Out of the Void: Writing Communities

I was going to write this post later in the week, but @LizCanTweet had to go and be all awesome and supportive over the weekend and so inspired me to write it today. By the way, in addition to being able to tweet, Liz writes a brilliant blog on myths and fairy tales, so do check that out when you’re sick of my babbling.

There’s always a low level fussing going on regarding the value of MFA programs/creative writing in academia/blahblablahwhiningwhatever. I get really, really bored with these discussions because they take away from the key element here, which is, y’know, writing.

I’ve blogged a lot about my MFA program, so I won’t rehash. This isn’t a defense of that system. It’s a discussion of what communities mean for writers. MFAs provide one such community. Certainly there are other ways to acquire writer friends. The point, to me, isn’t where you acquire your writing support system. It’s that you have one. And in my experience, there are a few different kinds of people who make up a successful support system. (I won’t name-drop here because that feels tacky, but you know who you are.)

A key part of any writer’s development is, I’d argue, a mentor. At least one. I have a handful because I’m lucky and also because I did an undergraduate writing degree and an MFA, which put me in touch with lovely supportive teachers who give me advice and encouragement even now that I’ve graduated. But in general a mentor is someone who’s already established, who knows the ropes and can confidently give guidance and counsel. I’ve learned an incredible amount from my teachers, inside and outside the classroom. Outside of school, you might find a mentor in the local arts community or even in your workplace, if you do anything writing oriented.

But you don’t just need someone to look up to, you need people to egg you on. These are peers (like my friend Liz). They might be classmates or members of your writing group or friends you made at a conference. These are the people who read over your first drafts and send you notes and generally kick your butt into gear when you need it. They’re writers, too, but they’re also new and struggling and if you do it right (a little competitive but not bloodthirsty), their successes will feel like yours and vice versa. Because you struggled through together.

And what of those successes? They put you in contact with industry people. Editors. Publishers. Agents. This group grows as you become more established, but they’re also important to those of us starting out (emerging is the nice name for it). These are the people who are going to take a chance on you, who will see something in your work they like, and even though they have no conception of who you are, they’re going to include you in their projects. Many of them are writers as well, so they get it — trust me. Thus far, I’ve had an amazingly positive experience with these people. If you think editors are evil, you couldn’t be more dead wrong.

Finally, you have non-writers. For me, this group is my family and some of my friends. (Although, having now written this, I’m having trouble thinking of friends I have who aren’t writers after some fashion.) They might also be coworkers, fellow volunteers, community members with whom you connect. These are the people who will love you whether you sell a million books or none, who may or may not read your work, but support you all the same.

Basically, what I’m getting at is this ridiculous image we have of The Writer, all alone at her desk in the wee hours of the morning or late at night, scribbling away in isolation. Yes, writing happens in solitude, but it doesn’t happen in a void. Because when you come out of the office, you need people there to support you, to read your draft or maybe just pour you a glass of wine on a bad day. People who will believe in you when you just can’t. Who will cheer you on–because it isn’t an easy undertaking and we all need people to cheer us on.

Who’s in your writing community? How have they helped you? How have you helped them?

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5 thoughts on “Out of the Void: Writing Communities

  1. Oh god I’m blushing. You are the sweetest. (I know, things you never thought you’d hear…)

    Couldn’t agree more on the importance of a community. There’s no point in writing if no one ever sees it. And you really don’t want your first critique to be the editor you submit to. Plus, having people demanding more changes and/or more chapters is the best motivator of all to get off your arse and actually write the damn thing.

    As far as the relevance of MFA programs… yes, it’s a bit problematic to self-insulate. But that’s true of everything, and it’s hardly fair for writers to catch a disproportionate amount of that flak. And if it puts you in touch with more people to join your support system, and with people whose writing you enjoy reading, well, that’s its justification for existence right there.

    (Also, proving my point rather nauseatingly, you should know that your post and aforementioned awesomeness is basically the only reason I wrote a blog post today. You = sweetest. And awesomest. FYI.)

    • Careful with the niceness. We might collapse the universe or something. You know the sun runs on our snarky banter. 😉

      It blows my mind when people send around what are clearly first drafts. I want to find them and shake them and ask, “Who let you do this!?! Who failed you!?!” Other than, y’know, the writer him/herself.

      And yeah, even the greats had people to nag them–usually other writers. It’s important, nagging.

      Point made VERY nauseatingly. But I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t pleased. Blog facilitation FTW. \o/

      • Duly noted. Computer, run program at ludicrous speed.

        Just remembering some early drafts of stories from workshop… I would be mortified if some of those ever saw the light of day untouched. And it’s not like revising is a walk in the park, but you do it anyway, because you have to, because you are a WRITER and that’s what we DO. (“Obsessively nitpick is what you do?” “DAMN STRAIGHT.”) And I’ve never even sat on the other side of the desk and read the first-drafty efforts submitted in all earnestness. There should be a Writers Anonymous group that stages revision interventions.

    • Formatting will always get you in the end. XD

      I mean, that’s the point of drafts, isn’t it? If we had to be brilliant out of the gate, no one would write anything ever. And I’ve come to really enjoy revision. You’re right, it can be a slog, but it gives you the space to really think about what you intended to do, what you managed to do without even realizing it, and how to get the best story out of the two.

      Writers Anonymous FTW. “Hi, my name is Julia.”

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