What do writers need almost more than anything else to enjoy a happy, creative, and successful long-term writing career?
It’s not instruction from a bestselling author, a top-notch laptop computer, or a winning lottery ticket, though these can all help.
Instead, to manage the ups and downs of the writing life and to keep producing their best work, writers need good writing friends.
“Every writer needs a support group of other writers,” says writer Pat Zietlow Miller.
There are a number of reasons why. Other writers are the only ones who really understand what we’re going through. They get the struggle, the highs and lows, and the endurance that’s required. They can push us to get better, and support us when we get bad news.
“Writers get each other,” says freelance writer and editor Alycia Morales. “My writing friends understand me as a creative person. They know what it’s like to face a blank page and the joy of a box of books showing up at the front door.”
“I can’t talk to my ‘normal’ friends about the voices in my head,” says Michelle Mueller on The Sarcastic Muse. “Well, I can, but they give me funny looks.”
Writing friends understand what it’s like to juggle writing along with everything else going on in our lives. They can help us figure out what works and what doesn’t, share new ideas and new writing tools, and even provide a little tough love when we need it.
At the end of the day, it’s often our writing friends that keep us writing, which might be the greatest gift of all.
But while writers are familiar with most of these benefits, here on Writing and Wellness, we know that friends can do even more. Beyond supporting, encouraging, and motivating us, they can also help us to stay well while we navigate this difficult world of writing.
In fact, if we let them, our writing friends may make it possible for us to expand our life’s work—by actually helping us to live longer.
Science Shows the Isolation Kills
Scientists have been doing quite a bit of research on social connections lately. They’ve discovered that friends can be just as important to our long-term health as diet and exercise.
Isolation, on the other hand, can do just the opposite—worsen our health. A 2009 study, for instance, reported that isolation was associated with lower levels of physical health. A later 2010 study went even further, stating that being isolated could actually increase your risk of an early death.
Participants with stronger social relationships, on the other hand—no matter their age, gender, or initial health status—were 50 percent more likely to survive than those without them.
A 2016 study took it even further. This time, researchers wanted to find out why friends are so critical to lifespan. They found that social isolation increased risk of chronic inflammation by the same amount as not exercising.
Chronic inflammation is connected to many of today’s major diseases, including heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. Isolation also increased risk of high blood pressure more than other risk factors like diabetes.
Other studies have found that isolation affects not just mortality, but other factors that contribute to our health and well being. It can increase risk of sleep problems, heart disease, and depression, for example, and even more concerning for writers and other creative artists, actually interfere with mental functioning.
Feeling Lonely Not the Same as Feeling Isolated
Since many writers are introverts and tend to spend a lot of time alone, it’s important to understand the potentially detrimental affects of being too isolated.
If we can become more aware of our need to be social creatures now and then, we can better take care of our physical and mental well being.
Feeling lonely now and then, by the way, isn’t the same as feeling isolated. Scientists made that distinction in a 2014 study. They followed about 6,500 people for a period of about six years, and found that the most socially isolated were 26 percent more likely to die than those with more active social lives.
Feelings of loneliness, however, were not linked with risk of death. The researchers stated:
“This finding suggests that the subjective experience of loneliness—often thought to be the psychological manifestation of social isolation—is not the primary mechanism explaining the association between social isolation and mortality.”
In other words, we can all feel lonely now and then. Socially isolated people, however, are less likely to have friends or family around that can tell when they’re not feeling well, for example, or who can encourage them to get medical attention when they need it.
Those without these important people around may also be less likely to enjoy the benefits of touch, which studies have found to be restorative and to actually help ease stress and reduce inflammation.
Loneliness can be connected with social isolation, but it doesn’t have to be. It’s the isolation that is most dangerous.
The answer is more time face time with loved ones and friends. Studies over the past couple of decades show that such time can provide the following health benefits.
