In all of the advice I’ve seen given to aspiring authors and writers working on their craft, the one I would have sneered at most as a teen is the suggestion to find a writing circle and interact with other writers and their work in a constructive way. I spent so much time with completely un-fit minds to deal with writing in a constructive way that the thought of turning over my work to the minds and red pens of others terrified me. I got into a habit of ignoring about 95% of all advice so-called ‘peers’ gave me about even the most menial of work. Sure, I showed a friend or two the occasional poem, looking for someone to stroke my ego, but that was the extent of it.
I finally understand what it means to be a part of a writing community. It’s not signing up for a creative writing class, although that can be fine. It’s not even necessarily joining your local creative writing club. These can be useful tools, but it’s not the same thing. From my experience, having a writing community is to have a group of people, mostly writers, who are willing to read your work no matter how long it is and give you their honest, specific opinion about it, looking for ways to improve it. These are people you trust, not only not to steal your words but to neither hold back their true opinions about your work or try to impose their own writing style upon you.
It can take years to assemble a quality writing community. I’ve been fortunate to get a workable (albeit small) writing community in less than a year. E. M., my co-author, is so familiar with my writing style at this point that she can work incredibly well with my work. We almost never argue about anything and we know how to work well with shared work as well as our own separate pieces. Natalie, my lovely friend and editor, has yet to ask me to look into her work (although I’m more than thrilled to do so when that day comes), but she’s done a fantastic job of giving excellent, objective input on my work. The second she worked her magic on a short story of mine for the first time, I knew we were going to have a very long-term writing relationship.
From there, most of my readers are friends, family…. But my friends are incredibly intelligent, critical readers. It’s useful to have non-literary readers look over your work, because the majority of the readers who will pick up your book will not be sophisticated writers, trained in their craft. That’s my friends S and A. And then, my family. My mother, my sister, my brother…. My brother is probably more in the ‘friend’ category in that he is a bit too young to have much of a sophisticated opinion of literature, but he’s very creative and knows what he likes. That’s valuable. My mother and sister, apart from being incredibly well-read, are incredibly familiar with my writing, having edited and worked with me on pretty much every essay I’d written until I reached college. Nobody knows my writing better. What’s more, my sister is working toward her PhD in English, so she’s sort of the authority on literature as far as my writing circle is concerned.
Right now, I’m sort of dominating the attention of the people in my circle. I’m doing quite a lot of work at once. BUT, I know that E. M. will require my attention very soon, as will Natalie. The important thing is that no matter how much help you get from others, you are willing to do everything you can to help others, because you never know when tables turn and they’ll need you.
Just something to think about. A writing community doesn’t have to be a cookie-cutter experience. It can be the group you make it into. In fact, it’s probably more effective that way. But no matter what your writing community looks like, it’s important to have one. You don’t live in a box. You shouldn’t write in one, either.