The concept of writing buddies is kind of strange if you think about it. Last year, several of my writing friends and I checked in a hotel for President’s Day. We went to Jersey, where we knew we were guaranteed bad weather and unfriendly locals. While the rest of the country was sleeping in and celebrating, we congregated in a lobby area, surrounded by a scattering of pencils, post-its and notebooks, each staring at a laptop screen. For hours.
Apparently, some people think it strange to spend one’s time this way. The staff got used to us; I guess they liked that we were friendly and also constantly ordering coffee. But the other guests? We got so many weird looks we put up a sign that said, “Don’t feed the writers.”
That got us more weird looks.
But writing friends are strange. Unless you’ve got a co-writer, writing buddies are more like a support group than colleagues. You can’t really help each other; I mean, let’s be honest. Only you can write your book. When you’re faced with the blank screen, having a person beside you facing a blank screen, too, doesn’t take the pain or terror away.
But throughout history, writers have done well by banding together. The American ex-pat community brought together Hemingway and Virginia Wolfe. A writing retreat gave us Frankenstein. Tolkien and Lewis meeting in a pub gave Tolkien the courage to show people Lord of theRings. Also, have you noticed how many writers marry each other? Stephen King met his wife in a writing class.
So why the phenomenon? And what does it mean? Here are a few reasons why we need writing community. And a few ways to find it.
1) Writing is hard
We band together for a lot of reasons, but the main one is that writing is just so darn hard. When a hero goes on a difficult journey, he almost always has buddies. Because journeys are hard, too. And friends don’t just make it easier; they make it better. Even if you know you’ll have to slay the dragon alone, you want support in as many ways as you can get it first.
2) Iron Sharpens Iron
It’s cliche because it’s true. Whether it’s just sitting down and writing words together, keeping each other accountable, or reading each other’s work, having other writers on your team will improve your craft. Having trouble focusing? Grab a buddy and agree to do a writing sprint. You can do this over email, Twitter or Facebook–or in a cafe if you’re working together. Set the timer for thirty minutes. Then check in with each other afterword.
The same concept can be applied on a more broad level. Every time I make a list of goals and deadlines, I email it to my friends. They do the same with me. Knowing you’re accountable to someone else can keep you on task. And it helps to have that outside perspective. Sometimes, if I send a list of goals, my friends will tell me I’m over-shooting. “You always take longer than this, Bess. Don’t set yourself up for failure.” Point taken.
And then, of course, there’s the actual writing. It’s all well and good to have your mom read your work, but she’s going to love it. So is your significant other or your best friend. And if they don’t love it, they probably aren’t going to tell you. Or they won’t know how to tell you. Writers are in the trenches, too. They can be honest in a way our friends and family can’t. And they can probably give better advice on how to fix what’s wrong. And the act of editing is itself instructional. You can learn a lot by reading other people’s work.
3) They’re Not That Hard to Find
There are many wonderful things about living in the age of the internet, even if it can be hella distracting! One of them is that it’s just not that hard to find people anymore. There are so many ways to connect with other writers online as well as in person. Conferences are a place to start. So is Twitter, or Facebook. There are writing hashtags, writing classes, writing Google+ groups.
But it can also be hard to just jump in. That’s where DIY MFA comes in. This weekend, April 5-6, we will be hosting our second writing sprint. It’s great way to meet other writers as well as meet your goals, and all from the comfort of your home computer or favorite local writing spot. If you haven’t signed up, you can do so right here!
Bess Cozby writes epic stories in expansive worlds from her tiny apartment in New York City. By day, she’s an Editor at Tor Books, and Web Editor for DIY MFA. Her work is represented by Brooks Sherman of the Bent Agency. Tweet her at @besscozby, contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit her website at www.besscozby.com.