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Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Why Writers Need Community

OK, enough about goal-setting.  We'll probably come back to concrete goals and holy grails now and again, but today there's something else I want to talk about: community.

There's something about writers that makes them flock together.  This isn't just a new phenomenon either.  Think of the Abbey Theater in Dublin or the Algonquin Round Table in New York.  Writers just seem to find each other, as if through instinct.  And yet, unlike many other arts, writing in itself is a very solitary activity; after all, no amount of community will sit down and write that novel for you.  Why then, if the bulk of the work must be done on one's own, is community such an important part of a writer's life?
  1. It will keep you sane.  Belonging to a group of like-minded writers will help keep you centered during those moments of solitary madness (and we all have those from time to time).  Whether this community is a critique group or an online network, having other writers around will keep the lonelies from creeping up.
  2. It will keep you accountable.  Writers know when other writers are working and when they're just blowing steam.  If you have writer friends who ask you about your work, it will help keep you honest.  After all, there's only so many times you can say to another writer "well, uh, I'm still stuck on chapter 3…" before you start losing your street cred and start looking like an @$$.
  3. It will give you perspective.  Sometimes it feels like everyone else in the world is getting published except for you and that's because the whole publishing universe is out to get you and make you feel worse than pond scum.  Um… not.  Seeing other writers try and fail will help remind you of reality: writing is hard work, but worth every bit of it.
  4. You'll have someone to commiserate with you.  Let's face it, writing is tough and publishing is too.  Sometimes we all need a good sulk and having a community will mean you'll have a built-in network of people who can sympathize.  These are people who won't give you weird looks when you tell them that you hear your characters' voices in your head or that a minor character just hijacked your entire plot.  These are the people who will pat you on the back before they give you that loving shove back to the computer.
  5. Finally, it means you'll have someone to celebrate with you.  And these are people who will understand that finishing a short story is just as much reason for celebration as getting a publishing contract, that it's just as important to celebrate the small successes as the big ones.  They know because they've been there too.
Over the next few weeks Tuesdays will be our day for focusing on building a writer's community.  Not every type of community works for every writer.  Some of us prefer live, face-to-face meetings with a critique group.  For others of us, conferences, writing organizations or classes might be great places to connect with fellow writers.  And let's not forget the wonders of the internet.  These days you can do almost anything online that you could do live: exchange critique, take classes, even have face-to-face conferences via webcam.

In Creative Community we'll be looking at a few of these options--their pros and cons--and how to make the most of these various communities.  By the end of it, my hope is that everyone will have the tools to find the right community for them, if they haven't already.  And if at the end of September you find that community is not for you, well then maybe you're one of those rare birds that just likes to fly solo.

And that's totally OK.

Today's Question: Do you think writers need community?  If so, what do you think is the most important thing writers can get out of connecting with other writers?

11 comments:

Caroline Starr Rose said...

YES! Retreats can fuel me for months, and having a group of writers who know my weaknesses and can point them out -- it's essential.

darksculptures said...

Community is important. Even for the go-it-a-loner.

In many ways I’m one of those loner types. I’ve learned most of what I know about structuring my stories from writing classes and self-study. However, recently I came to a decision that it was time to take a deeper look at my own work and I’m ready to accumulate a few writing partners that are willing to work close enough to become intimately familiar with each other’s writing style and voice. I’ve yet to decide if I’ll do that with a face to face group, or as part of an online community. That’s why I’m here; to see what will work best for me. :)

That said, I know nothing of the publishing industry and I spend a fair amount of time listening in and sometimes participating in online conversations with other writers. The vicarious experience these conversations provide is probably THE most valuable thing I’ve gained, so far, from my small online writing community. Although I admit, it is nice to have a few sympathetic ears when I drifting in the doldrums.

A Lil Sumpin' Sumpin' said...

Great post! I agree with everything you have said. I also think talking through a plot or character arc with someone before you write a thousand pages or when you are stuck at page 1,003 can be very helpful. You will get a million ideas and suggestions, some of them will even compete with one another, but even if, in the end, you take non of them, having had the collective brainstorming session has always been helpful to me.

gabi said...

Hooray for writing communities!

Caroline: Oh, I've always wanted to go to a writer's retreat. Is there any in particular you'd recommend?

Darksculptures: I totally agree with other writers being a fantastic source of information. I'm so glad you mentioned that point because it's very important. While every writer's path to publication may be unique, you can learn a ton of tips and tricks along the way by listening to what other writers have to say.

As for finding a group that's right for you, we'll definitely talk about the different options here at DIY MFA and I hope you can find an option that fits what you need!

ALilSumpinSumpin: Thank you! I totally agree with what you said about brainstorming and I love a good brainstorming session. In fact, I think some of the best critique sessions I've ever had have been when they morph into brainstorming. I find the mindset of "how can we make this work?" to be so much more productive than "this is what's not working."

Sonia said...

I definitely agree! A writing community can keep you on track and offer you support when you need it! Maybe we can start a google group DIY MFA one? : )

Lisa Gail Green said...

Of course we need community! Writing is wonderful, but it's only half the picture. We need community for support through the ups and downs and also to learn from. SCBWI for example. I would have never learned anything without joining them and participating online and at conferences. I met my crit group through their boards.

Shaddy said...

I believe we need community to keep us sane as you mentioned in this blog post. Interacting with other writers just plain feels good.

Caroline Starr Rose said...

I've always enjoyed weekend SCBWI retreats. One of my favorites was a revision retreat led by Darcy Pattison.

Look local, too. Though I write for children, I spent three years participating in a conference hosted by a local university. It was wonderful.

gabi said...

Sonia - That's an intriguing idea. I'm thinking it would be fun to start a DIY MFA community of some sort, especially for after DIY MFA comes to a close. I'm not too familiar with google groups but let me investigate and ponder this for a bit.

What everyone think? Would you be interested in participating in some sort of post-DIY MFA writing community? If you like this idea or have any thoughts on this, email me: iggingabi(at)gmail(dot)com

Lisa - I think SCBWI is a great example. What I love about that community is that even though it's so huge, it feels friendly and familiar.

Shaddy - Hear, hear!

gabi said...

Caroline - I love the SCBWI conferences so I'm sure the retreats would be fantastic! I'll have to look into that for this coming year.

Looking local is also a great idea (and easy for me, since I live in a big city... I'm sure they have plenty of retreats going on in and around the big apple). Thanks!

Janice said...

Other writers get what you're going through; the good and the bad.

I need my writer friends. My AA (angst & adventure) group are amazing. I value their support, their honesty and I need them to be my cheerleaders. We meet once a month and are in regular email contact.

I’ve just become a member of YA_RWA on yahoo groups, and seems like another wonderful community.

I’d be interested in a post DIY MFA group.

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