5 Ways Good Writing Friends Benefit Writers
1. Longer Life
As mentioned, strong social connections can help us live longer. A large review of 148 studies found that they were important to health and well being, so much so that they could affect lifespan. (People with stronger social relationships had a 50 percent increased likelihood for survival.)
Researchers explained that when we have good friends, they help us better deal with stress, which can have lasting beneficial effects on our health. This can be especially true with writer friends. Writing can be a stressful occupation, and sharing the struggle with others who get it can help dissipate a lot of that stress before it wreaks havoc on our health.
“My collective of freelancing friends don’t just help me out,” says freelance writer Sue White, “its members regularly save my sanity.”
2. A Healthier Heart
Recent studies have found that good friendships and relationships help support a healthy heart.
Research presented at a 2015 American Heart Association meeting, for example, showed that participants who encouraged and supported each other saw positive changes in their heart health.
Other studies have shown that having few or no close friends increased risk of having a first-time heart attack by 50 percent. Participants who had few friends also had a harder time recovering after experiencing a heart attack.
Heart disease remains the number one killer of both men and women. In addition to eating well and exercising regularly, maintaining strong social ties may be one of the most important things we can do to keep on tickin’.
3. A Smarter Brain
Most of us want to keep writing as long as we can type on the keyboard (or write words on paper). Unfortunately, having few friends could mean that our brains give out before we do.
Studies have reported that people who have few friends or who feel lonely are more likely to suffer from dementia. Over the course of one study, for example, lonely people were 1.64 times more likely to develop dementia than those who weren’t lonely.
Researchers don’t yet know why this happens. One theory is that friends stimulate us, through activities and conversation, and lack of mental stimulation can increase risk of brain stagnation. Another is that friends help us stay more active, in general, and overall health is linked with brain health.
So if you’re struggling with a plot point or can’t pinpoint your antagonist, it may be time for lunch with one of your writing friends. They may help you jostle that block free so you can get back to work, all pistons firing.
4. A Slimmer Waistline
Many of the writers who’ve appeared on Writing and Wellness have talked about their struggles with weight.
It’s very easy when you’re sitting at the keyboard for hours every day to pile on the pounds. Friends can help us avoid that unhealthy outcome. Studies have found that since it’s more fun to work out with friends, we’re more likely to stick with our goals if we’re sharing them.
In addition, losing weight is actually contagious. If your writing friend is walking every day and talking about her healthy diet, you’re more likely to want to look into these activities yourself.
One study of over 550 overweight and obese adults, for example, found that those who participated in weight-loss programs where 2-7 people from the same social network participated together in weekly activity sessions with trained health educators lost more weight and trimmed their waists more than those who simply tried to lose weight on their own.
Another reported that having a friend or two working together greatly affected people’s weight loss goals for the better. So if you’re having trouble getting up and out for your daily walk, ask one of your writing friends. Working together could not only help you both lose a few pounds, but walking has proven to help stimulate creativity, as well.
5. A Better Mood
Creative types are prone to mood swings, right? We’re more vulnerable to depression, they say, and most of us wouldn’t argue.
We’d also like to avoid feeling down, and good friends can help. According to a 2015 study of adolescents, people who had good friends who were mentally healthy (and not suffering from depression themselves) cut in half their risk of developing depression, and also doubled the likelihood that they would recover from depression over a 6-12 month period.
The important thing here is that the friends had “healthy moods” or were generally positive. So if you’ve recently received a rejection or a publisher said “no” to your full manuscript, don’t call up that writer friend who tends to be a little melancholy. Choose instead the upbeat one who will empathize with your feelings, but help you see the bright side of the situation.
Tips to Find More Writing Friends
Our writing friends can be true blessings in our lives, but do be careful. Studies have also shown that “negative” friends, or those who tend to ruminate about their troubles or engage in unhealthy behaviors, can bring us down, and make us more likely to suffer as well.
