Writers need community. We grow and thrive on collaboration. Yet too many writers shy away from taking part in writing groups, workshops and other community-building opportunities, often due to any number of circumstances or (likely-unfounded) fears. However, if we value continued growth and improvement in our craft, we must commit to finding community with other writers. Our very writing lives depend on it!
In this series of posts, we’ll discuss…
• the reasons why, as writers, we owe it to ourselves and to our fellow writers, to take part in the timeless and global phenomenon of finding community through writing,
• how to go about doing so
• and the common fears (myths) that can sabotage this necessary aspect of our writing life if we allow them to
From the time that writing became a human institution, those who took it on as a serious profession sought the company of other writers. With a few notable exceptions such as Emily Dickinson, writers throughout history have benefited from collaboration with their contemporaries. The exchange of ideas, the encouragement and the unique understanding we can receive from our colleagues, prove invaluable to us again and again. And while we can receive love and support from non-writers, we cannot glean the same benefits, essential to our growth as writers, from any other kind of interaction.
Writing, in theory and ideally in long-term practice, offers one of the oldest and greatest forms of human connection. Authors records their thoughts, ideas and stories and shares them with the world. Every time a reader identifies with something an author created, connection takes place. And readers can bond over their shared interest, admiration and discourse about authors’ works.
Still, writing in practice can feel and literally be isolating. Writers sit alone in their homes, studios or even in busy cafés, pounding away at keyboards. Even in the latter example, being surrounded by other people doesn’t necessarily spell human connection, especially if one is focusing on reaching word count goals, revising or editing. But add even one other writer to those scenarios, and suddenly, two people are working at the same pursuit. They’re each working on their own unique piece, but this time with the sense of camaraderie and connection with another person.
Of course, some writers prefer to work in solitude, and that’s fine, as long as they make other time to spend in community with their fellow writers. If simply “feeling connected” doesn’t seem a compelling enough reason to interact with our fellow writers, consider that conversing with our contemporaries is at least the second best way (next to being well-read ourselves) to ensure our writing remains relevant.
Just as languages and cultures and societal norms change over time, so do writing and editing conventions, literary trends and reader expectations. If we authors hope for our writing to be well-received by readers outside our immediate circles of family and friends, we must, at the very least, be aware of how our work complements the spectrum of writing it will join when published. Whether we acknowledge it or not, whether we like it or not, anything we put out for readers becomes a part of a larger tapestry of modern writing. And no matter how awakened to that fact our readers may or may not be, they’ll sense it in important ways if we’re not in touch with that. Much the same way we should know and respect grammatical rules before we can skillfully and artfully break them, we must know the work of our peers before we can respectfully and inspiringly choose whether or not to diverge from it. Absent an oppressive force (family, government, etc.) cutting us off from society, we have no excuse to remain separated from our fellow writers and their important influence on our work.
How is the influence of our fellow writers important? A better question would be, how is it not? When writers come together and freely share their methods, ideas, strategies and goals, the process uncovers a rare and precious collaborative ore in each. Inspiration bounces around the minds in the room, increasing in both volume and momentum with each ricochet. Our fellow writers inspire us, oil the engines of our muses and help us improve our craft.
As previously stated, throughout history, the great majority of successful writers have sought the company of their peers. One important reason for this has always been the law of averages and the way motivational speaker Jim Rohn applied it to sociology, suggesting, “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” From Shakespeare and Marlowe to Tolkien and Lewis and many others, writers who prioritize spending time with their contemporaries receive encouragement, learn from their peers’ successes and failures and draw motivation from healthy competition or at least inspired emulation.
When we share our excitement, frustration, triumphs and failures with our fellow writers, these experiences magnify and bear more fruit for the souls of our artistry. Much like worship and devotion, the experience of creating intensifies when shared with someone who can truly understand where it’s coming from inside of us and why we do what we do.
Our muses respond to collaboration with other writers by waking to greater productivity. A writer alone may well come up with a brilliant story-line, but wise writer know every story can be improved and every literary arc pushed to the next level of brilliance. Testing our ideas by receiving feedback from our peers most effectively applies that pressure.
As much as many of us take pride in the ways writing makes us different from non-writers, the fact remains that we are human first. As much as we feel ourselves tasked with observing humanity, we perjure and disserve ourselves to deny our own human identity. And as humans, we need community and connection, and as writers, who better to connect with intentionally than our partners in word craft?
Wondering how to go about finding community with other writers? Got apprehensions or worries about doing so? Stay tuned for parts two and three of this series, coming soon!