In the daily conversation of ordinary life, ‘writerly talk’ has a shelf life of, oh, about five minutes. That elevator pitch (a tidy little one liner you can whip out of your holster whenever someone asks, ‘What’s your book about?’) you’ve tweaked a thousand times over will serve you in both your professional and private life. People who aren’t readers (let alone writers) probably don’t want to listen to you bang on about your recent struggle with chapter fifteen or your triumph of having finally figured out the book’s voice, but they will politely listen to your perfected sound bite, ‘My book is about ….’
We’ve all been on the receiving end of someone else’s well-worn, mind-numbly dull, rant. So be kind. Don’t give that stranger at the dinner party a complete run down of your 200,000-word fantasy WIP. Save those kinds of discussions for your writing group.
(Side note: Not all writers want to listen to other writers talk about their WIP [in extreme detail]. If you’re “discussing” your novel with someone and the only thing they have said for twenty minutes is “yeah”, then they’re probably not listening to you. You can remedy this situation by putting a sock in it and asking your listener how their project is going.)
In general, a writing community can be a superb source of encouragement and guidance (in terms of both the craft and the profession). These communities can be found online through various Facebook groups and forums, through organised departments (with the addition of a small annual membership fee) or with the flesh-and-blood beings in your local region.
Writing can be a lonely business. Talking to non-readers or non-writers about the practice can also be equally lonely.
When you establish or become part of a writing community, there is an unspoken understanding between you and the people around you. You get why Tim locks himself up in his office for three hours every Thursday night to work on his novel. You get why Lucy is so stoked about finishing her draft. You get why Anthony has to write about his complex childhood. You understand their motivations, their small and big wins, their discipline, their disappointments and so on.
Writing communities provide ample opportunities to discuss your work and the craft writing in detail. The ability to talk about your manipulation of tense/voice/structure without having to define what you ‘really’ mean by tense/voice/structure is refreshing. It feels like a slight of hand when you can skip the introductory notes and flip straight to the core of a subject. You can bounce ideas around, get some feedback, give some feedback and exchange resources.
The best writing communities are the ones built on diversity. The ones that contain members working at different ‘levels’ and in different genres and countries. You may be lucky enough to find this kind of community in your region, if not, this is where online communities can be useful. Personally, I’ve found a handful of useful forums where the members are respectful to one another, open about resources and transparent when it comes to their successes and failures. These kinds of communities are invaluable to emerging writers; filled with handy ‘heads-up’ type anecdotes.
On an emotional level, writing communities offer a unique brand of support because every member gets how conflicted life as an ‘artist’ can be. Now, I’m not about to bust out the violins and announce the pity party officially open, because you are in charge of your life. However, that conflict is real.
Any/all artists likely think, at one point or another, ‘Why am I doing this? Why bother? Does the world really need another book/painting/movie/song? It would be easier, and more financially sound, to get a normal job.’
Once an artist announces these communally held concerns, the response is usually a nodding of the head, a few murmured comments about slim royalties, worn-out spouses or utility bills. Eventually though, someone shrugs and says, ‘Yeah, but what else are you gonna do?’
A good writing group, whether it be face-to-face or online, is a valuable resource for a multitude of reasons, but its core strength lies in the mutual understanding between its members: the ‘I get it’.
That is why a writer needs a community.
Image ‘Group’ by Emily Dimov-Gottshall.