I assume that, for most of us, writing is a solitary pursuit. Even if we meet up with a friend to write at a local coffee shop, in our spurts of creativity I imagine that the majority of us are quietly, frantically pecking away at the keyboard. This isolation can be quite necessary. I know that, for me, silence and lack of distractions are critical for any creative output. However, the writer functioning only as an isolationist can be detrimental to our work. Sometimes we get too close to our writing and think that, of course, the setting is clear, and of course, we know these characters’ names/motivations/importance when it is completely nonsensical to an outside reader.
Enter in our community, our team, our tribe.
I didn’t know anyone until the MFA program that I could share my writing with, beyond sending something to my mom and waiting for her honest opinion (best writing ever!). I felt alone in the process, confused in my identity (am I really a writer?), and unsure whether my choice to pursue the craft more purposefully was wise.
Let’s look more closely at the benefits of a community, whom you should include, and ideas on where to meet fellow writers.
What a Community Can Do for You:
• Improve your Writing: This may seem obvious, but your work will certainly benefit from having first readers. I know that I can send my writing to a select group of folks and that they will return feedback that is honest, tactful, and spot on. As I said above, sometimes we just need those outside eyes to pinpoint what is stunning and what is simply “meh.”
• Confidence Boost: Your community can help you to seize opportunities that we may otherwise talk ourselves out of taking. Want to write that scandalous short story in second person? Bet they’ll encourage you to do so. Too timid to pitch an agent during a time that’s appropriate? Undoubtedly your crew will give you a friendly push into the pitch.
• Support after a Rejection: I know when I whined on Facebook about a recent rejection and my ensuing existential crisis, my writing community shared their own experiences and encouraged me. They reminded me that rejection is part of the process. They took more time out of their day than I deserved to tell me to get back in the game. And, with their help (and a generous pour of Chardonnay), I felt much better.
• Social Companions: These are your friends. Email them. Call them. Share your dessert with them. Schedule happy hours with them.
The Composition of a Community:
• Although mothers can be wonderfully supportive people, DON’T include them in your writing group for obvious reasons. (See above.)
• If there is someone you know that you don’t feel safe sharing with, someone whose snark is a little too, well, snarky, then DON’T offer up your writing. While I treasure and need honest critiques, I believe that it should be provided in such a way that one does not leave feeling like a failure.
• DO include the writing friend you admire. Is there someone whose work you feel you could learn from? Are they strong where you are challenged? We learn by reading the work of others, and this type of person would be a great addition to a writing group.
• DO include the writing friend who “gets” your style…and the one who doesn’t. The two provide balance. Where one may offer validation, the other can function as our red team, i.e., they can help us to see what isn’t working. We need to stretch ourselves as artists, and if we include writing we “get” and writing we don’t, then ultimately we can improve.
Where to Find Your Tribe:
• Check your local newspaper for groups or search meetup.com.
• Investigate your state’s various writing organizations and see if they host monthly lectures or meetings.
• Network at conferences. Perhaps you can find a fellow writer with whom you have great chemistry. Schedule meet-ups or writing exchanges via email if unable to meet in person.
• Get to know other writers at open mic nights or at book store events.
• Attend local writing workshops. This will give you a chance to read others’ work and see how they provide feedback.
How to be a Good Member:
• If someone reads your work, return the favor. Give the piece careful attention, and don’t zip through it just to put a check in the box.
• Be timely in returning their work. If you say you will get it done at a certain time, stick to your commitment. If you can’t meet the deadline, be courteous and inform them you’ll be delayed.
• As mentioned above, be both kind and honest in your feedback. Don’t only discuss the negatives you see; be sure to point out the strengths as well. In the counseling field, we often utilize the “sandwich” feedback method, meaning you begin with a positive note, focus on challenges in the middle, and then end with another positive note. That way the writer is eased in and out of the critique.
So, what does everyone think about being part of a writing community? What advantages or challenges have you come across when working with other writers? How did you meet your group? Sound off in the comments section below!