Break Free from the Chains of Isolation:
How to Live the Full Writer’s Life

You’ve seen the cover of the Accelerated Program, right?

The picture of the guy at the beach, enjoying a carefree day of casual writing under the umbrella, piña colada in hand?

It’s the classic image of The Writer's Life, and a fitting one at that.

Well, I'm here to tell you that's not just a cliché. Since becoming a full-time copywriter almost two years ago, I've actually done the sitting-under-the-coconut-palm thing.

Not on a regular basis, but I've done it. (More often, I do the work-in-your-pajamas thing. So far I haven't been able to convince Katie or Rebecca to use that image on the cover of the Accelerated Program.)

I've also enjoyed the perks of working with …

  • No boss
  • No dress code
  • No interruptions from coworkers
  • No noise
  • No phone calls
  • No set schedule
  • No limits to how I work
  • No limits to where I work

It's a beautiful thing, this Writer's Life! If you've experienced a slice of this life, you know what I mean.

You get to spend more time with family and friends on your terms, not your employers. You get to do creative work without a boss breathing down your neck. You get to be a rugged individualist. Forge your own path. Carve out your own destiny.

This may shock you

But, if you're just diving into this freelance lifestyle or testing the waters, let me unveil a dark little secret …

Working by yourself is hard.

You won't hear us self-reliant types admit this too often. But the fact is, working as a freelance writer is hard.

A big part is the isolation.

It's not natural to be by yourself for long periods of time.

The average person doesn't function well in isolation. You have to be determined. Self-motivated. Focused.

Which is why The Writer's Life isn't for everyone.

I thought it would be easy. I had a 16-year background in direct sales. I spent 50-60 hours a week without any direct supervision.

This is different.

In that job, I still had regular interaction with my prospects and clients. As a freelance writer, you really do work long hours without any specific direction, and often for long stretches without face-to-face interaction.

Back in 1624, John Donne wrote, “No man is an island, entire of itself …”

In other words, human beings do not thrive when isolated from others.

And therein lies the problem.

When the masses join the rush-hour traffic, we're in our cozy home offices. When friends are stuck in endless, boring meetings, we're creating masterpieces (in our own minds, at least).

When others are getting performance reviews, we're giving ourselves a pat on the back (and a raise, to boot!).

So, those very things that make The Writer's Life a joy also present a set of serious challenges:

  • Loneliness. Yes, the work of a freelance writer can be downright lonely. This is especially true for extroverts, but even introverts aren't immune. You can't get around the fact that writing requires large amounts of time alone. And if you thrive in an atmosphere of lots of social interaction, this can be tough.
  • Lack of direct supervision or direction can limit your productivity. The job of a manager is to get more production out of a person than they would on their own. It's the same reason we use personal trainers and life coaches. Now, if you can find a good writing coach, hire them! If you're in the beginning stages of your career and it's cost-prohibitive, I have an alternate solution below.
  • Solitary work inhibits communication skills. As a freelance writer, you need to do a lot more than write. You have to market yourself to clients and network with other professionals. Skills that are hard to develop when you're holed up writing in your office doing what you do best.

If you're not careful, these challenges can be like chains. They'll keep you isolated and hold you back from achieving your full potential.

So how do you overcome them? How do you enjoy all the benefits of The Writer's Life – time freedom, flexibility, creative expression, huge income potential – while conquering this isolation giant?

It's not as hard as it may sound.

Here are three ideas to help you really live the full writer's life. Plus one overarching solution that can help you stay super-connected as a solitary writer:

A cure for loneliness: leave the house!

Obvious, you say. Well, the key is to make your time out of the office productive.

First and foremost, whether it's business or social, meet with people on your terms. Meet at a convenient time and place for you, and be selective about who you spend your time with. Ideally, meet with prospects or professionals you can network with.

If you can, schedule social interaction into your daily schedule. I'm a regular at a local independent coffee shop, same time and same table every day. I only spend a few minutes in small talk (I'm there to write, after all), but I feel like I'm getting out in the world and out of my office "cave".

