Writing in Isolation, Writing in Community

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ATW again features a guest post for this week’s Writer’s Choice Wednesday.

 

We have the idea of the writer alone in her garret, endlessly toiling over the page. Writing can feel like that, and the act of writing is most often necessarily performed in isolation.

Recent thinking, though, recognizes that community is also important. Richard Florida, author of The Rise of the Creative Class, argues that creative people tend to cluster in places that offer “abundant high-quality amenities and experiences, an openness to diversity of all kinds, and above all else the opportunity to validate their identities as creative people.” In other words, creative people like to take in a variety of experiences and hang out with other creative people of all sorts.

That’s close to what neurologist Nancy Andreasen says in The Creating Brain. She argues that some cultural environments encourage creativity and that the important qualities of those environments include a critical mass of creative people. That critical mass means that a writer can find a mentor, be pushed by fair competition, and feel validated for thinking new thoughts.

And that’s close to what Stephen Johnson says in Where Good Ideas Come From. (Watch his TED Talk.) He argues that open environments and serendipity are crucial to innovation.

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Interaction with other creative people and their ideas leads to new connections and new sense-making. Yay, that means some time spent talking with other creative people in the local coffee shop or pub isn’t wasted.

 

Here are the communities I’ve found most supportive for my writing:

  1. A Writing Workshop

A short-term writing workshop can kick-start a project or refocus your efforts. Several years ago, I started writing a novel. Since I had a graduate degree in creative writing, part of me felt that I didn’t or shouldn’t need another class. But I went to a workshop at the Iowa Summer Writing Festival to study novel-writing with Venise Barry, because I wanted the best shot at finishing such a daunting project. I had such momentum after that summer that I returned for workshops with Susan Taylor Chehak, Kelly Dwyer, Bret Anthony Johnston, and Susan Scofield, each of whom is an accomplished writer who helped me focus on a different aspect of novel writing.

 

  1. A Writing Group

After that first summer workshop, I started a writing group. Mostly, I wanted a regular deadline. Being accountable to someone else helped me finish writing and rewriting my novel. At first, we met in person every month, but after two of us moved, we started meeting via Skype. The bonus to our gatherings is that we really support and challenge each other and also, over time, have become better readers of each other’s work.

 

  1. An Online Group

It’s easy to while away hours online that could be spent writing. But Facebook has connected me with other writers I know, and we exchange information about writing that we wouldn’t otherwise. She Writes is another great resource because it hosts groups by genre, region, and other topics and because it’s full of friendly, smart articles and live chats. When VIDA: Women in Literary Arts reported publication statistics by gender last year, I started The Submission Mission on She Writes to encourage myself and other writers to get work into the hands of editors and to value publishing— finding readers —as part of the writing process.

 

  1. Literary Events

I spend part of my time planning and attending literary events because I always leave a reading wanting to write. A writer should expose herself to other voices. Even if the interaction is brief and sporadic, we’re talking about literature at these events, we’re refocusing, and we’re telling ourselves and the world that writing is important.

 

Anna Leahy co-writes Lofty Ambitions Blog and is the author of Constituents of Matter, which won the Wick Poetry Prize. She is an Associate Professor of English and directs Tabula Poetica: The Center for Poetry at Chapman University.

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