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The Lonely Academic

Okay, I'm just going to come out and say it.  It can be lonely being an academic.  Academics spend a lot of time on independent tasks that are done alone, such as researching, writing, editing, and grading.  If you’re not careful, you can spend too much time on your own, and it will curtail your productivity.

This loneliness can intensify in the summer months.  Those quieter months you've been longing for are here -- but you sit in the library or the office and realize that it's almost too quiet.  You may feel like you have no one to bounce ideas off of and that no one cares about your work.

Some of you might be saying, “But I’m surrounded by people!”  Or, “I try to work at home, and my family/friends keep trying to get me to spend time with them.”  Or, “I work at my office but other people keep coming in and interrupting me.”

The fact is, you can be surrounded by people and still feel lonely.  If people don’t understand the struggles of academic writing, or are not interested in how you are doing with regards to your writing, you can feel very much alone.

There are several ways to combat loneliness.  We've compiled a few of our favorite ways to make writing more social this summer and to add variety to your routine.

1.    Get out of the house/office

If you work alone, without other people around, you can start to feel like a deranged hermit.  It might sound obvious to say this, but…

You don't always have to work alone! 

It’s a myth that writers become creative only after they hole up in solitude.  In fact, many writers find inspiration from working near others, even if that means just sitting at the same table in a coffee shop and doing different work.

For those of you who are struggling to write productively and who have never tried it, break up your normal routine by working in a library, coffee shop, or even a park!  You may be surprised at how you focus better with the buzz of non-distracting sounds and the feeling of community.

2.    Find a writing buddy.

If you haven’t yet tried writing with a buddy, I highly recommend it. Whether you find someone in your area that you can spend time writing with, or someone that you connect with virtually, this kind of personal interaction is a great way to combat loneliness, and get really productive.  In fact, since this can be such a great help in your writing, watch for our next Academic Ladder ezine and I’ll share some great tips for how to connect with other writers.

3.    Make use of your university writing center and other institutional resources.

One of the best kept secrets of many universities, the writing center, can be an excellent place to go for generating ideas, getting feedback on drafts, and participating in workshops on grammar, clarity, and citation styles.  Although most writing centers focus on helping undergraduates, many are now extending their services to graduate students and even faculty.  You might also ask them if you can come there to work -- some writing centers have a sort of "writer's cafe" hangout approach, complete with cookies and coffee.

4.    Participate in "chat writing" sessions. 

Our chat writing sessions are extremely popular in the AWC (Academic Writing Club).  In these chat sessions, members usually log on at a scheduled time and announce their writing goals, write for a brief period of time, and then come back and say how the session went.  Sometimes the chats will last for an hour or more, punctuated with brief breaks.  The energy in the chat rooms is exhilarating, and chatters usually end their final writing sessions energized, relaxed and inspired.  It's also a great way to bump into like-minded people and exchange ideas.

The AWC also provides coach-hosted Challenge Chats several times each week.  In this way, you have a ready-made group of people, all eager to get support and to write.

You can create this chat room environment on your own in a number of ways.  Contact people you know and suggest setting up a regular chat writing session – there’s no need to explain it yourself; just send them this article! Or go to online forums and find people who are interested in participating, show them this article, and schedule a mutually agreeable time.


The summer can be a great opportunity for completing a substantial amount of writing and research.  You may miss that opportunity, though, if you don't have enough support.   Make sure that you have a plan for social interaction both within your research life and outside of it.  Your quieter moments may become less tedious, and you'll be better able to focus on your work.  You really can make this a summer that is more social, productive, and restful! 


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