Besides just getting out of the house, I highly recommend meeting with colleagues once or twice a year at conferences. There's a huge advantage to sharing ideas, swapping stories, and networking in person versus online.

I wouldn't miss AWAI's Bootcamp for anything, and I'm stoked about the upcoming Web Copywriting Intensive in San Diego! My wife is coming along, so she'll finally get a glimpse of what this copywriting deal is all about. And I heard that Rebecca is guaranteeing I'll leave with a paid web writing assignment! Can't beat that.

No boss? Maximize your productivity immediately

This may sound like the opposite of the carefree, flexible, anti-corporate writer's lifestyle you crave, but it seems to be the norm for the most successful copywriters I know:

Establish a very specific routine, and stick to it.

I can hear the protests already.

"But I'm a writer. I like to go with the flow." Or, "I don't like to be locked into a

schedule. I have too many conflicts that come up."

I felt the same way.

But then Michael Masterson sold me on rising early. Bob Bly showed me the value of every hour of my time, and has made over six figures for twenty years (over half a million each of the past two years). Other successful copywriters I heard at Bootcamp like John Forde and Jen Stevens talked about their writing routines.

I figured they all knew something I didn't (and they all make just a bit more than I do).

All I know is, when I established my own daily schedule, down to the minute, my productivity immediately doubled.

Up at 5:59 a.m. Write three pages of anything before 7:00. Breakfast and shower. (No pages written, no breakfast – I'm a tough boss.) Take kids to school. Write copy from 8:30 to 11:00. Work out and lunch from 11:00 to 12:30. Write from 12:30 to 3:30. 3:30 until 9:00 is family time. 9:00-10:30, write some more. Go to sleep by 11:00.

Do I always stick to it? No. But the closer I do, the more I get done. If you have a full-time job like I did for three years while I wrote on the side, it's even more important to do this.

Establish a definitive schedule around your other commitments, and you'll ramp up your productivity and your income.

Improved communication skills = higher writing income

Dan Kennedy was the one who impressed upon me the need to do more than just write. If you want to make more money, you need to learn how to market yourself, sell yourself in person, and network effectively.

Since being a good writer is just part of the equation, consider getting involved in outside organizations. Toastmasters International helps you become a better public speaker. Social Media Breakfast is a great face-to-face networking group (and it's currently in over 40 cities nationwide). I've enhanced my skills and even gotten business directly from being involved in these groups.

Taking a leadership position in these types of groups will develop your non-writing skills even further, and possibly lead to more connections and future work.

Finally, my #1 secret weapon if you are a freelance writer who wants to stay more connected … combat the loneliness of solitary work … network with like-minded professionals … pick up occasional projects … take your business to the next level … and develop skills you can parlay into an additional service and revenue stream …

Social Media: The Golden Ticket

Okay, I know social media isn't a substitute for real, live interaction. But even if I never ventured outside my home office, I would feel connected with others because of Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

More important, it helped me land two copywriting projects before I even knew what I was doing.

I have to admit. Until recently, I didn't have a clue about social media.

But now that I have Nick Usborne's How to Become a Social Media Expert, the sky's the limit.

If you haven't already, make social media your secret weapon for 2011. This one is going to be big.

You're not alone

Take these four steps to address the challenges of working by yourself, and you'll soon be living the full Writer's Life.

I'll be there, too. Under the umbrella on the beach, sipping a piña colada, in my pajamas.

The Professional Writers’ Alliance

The Professional Writers’ Alliance

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Click to Rate:
Average: 4.9
Published: February 14, 2011

22 Responses to “Break Free from the Chains of Isolation: How to Live the Full Writer’s Life”

  1. Hi Steve I enjoyed your article...communication is mandatory in any business,especially with copywriting ...I know I need to network with like minded people...my problem is to find someone to network with.
    I have many questions that go unanswered...
    in the process of getting started...
    Regards Larry

    WinfieldsbestFebruary 14, 2011 at 9:17 pm

  2. Steve, I really enjoyed this piece. I especially appreciate seeing the time for yourself (working out) and family time.

