and inspired me for almost thirty years now—but my friend wasn’t wrong about the time commitment a critique group entails. First, it often takes a quite a bit of searching to find a good group, and then you not only have to go to the meetings, you’re also committing to finding time to critique other peoples’ work. Mind, the value you get from a good group is well worth it—and I’ve found that I learn as much or more from critiquing other peoples’ work, as I’ve learned from having them critique me. If it’s a good writers group, I promise you, you’ll learn more than enough to make the time spent worthwhile. If it’s not a good group…keep looking.

But if your time is too limited, or you haven’t found a good group yet, you can still combat writer’s isolation in ways that will use up less of your precious writing time. The SCBWI puts on a lot of events, from monthly schmoozes that only last a few hours, through workshops and presentations that can last several hours to several days. And if you can swing the time and the money, a big multi-day conference like PPWC can be very worthwhile. One thing that a lot of writers don’t realize is that the business of writing is also complex and full of pitfalls. And the place where most of us learn about the business side of writing is at conferences, from our fellow writers. Writing conferences are where I’ve learned, not just the things that I knew I didn’t know, but also how much there was to learn that I didn’t even guess I needed to know.

Yes, if your time is limited—and for most of us it is—going out and connecting with other writers means that your novel will get finished more slowly. But:

1) If you take time to interact with other writers, and fight that feeling of isolation, you’ll have more energy for your writing and be less likely to burn out.

2) You’ll pick up all kinds of information that will make your writing better.

And 3) When your book is finally done you’ll have a better understanding of where and how to sell it—and that matters.

So take the time you need to get together with other writers—and talk shop!



  1. And then when you have news to celebrate, you have people to cheer you on! Some days, even with a great critique group, I have to go write in a coffee shop just to be reminded that there are other people in the world!

  2. Hilari,

    Sometimes I miss my day job! Leaving it was the right decision, but the Wild Writers are now more important to me than ever. A good critique group does indeed do so much more than just critique.


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