Constructive Community

So, I get that writing is fundamentally a solitary pursuit (I mean, that’s at least part of what fueled the desire in the first place, right? One of the few fields that allows applicants to stay at home in their pjs ALL DAY). I get that, but at the same time, it’s hard to keep cheery or learn very fast on your ownsome.

Been trying to figure it out.

Because writing groups—especially those at bookstores and libraries—are sort of inherently useless. Not always, of course, but the intention is amateur: writing for pleasure, writing for self-expression, writing for cooler-than-tennis hobby. So there’s not much pressure, not much focus on marketability, not much time for regular feedback.

I’ve joined a couple of writing groups online. One is a quieter group, and the other much more chatty. It’s been fun to see what other people are working on, and I’ve gotten some good feedback about specific wording, but it definitely doesn’t answer all my needs/wants. Been thinking about it for a bit, and here’s my latest theory.

Seems like there are 3 basic types of constructive communities for a writer. At any rate, I’m benefitting from 3, and it’s been helpful to see each one as providing something necessary without expecting it all from any one group or person.

1. The cheerleaders: The hardest to find, the most necessary, and also totally the least likely to catch a missed comma. Carl is my best cheerleader, always perfectly willing to tell me how fabulous I am, how I am not wasting my time, how it will all be all right and in the mean time there is pizza. My friend Em and I have a mutual cheerleading society—she believes in my writing and I believe in her art pieces. Just chatting with her over the phone gives me new energy.

2. The dedicated trudgers: These are also a rare breed. I don’t know anybody within coffee break distance who’s trying to write for a living, so my best relationships on this head are carried out over email. My aunt is in the query letter stage with her project and my brother is in the early writing stages of his. None of us are published yet, but we know we will be… and in the mean time, three sets of eyes are better than one. We swap drafts, query letters, and tips culled from reading books on publishing.

3. The guinea pigs. This is actually where I’d place my online writing group as well as all the many fabulous and supportive friends who have read drafts of different books. This involves the difficult art of grapeshooting your book to friends and acquaintances who look sort of like they’d Be The Type to pick up your nov and then trying to elicit whatever reactions you can. There’s a veneer of polite interest that has to be scraped off, but very often you can learn something about the general pacing, characters, and plot.

I’d love to say there was a fourth group: successful awesome types who are happy to act as mentors to we small folk. But, alas, those only exist in fuzzy slipper movies. Like Finding Forrester. And The Mask of Zorro.

The rest of us have to figure it out for ourselves.

But, in the mean time, the journey is much better for having all three of these communities. Instead of trying to find the one perfect reader who is unendingly supportive and unerringly right and insanely successful and ready to die for that particular genre or audience… yeah, I try to be realistic.

And be incredibly grateful for all the different bits and pieces that, put together, make up the patchwork writing community that’s been there for me from the start.

It’s nice to have friends.

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3 thoughts on “Constructive Community

  1. Interesting. I’m trying to think of where I fit in all of this when it comes to my mom’s book. I know I’m solidly a “guinea pig” for you, but I think I’m working on multiple roles for my mom. I guess I’m a cheerleader/ guinea pig/ free copy editor/ brainstorming partner/ willing agonizer over the phrasing in a single paragraph and did you know that you already used that word on page 23? Maybe there’s a special category for daughters of writers?

  2. Ha. Very possibly. You know, I don’t think roles are particularly rigid in any category. It was just helpful for me to learn to appreciate any feedback or support without necessarily trying to make any one person into the “ideal reader that I want.”

  3. Rah rah community! I wish there were more golden mentors spontaneously coming out of the woodwork but, in the meantime….whatever you’re actually getting sounds like a plus to me. Better together than alone…and may the network grow.

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