    Hubby handles the morning drive with our sons, and I have what I call "Domestic Bliss/Duty" time from 3:10 to 7. Carpool, school and sports events, dinner and laundry are unavoidable, so I try to make them fit during this period. Part of the reason I work from home is to be available for family.

    I'm curious. Do check email/make calls at a specific time too?

    D SeifertFebruary 15, 2011 at 3:03 pm

  3. Thanks for the excellent article, Steve - especially for your honesty! Agree with your point about a strong schedule, and glad you set yourself a good period of family time. Didn't see any space in your schedule for sport, reading or taking part in the local chorale!
    Your 9 hour per day goal reminds me of the strict regimes of managers - only you are your own toughest taskmaster - no writing - no breakfast!
    Isn't there a real danger of surrendering much of one's hardwon freedom to that age old taskmaster of making ever more money - the most insidious taskmaster of all?

    Guest (Bill)February 15, 2011 at 4:32 pm

  4. D Seifert - I talked to Steve, who asked me to pass on this response:

    Hi, thanks for your comments!

    I try to only check email two or three times a day: noon, 5 PM and before bed. I have to admit, though, I'm not a stickler on that. I'll answer client phone calls as soon as I need to, but I don't talk on the phone to anyone besides clients except off hours. The phone rings non-stop all day, but most don't leave messages, so it can't be that important!

    Glad you're making it all work, too. It's a balancing act, isn't it? Press on...

    Steve

    Angela Bickford - AWAIFebruary 16, 2011 at 11:15 am

  5. Hi Steve! This is a lovely article. The writer's life is all about balancing work life and family life. Keep it up!

    Guest (Maryanne)February 18, 2011 at 10:03 pm

  6. Steve:

    How you spend your time: what a useful post to understand and appreciate that fact.

    I liked the way you have detailed your daily routine. It is quite interesting.

    You have tried to maintain work-life balance.

    Your need to earn a living has not interfered with your family time and your hobbies and interests.

    There are a lot of people out there who would consider you a role model.

    I feel that I have a lot to learn from people like yourself. Cheers to you.

    Archan MehtaMay 14, 2011 at 5:40 am

  7. I must have deleted it somehow.Willcheckbacklaterl

    Jim BowdenJanuary 15, 2012 at 2:07 pm

  8. This article highlights valid issues people should consider in their quest to work from home. Most people are not fans of isolation, but for those who are self directed, working without constant distractions and interruptions is an attractive prospect!

    Becky EllenAugust 10, 2013 at 12:20 pm

  9. I've been doing the work-in-your-yoga-clothes thing since 2005. For reasons I'm never going to question, working without supervision has never been an issue for me; I remain productive. Sometimes, however,I get bored with what I'm working on and original thoughts stop downloading into my brain. That's when I pack up my laptop and leave home to go work elsewhere; I find it starts me back up. I've worked from beach restaurants, noisy local coffee shops, the library, my boyfriend's couch, pool side, my patio, my sister's house, a hotel lounge in Vegas, a cafe in Paris, a picnic table at the park. The point is that, by taking my body away from my desk, my brain is forced to see things with "new eyes" and gives my creativity that jolt it needs.

    SilvianneApril 30, 2014 at 10:56 pm

  10. Steve, that's something I could have added to my own post. I did notice that I get almost laser-focused when I work from a busy coffee shop. It's an interesting phenomena. Any idea on why that is? It seems we'd be more distracted, yet the opposite happens.

    Guest (Silvianne)May 1, 2014 at 5:31 pm

  11. I have to admit. I never thought established writers had such trouble with isolation and the works. Thanks for the article Steve. You just gave me another reason to try again.

    VondervieJune 26, 2014 at 9:23 am

  12. Great article, Steve! I totally agree that one does need to "get out of the house" every day or you will go crazy...I'm just working through the Direct Response training now, but have had problems with isolation before and it's NOT fun - but just made a new friend with your "Coffee Chat with Steve & Kat" buddy in Austin :)

    Doug in TXSeptember 19, 2014 at 9:28 pm


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