The email goes around on Thursday mornings, announcing to all of us in the Faculty Writing Group that we will be meeting again tomorrow, Friday. Sarah will read her short story and if we have time, Sam has a play he’s been working on. Who will be there?
I love getting these emails, even after I moved to a different campus at our college and attending the group became more difficult. Later, when I took time off from writing to attend grad school and then write a dissertation, they kept me on the email list and when I’d see my old friends, they’d ask when I’d write fiction again. They gave me the encouragement only one writer can give to another. When will you write again? When can you come back?
These were things I needed to hear.
I joined the group many years ago, shortly after I began working at the college, and when the faculty learned that I wrote, they invited me to attend, even though I was still an adjunct and not as connected to the college as I would be in the future. Every Friday, we met at 1:00 and workshopped stories, poems, essays, and plays. We have workshopped cartoon novels and flash fiction. We once workshopped a Twitter story. We could bring anything we wanted to workshop—nothing was out of bounds—and the comments and support I received from this group have proved instrumental in my revisions. In fact, everything I have ever published as an adult has gone through this group and their support and ability to analyze my work has made that happen.
This semester, I made it a priority to go back to the group. I can’t always make all of the meetings, but even attending some of them has been rewarding and motivating.
Having a community of writers in your life—whether you know them online or in person—is incredibly important. Writing is such a solitary endeavor, we spend a lot of time in our minds, so good community of writers in your life can help us stay motivated and keep us accountable. While I am sure I would have still continued to write fiction after the dissertation defense, knowing that I had this group in my corner, encouraging me, helped give me the nudge I needed to start up sooner.
A community of writers will keep you accountable. Each semester, we sign up for a day to read our work and have it workshopped. If I know that in advance, I will have something ready, come hell or high-water. Sometimes, a good solid deadline is all a person needs to get going with a project.
A community of writers can also give you feedback to make you a stronger writer. This group is especially good because as professors (mostly English professors although we have also had professors from other disciplines, as well as administrators), they are already skilled when it comes to analyzing literature. They can spot patterns in my short stories, or comment on the unconscious meaning of repeating the word “green” and its effect on the story, or let me know the need to condense several characters into one. Also, if they “get” what I am writing, I know that I’ve succeeded at least somewhat because they understand how to read in a way that many other people don’t. They also point out errors in shift changes that happen, or question a use of point-of-view, or challenge the use of an adverb, all without quashing my desire to write. I trust their advice and while I don’t have to take that advice, I usually do.
Writing communities can also give each other connections or advice. In the group I am in, several members have published a great deal, so when one member has a question about publishing a romance novel, for example, at least one of them will have some good advice to dispense on that subject. I recently encouraged one of our newer faculty to attend, once I learned she wrote. She fretted at first because she did not write “high-brow stuff that should be in the Norton Anthology” but rather romance novels. My advice to her was a) we don’t judge the genre and b) someone there will know what to do about publishing a romance novel. And sure enough, several people had excellent advice for her.
If you don’t have a writing community, it might be worth your while to go find your village. This can be an online group, but I also like the intimacy of speaking with people in person. In the actual world, people can come to your poetry reading, celebrate your novel release, or attend the performance of your play, which doesn’t always happen in an online venue. Still, whatever works for you is the important part. Having a community of friends who also write has possibly more valuable than any education or any word-processing tool. Writing does not need to be a lonely endeavor, done in a vacuum.