This week at DIY MFA, we shift gears a little to talk about community. There’s something about writers that makes them flock together. Like if you put two writers in a crowded cocktail party, they will inevitably find each other, almost like they have this fine-tuned writing radar. A “wradar” as it were.
This isn’t just a new phenomenon either. For as long as there have been writers in the world, there have been communities of them joining together to share their work. Think of the Abbey Theater in Dublin or the Algonquin Round Table in New York. And yet, unlike many other arts (music and theater, for example), writing in itself is a very solitary activity. In the end, 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 so important to a writer’s life?
1) Community will keep you sane.
Belonging to a community of 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 that meets in person or an online network, having other writers around will keep you from getting so sucked into your work that you lose that all-important sense of reality. (Wait, you mean my characters don’t actually exist?)
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 @$$. Online networks such as ROW80 or #amwriting on Twitter can help spur motivation and provide accountability.
3) It will give you perspective.
Sometimes it feels like everyone else in the world is getting published except for you. In your mind if feels like this is because the whole publishing universe is out to get you and make you feel worse than pond scum. Um… no. Contrary to popular belief, published authors don’t just connect their brains to the computer with a USB cord and pour out finished versions of their novels. Every writer has a moment when they want to give up (either that, or slam their fist through the computer screen). 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 a shoulder to cry on when things get rough.
Let’s face it, writing is tough and publishing is probably even tougher. Sometimes we all need lock ourselves in our room, play some angry music at top volume and sulk. (I have a playlist entitled “Bite Me” for this very purpose.) Having a community will give you a built-in network of people who can sympathize when you’re going through tough times. 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, you’ll have someone to celebrate the big (and little) victories with you.
Only writers will understand that finishing a short story is just as much reason for celebration as getting a publishing contract for your novel, that it’s just as important to celebrate the small successes as the big ones. Unlike non-writers, who will probably only “get” it when your book finally hits the shelves, writers know that the journey is a long one, so you might as well celebrate even the tiniest of milestones. Why do writers know this? Because they’ve been there too.
In DIY MFA, we’ll be discussing various different types of communities so you can choose what works best for you. My goal is also that as DIY MFA grows, it can become a community hub for everyone who wants to participate in the project. This week, think about the writing communities you are part of–or wish you were a part of–and consider how you can build more interaction into your writing life.
There is no one-size-fits-all community that works for every writer. Some of us prefer live, face-to-face meetings with a critique group. For others, conferences, writing organizations or classes might be great places to connect. And let’s not forget the wonders of the internet. These days you can exchange critique, take classes, even have face-to-face conferences via webcam. You may even find that community is not for you, that you’re one of those rare birds that just likes to fly solo most of the time. And that’s totally OK.
The important thing is to recognize the benefits that community can bring to your writing and find ways to connect with like-minded writers that fits your style.