Why writers need community, Part 2

hands-in-teamwork_headerThis is a myth we often buy into as writers: that it’s solitary work. The stereotype is romantic — the novelist or poet locked into a small room, hunched over a typewriter, pouring inspired verse onto a page. Genius happens in solitude. Friends can be found and parties attended after the writing is published. Whenever that happens.

I don’t buy it.

Sure, we all need periods of quiet and focus to get our work done. But if writing is such a solo endeavor, why do we writers often get so much done in a class or workshop or write-in or group? Company — the right kind of company — bolsters creativity because it energizes and inspired and reminds us that we’re not alone. Others know this path, others can relate to our struggles, others appreciate our efforts and we will not languish in obscurity because we’ve already arrived in community.

This will sound like a conspiracy theory, I know, but I suspect the solitary writer cliché is supported (if not invented) by the writing industry. The big, patriarchal business. That mechanization has convinced so many intelligent people that our fates lie in the hands of just five mainstream publishers — and scores of agents and editors who chose to represent (or, more likely, to not represent) our work based on whim and mood and how pinchy their shoes are, rather than what they know of us as fellow humans in a social or work circle.

Not that those agents, editors and publishers are bad people. They’re writers with writing dreams, too. But we don’t know them, so of course their decisions to represent and sign and publish us have to be based on gut and whim and what the market predicts (Vampire zombies! Dystopian teen romances on Neptune!) because those agents, editors and publishers aren’t in our circles.

We don’t have circles.

We’re in our rooms, alone, typing one-handed so we can cross the fingers on our other hand that this project — this one! — will find an audience.

Let’s stop that nonsense. We need each other. We need to think more like packs and less like lone wolves. When musicians have an idea for a project, they enlist fellow musicians to make it happen. When they’re ready to make an album, if no record label or studio is available, they record in a bedroom or basement or garage. If no booking agent is available to line up a show, they team up with fellow musicians to create a showcase or share a tour. If no publicist is available, they flier and spread the word through friends. Music happens in community and it leans on community beyond the making and performing of the song.

Writers need to do that.

This is what I believe about any literary community: It contains all the editors, publishers, publicists, cover art designers, graphic designers, organizers of shows, emcees, performers and audience members needed to support all of its writers. Community is magic: It expands to meet every need of those who make up its numbers. But the magic can only occur when we ask for it. More to the point, when we ask each other for it.

We have to ask. This is hard for writers — in part because many of us are introverts and in part because we’re well trained not to ask. Just to hope and follow rules and stay in our rooms with our fingers crossed. That’s ridiculous. We need to ask. A lot. We need to get good at stating our needs. We need to get good at stating our dreams. And then we need to dare to dream bigger and ask bigger and, in turn, be willing to answer the big asks of our fellow writers in full faith that by granting the dreams of one of us we are fulfilling the creative desires of all of us.

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