Writers Need Other Writers

Quill_and_InkI’m a writer, an aspiring fiction author, an occasional poet, a fairly new blogger, and I don’t know many others like me. I’m talking about others who share my passion for putting words together and watching them come alive. Not necessarily accomplished authors, but regular people in everyday circles who, like me, feel as desperately about writing as I do. Who understand the strange, torturous, tantalizing magnetism of the writing life.

The writing life is a struggle against the self — against silence or too much noise. One aspect that I struggle with most is self-discipline: sticking to a writing routine. Ideas are never a problem. Putting them to paper and not giving up on them once I’ve doused them with ink, that’s when I need the most encouragement. I’m fortunate to have a significant other whose support and faith in my writing never falters when I’m wading in self-doubt, but only writers truly understand the writing frames of mind — the writing life.

I went to grad school for creative writing, to really hone my craft and give myself a chance to evolve as a writer, which I did. When graduation day arrived, my heart was swollen with hope and excitement and motivation and readiness to go out there and be the writer I know I can be. Not only did the program I was in validate the fact that yes, I could sit at the writing table with other writers, it also helped me beyond measure in the accountability department. Structure and deadlines are what I need to keep me from slacking.

But as the years passed (I graduated in 2011), I began to realize that my grad program had provided me with something even more valuable: a community of writers, of other people on the same squiggly path as me. quote-Mary-Gordon-it-was-actually-a-womens-writing-group-181318_1People with whom I could learn from and grow… and connect. I missed the writing workshops.

I think no matter what your field, no matter what your passion, you need to surround yourself with people who are on your similar journey. It’s not vital to your success, but it helps. Writing especially is such a solitary activity, and although our characters keep us company and our obsession with our writing topics distract us from loneliness, sometimes you just need someone to talk to about your progress or lack-thereof. Someone who understands the craft to give you feedback with a writer’s eye. I think this is especially important for aspiring authors like myself, who yes, write for themselves, but who also dream of their work being read one day, and dare I say, enjoyed. (More on this dream later.) Mentors are important no matter what your pursuit, but I’m more so talking about a community that can help you thrive. Communities provide context and nourishment.

Something interesting happened to me last year. I had finished a short story draft and was feeling rather ecstatic about it. But I needed a reader… I needed… feedback. I don’t have any writer friends, as I mentioned, but I do have reader friends. So I called the one friend I thought could give me the best critical feedback because we both share a similar appreciation for good language and literature.

I gave her my awkward little infant of a story and waited. When she finally responded, it was so interesting to see the kind of feedback she had given. I realized she had basically written a literary analysis on my story — which was wonderful to read! — but it didn’t give me specific feedback I could use to improve my draft. It certainly gave me insight into how a reader would perceive my story, which was enlightening, but there’s an art to reading as a writer — to giving feedback as writer, which I hadn’t realized completely until that moment. That’s not to say I won’t ask this friend to be my reader again; the experience simply gave me some interesting perspective.

2692992498_0889df0aeeWriters need other writers.

Whether it’s an online community (WordPress bloggers, you are amazing!) or a writer’s workshop or writer’s group or just one single writing friend — writers need other writers.

We need each other because only we can understand one another. Only we can give the craft-specific feedback that non-writers aren’t as apt in giving. We need each other because writing is hard, and sometimes (a lot of times) we need to commiserate — or celebrate! — with someone who understands. We need each other because we can encourage each other in ways non-writers can’t.

Writers, after all, inspire other writers. That’s why I’m a writer to begin with. I fell in love very early on with reading, with the written words of writers. And when you have a writer friend in your life, or a group of writers, the mere fact that they’re writing is encouraging to you because you don’t want to be left behind. Their writing becomes inspiration for you to write. Their writing tells you… hey, you’re a writer too… so get to writing.

Also last year, my aunt connected me with a writer friend of hers on Facebook. She said hey, this  person is a writer too, and she blogs, so I thought you two should add each other because you seem to have a lot in common. So through that virtual introduction we became virtual friends. And every time I saw this new virtual writer friend of mine share her latest blog post, it lit a flame — a small flame — but a flame, to my fingers. It inspired me to see another writer, just like me, writing. Every time she shared a new post it put up a mirror to my own journey as a writer.

Now, I know that comparison is the thief of joy. I know that the writing world is overwhelmingly competitive, that reading a peer’s marvelous work can make your confidence cripple, that jealousy is a very real thing in writing circles (there’s a whole chapter on jealousy in Anne Lamott’s wonderful book Bird by Bird), but I also know that it takes tough skin to survive the writing life, and that only great writing can inspire great writing. And hey, as ugly as it can be, jealousy is a part of life, not the end of it.

I suppose this post was inspired by the fact that I recently made a writing friend. We’ve been getting together to share each other’s works-in-progress, and holding one another accountable as a result. We both struggle with self-discipline, we’re both desperately in love with writing, and we both just needed another writer in our lives to gently nudge us with encouragement and inspiration to not give up on our many drafts.

When I gave my writer friend the same story I had given my reader friend, she said something so simple that I wanted to get up and hug her (but that would have been weird because, I mean, our friendship is still new). I have a vision to expand this story of mine into a longer work, so as we discussed where and how I could revise my draft, she said: don’t revise what you have, just keep writing; write what comes next. Don’t write backward, write forward.