Look for positive, upbeat people who are going the way you want to go. If you haven’t found them yet, consider these tips:
- Join a writer’s group, or start one of your own. “A few months ago,” says writing business and productivity instructor Jamie Raintree, “I started a local writer’s group and I can’t even begin to tell you how much it has meant to my happiness, my health, and yes, my writing. You see, the more strong connections you make with people, the more you feel valued, increasing your self-esteem and confidence.”
- Join a professional writer’s organization, such as an area writer’s group or your city or state writing association. Choose one that has local get-togethers that you can attend.
- Attend a writer’s conference. Network while you’re there, gather up email addresses, and stay in touch after it’s over.
- Reach out on social media. Most likely, you’ll find writers in your area. Be the person to suggest a meet and greet, and see where the connection goes.
- Attend readings and signings. Most bookstores regularly host these. Attending and showing interest in another writer’s work can help you make a lasting connection.
Realize that it may take time to find those writers with whom you really click. That’s okay. As Charlotte’s Web author E. B. White said, ““It is not often that someone comes along who is a true friend and a good writer.”
In the meantime, maintain your social media connections, regularly attend writing events, and keep your “non-writing” friendships alive. Though writing friends sustain us, all good friends are healthy for us.
“Good friends, good books and a sleepy conscience: this is the ideal life.”
Do your have other ideas for finding writing friends?
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Julianne Holt-Lundstad, et al., “Social Relationships and Mortality Risk: A Meta-analytic Review,” PLoS Med., July 27, 2010; 7(7):e1000316, http://journals.plos.org/plosmedicine/article?id=10.1371/journal.pmed.1000316.
Yang Claire Yang, “Social relationships and physiological determinants of longevity across the human life span,” PNAS, January 19, 2016; 113(3):578-583, http://www.pnas.org/content/113/3/578.
Tanya Lewis, “This common characteristic may be as big a risk to your health as smoking,” Business Insider, January 4, 2016, http://www.businessinsider.com/how-social-isolation-affects-your-health-2016-1.
Mala Szalavitz, “Social Isolation, Not Just Feeling Lonely, May Shorten Lives,” Time, March 26, 2013, http://healthland.time.com/2013/03/26/social-isolation-not-just-feeling-lonely-may-shorten-lives/.
Julie Beck, “Friendship, for a Healthy Heart,” The Atlantic, January 23, 2015, http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2015/01/friendship-for-a-healthy-heart/384746/.
Gouin JP, et al., “Social integration prospectively predicts changes in heart rate and variability among individuals undergoing migration stress,” Ann Behav Med., April 2015; 49(2):230-8, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25212509.
“How Friendship Can Improve Heart Health,” WTVY News, November 10, 2015, http://www.wtvy.com/news/headlines/How-Friendship-Can-Improve-Heart-Health-344783992.html.
Stephanie Castillo, “Heart Attack Survivors Who Have No Friends are Worse Off; the Health Benefits of Social Support,” MedicalDaily, September 30, 2014, http://www.medicaldaily.com/heart-attack-survivors-who-have-no-friends-are-worse-health-benefits-social-support-305748.
Chris Woolston, “Health Benefits of Friendship,” Consumer HealthDay, January 20, 2016, https://consumer.healthday.com/encyclopedia/emotional-health-17/psychology-and-mental-health-news-566/health-benefits-of-friendship-648397.html.
Karen Rowan, “Loneliness Linked with Dementia Risk,” LiveScience, December 11, 2012, http://www.livescience.com/25446-loneliness-feelings-dementia-risk.html.
Hill, et al., “Spreading of healthy mood in adolescent social networks,” Proceedings of the Royal Society B, August 19, 2015; 282(1813): DOI: 10.1098/4spb.2015.1180, http://rspb.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/282/1813/20151180.
“It’s Easier to Lose Weight with Family and Friends, Study Finds,” CardioSmart, November 25, 2013, https://www.cardiosmart.org/News-and-Events/2013/11/Its-Easier-to-Lose-Weight-with-Family-and-Friends-Study-Finds.