Friday, June 01, 2007

BJH: A Community of Writers

Every author knows that writing is by its very nature a solitary experience. We sit alone in front of a computer for hours at a time, day after day, week after week, month after month. In order to produce finished manuscripts and tend to all the other writing and business-related tasks, we accept the fact that this is the way it has to be.

Accepting the reality of our solitary existence, though, doesn’t mean that we don’t at times need something more. Human nature, even that of the most introverted, peace-and-quiet loving writer, sometimes craves community.

Some of us need a connection with those who can understand and appreciate the unique and often quirky needs inherent to the writing life. Others may crave just the opposite: an ongoing association with non-writers.

Unfortunately, it’s that fundamental need for solitude and quiet, combined with the other disciplines and demands that make up a writer’s day, that can lead to a lack of community, a lack that in enough time can become detrimental to our emotional well-being—and, oddly enough, to the writing itself. If we’re not careful, we can spend so much time alone, writing about the lives of our fictional people, that we fail to communicate or develop relationships with real people. And when that happens, the vitality of the life we try to reflect on the pages of our books may dim and weaken.

Whether we’re most comfortable in the company of other writers or seek out companionship with those in non-related areas, we need the experience of sharing and giving (and receiving) within a community. There are more opportunities available to us than we might think, but we first have to consider our personal needs and preferences. Some thrive in critique groups, and not always for the purpose of mentoring or sharing ideas and suggestions, but for the friendships that can develop in a smaller group. Others might prefer one of the larger writers’ organizations. Some of these extend nationwide with hundreds of members, but many also have regional chapters that provide for smaller groups and more frequent contact. Book clubs can also offer community to writers and readers alike. More and more churches are incorporating book clubs into their planned activities, as are public libraries.

It’s easy to take a shortsighted view of this and not look beyond the obvious. If we’re in search of a writers' community, the inclination may be to look only nearby—within our own city and neighborhoods, in a local critique group or university. But the opportunities for community and networking don’t necessarily need to be local. The internet provides numerous outlets for writing-related communities in the form of organizations, critique groups, message boards, book clubs, publisher-sponsored chat groups, and other professional associations. Often some of these online affiliations lead to spin-off groups that become communities within communities.

Instead of professional associations, for some the choice for community is family, friendship, or church-related ties, including civic organizations and charitable endeavors, or just loosely scheduled get-togethers and even occasional weekend getaways with loved ones.

My observation is that writers tend to favor professional associations over civic ties, but that perception extends only to those writers with whom I’m familiar--and many of those are active in both their local communities and in writers' groups nationwide. It would be futile for any one of us to endorse a particular area of community for someone else, because what might be fulfilling for me won’t necessarily work for you. For example, some writers are greatly enthusiastic about their critique groups, and for various reasons. Although these groups tend to draw new and aspiring writers who are looking for constructive advice and even criticism on their way to becoming published, you’ll also find some seasoned veterans there who enjoy mentoring and simply want the companionship of other writers. Others—and I’m among this group—have learned that talking about their work drains them of a certain measure of energy and can have a negative effect on their writing. Again—what’s best for one isn’t always best for another.

Another example: book clubs of a certain type are difficult for some authors, because writers tend to do a great deal of research reading, and so when we do have time for recreational reading, we like to make our own choices and read at our own pace. Reading the “assigned” book and spending an entire meeting discussing it isn't the way all of us want to spend our “free” reading time. But again—it’s all about what appeals to the individual. That’s the point: for those seeking community, there is something for each of us, and sooner or later most of us recognize the need to be a part of the community where we best fit.

Writers, like those involved in other professions, aren’t meant to be altogether solitary, to be alone all the time. Find your place—and fill it.

BJ Hoff writes from her mostly quiet office in the company of her mild-mannered golden retriever and a not-so-quiet, slightly deranged cat.


At 8:05 AM, Blogger Richard L. Mabry, MD said...

As always, a thoughtful and insightful post. Thanks for sharing.

At 9:14 PM, Blogger Illuminating Fiction said...

A wonderful post, BJ.

This is something I have been thinking on of late. I spend a majority of my time within the four walls of my home office, cut off from much of the community. It seems most of my "human" contact these days stems from online forums and writers groups.

There are a couple of days a week when I go out and connect with real people - church, teaching Bible In Schools, kids sporting commitments, etc. But often it isn't enough.

I crave the company of other writers, but that isn't easy here. Most of my writer friendships are online, since those I "mingle" with are in American.

I do belong to our local Christian writers group, and for me the reasons are purely social. It's the only chance I get to discuss writing in person with like minded people. The lady who runs the group even commented the other week that she wondered why I bothered with the meetings. She felt I was more advanced than the rest of the participants and couldn't see what I could possibly get out of the group. It's connection. It's the need to be with people who understand the need to write.

As much as I need to be isolated to write, I still need that connection with like minded people.

At 11:30 AM, Blogger Southern-fried Fiction said...

That's why I write a couple times a week at an Internet cafe. I love the white noise - it doesn't distract me like home noises do.

I've always been a people person, so the solitary part of writing is hard for me at times. But I have a local ACFW chapter and two book clubs I belong to, besides all the church related activities.

Between those and a couple of writers conferences a year, I'm good to go! :o)

At 7:40 AM, Blogger Angela said...

Lovely post, BJ, and so true. We have to walk a fine line to balance the social needs and the need to be solitary and get the work done. And I suspect that line is in different places for each of us, depending upon whether we are more introverted or extraverted.

But I love my writing friends as well as my "real world" friends. We need both.


At 5:03 PM, Blogger Karen Putz said...

I recently started writing more at home and I'm finding the solitude both comforting and isolating. So my breaks lately consist of going out to lunch with a friend. I find that noon break gives me a much needed boost for the rest of the day.


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