That has really stuck with me because as all writers know, the mere thought of tackling a revision project can be paralyzing. better-writer-graphic-560x724

But just keep writing, is what she told me. Because as a writer, she knows the struggle well. She knows that the number one rule to succeeding as a writer is to just keep writing. I have plenty of those just keep writing quotes plastered around my room and on my computer’s desktop. But the fact that it came from her, another writer, somehow made all the difference to me. Somehow fueled me with the motivation and courage that… she’s a writer, she knows… and if she can do it, I can do it too.

There are many things we need as writers. Coffee. Good conversations. Overheard conversations. Snacks. Long walks. Long nights. Plenty of books and reading time. No interruptions. Readers. The perfect writing nook or desk or pocket book. Sharpened pencils. A favorite pen. Every writer needs something different.

But for me, other writers, it seems, are what have been missing in my writing life; other writers, I’ve found, add much fuel to my writing fire. Joining WordPress and following other writer’s blogs has given me so much inspiration, as well as a platform and community.

So thank you for being a part of my journey, WordPress bloggers! You have truly helped me become better and more accountable to my blog and to my commitment to the writing life. Do you have any writer friends? Does it help you to have a writing community? Do you wish you had one? Or do you disagree with this notion? And how do you feel about receiving feedback from writers vs. non-writers?

And while I’m on the topic of community and inspiring one another, I highly recommend this fantastic blog as a resource for aspiring authors.

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Writing is Hard (and other writerly problems)

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Writing is hard.

It’s the process of extracting with tweezers the intangibles (thoughts, dreams, ideas, images, emotions) from your mind and heart, and molding them into beautiful tangibles (inked words on paper) that not only have to make sense to another mind, but must provide a certain level of enjoyment, deemed worthy of a reader’s time.

Forget inspiring your reader to revelations, evoking thoughts and epiphanies. That will grow on its own time… later.

You just want to write.

You just want to create the conditions by which your reader will keep reading beyond the first few lines… keep reading the words that you poured so much of your blood into… so much of your blood… that you’re now lying dizzy and dehydrated, hallucinating slightly… and not water, not love, not fresh air, not a child’s hug or a cat’s purr can bring you back… because what you really need are more words… more words from your churning imagination.

Perfect words.

Writing is hard.

It’s excruciating, and feels near impossible sometimes.

It can drive you to madness… to doubting yourself (am I even a writer? Why am I doing this to myself?!)… to talking to or about your characters as though they were real human beings… to laughing out loud when your characters say something funny, only to realize… that you’re alone on your couch with your dog, and your laptop is burning your lap, and you’ve been holding your bladder for hours and you haven’t eaten since morning and you’re somehow sitting in darkness and your neighbors can see through your window, and they’re waving at you.

Writing is hard.

It’s walking through a dark room, hands along the wall, and each word you find is a light switch that makes the room a bit brighter, so that you can finally see the window on the other side, and make your way to it; the window that will show you the world from an angle that makes sense… so that you can finally understand… something… a little better.

Writing is hard.

It’s a thrill. To see your mind’s fruits BECOME. To CREATE… and then cast that creation into the world. 

Here! you yell from the mountain top, wind tousling your hair. Here is a piece of me! And you rip that piece of you from your chest, and it drips. Here is my offering, my sleepless nights and daily ponderings! Here is my contribution to the endless stream of consciousness that envelopes and connects us all!

Only for your book to end up in a used-book store with a $2.00 price sticker. All that agony of pulling images from your brain and surgically manipulating them onto a page, of saying no to friends and family because “I can’t, I have to write”, all that despair of wondering if this is the right idea, the right word, the right way to frame this scene, the right pace, the right allusion, the right calling for your life…

All that, and your book ends up in a donation box somewhere, or worse— a recycling bin— or worse— an attic or basement— dusty, unknown, forgotten.

And you just want to write.

You don’t want to be forgotten.

Isn’t that what writing is, partly? A validation of sorts? A confirmation of I Am Here or I Was Here?

You need only to scroll through social media to see how much people want that validation… that desire to be heard… that platform on which to announce to the world: I AM HERE. I MATTER. THIS IS WHAT I HAVE TO SAY. DO YOU SEE ME? I AM HERE.

Writing is hard.

You just want to create an oasis in a world of chaos. You want your book to be a refuge, a parallel universe unaffected, though very much inspired, by the truths and lies and questions of life. A safe place to visit. A place of comfort and enjoyment, but also a place that stirs you.

A place that reassures you: you are not alone in this wonderful explosion of thoughts and emotions and experiences. You are not alone and you are not crazy. And if you are crazy, then by all means be crazy. Be fabulous crazy. Be brave crazy. Be you.

Writing is hard.

But when you write…

Write with all your heart and blood and soul…

Write like your blood cells are letters in every single language that ever existed, and you’re the only translator left…

Write like it’s an involuntary bodily function, like your lungs need it more than air…

Write until you fall to the floor in hopeless exhaustion, then close your eyes and let your dog sniff your face (because that’s what dogs do and you love your dog), and when your dog’s done sniffing, sink into beautiful sleep, where your imagination can play and wander in your dreams, unbridled… where your words can simmer and bubble in your mind’s subconscious.

And when you wake up, head straight to the kitchen to make coffee— strong coffee— then sit your ass back down and write some more. Because you’re a writer, dammit. It’s what you do.

Also, don’t forget to eat. (And take your dog out.) You’re only human, after all. Don’t be so hard on yourself.