The Hidden Perks of Solitary Work

Creative writing is nothing like consulting. For the first time ever, I’m working alone.

Writing a novel is like traversing the ocean in a rowboat. You keep on paddling, and you hope that you’re moving in the direction of the shore. But there isn’t much feedback along the way, and mostly you’re by yourself, hoping it’s going to work out in the end.

The good news? I’m starting to appreciate the advantages of solitary work. The pros might even outweigh the cons!

The Hidden Perks of Solitary Work

No More Meetings

Let it sink in for a second. No motherf*%&ing meetings.  That’s probably a weird thing for a facilitator to say, but I bet you can empathize. Meetings can be necessary, and even occasionally fun, but they often aren’t.

I don’t miss driving to a meeting in traffic, sitting with a pleasant smile stapled to my face, and driving back home.

Control of My Environment

When I write, I get to work how I want, where I want, and when I want. Experimentation has led to useful discoveries. I do my best fiction writing between 10am and 1pm, and I my best blogging after dinner. I can double my word count per hour by setting small goals and setting a timer.

Because I’m in control of my environment, I get more done in less time. That leaves more time for other things; more on that below.

Work/Life Separation

Consulting is so intensely social that it leaves me with little energy for personal relationships. After leading a retreat, for example, I come home, get into my pajamas, and curl up like a potato bug. The drained-feeling can last for days.

Solitary work doesn’t impact me in that way. When I’m working, I’m working. And when I’m not, I’m not. My social batteries keep their charge, meaning I can spend that energy with my family and friends.

Creative Independence

Consulting is 90% group work. Even when I build something “on my own”, like a training program, it needs to incorporate the ideas of many collaborators. This is called co-creation, and it’s necessary and good.

The downside of co-creation is that the consultant can become a chameleon, always shifting their style and vision to meet the needs of the people who hired them.

When working alone on a book, I get to make all the decisions. After years of co-creation, this is exhilarating! And while I do solicit input at a few points in the process, my story is still my story.

What a relief to throw consensus out the window, at least for a while! If I want to have a T-Rex bust into my novel and start tossing file cabinets around, I can.

Note to self: Explore T-Rex idea further.

Working Alone, Together

As solitary as writing can be, there still are opportunities for camaraderie.

At my writers group, we sit at wooden tables and drink coffee while working on our individual projects. From the outside, it probably looks odd. We lean forward and sigh. Occasionally someone will smirk or bust out laughing. We stare at our screens, and we frown while we think really hard, and we feel our heartbeats quicken at the good parts.

We might be crossing the ocean in our individual rowboats, but at least we can wave at each other through the fog. That makes the work easier.

Writing isn’t lonely, exactly, but it’s certainly different. As my introvert-self is waking up, and my extrovert-self is looking for friends (instead of clients), I’m discovering all sorts of fun, right outside my old comfort zone.