I see it happen sometimes, especially on social media. One writer recommends a book or tool or blog, and then that person’s community recommends the same thing, and then they recommend, and so on. This is beautiful. It’s lovely. It’s powerful. It’s community.
But community can also be incestuous.
It can close us in. Make us insular. It can mean we develop a kind of group-think, and group-think is BAD for writers, especially, because it means we produce boring, unoriginal, imitative work.
I know this experience first hand. I went to an amazing Christian college, and I loved every minute there. Many of my closest friends are people I met there. I learned. I grew. I found a way to live my faith that was true for me. But I wasn’t often challenged. I wasn’t pushed to meet people who didn’t hold – at least in the most foundational of ways – the same worldview as I did. To a great extent, this was my own doing. I didn’t want to leave campus – it was safe and insulated – I called it “bubble world,” and I liked my bubble.
But my bubble sheltered me too much. So when I left the bubble, the full reality of the world smacked me up side the head. Suddenly, I knew people who were openly gay, people who didn’t believe in God, people who weren’t always that fake nice that so many Christians pretend to be.
So when I went to get my MA and then my MFA, I suddenly had to learn how to be. No longer was it okay for me to just say easy things. I had to push. I had to relearn how to think and explore and challenge ideas because it wasn’t acceptable to just use a Judeo-Christian model of the world. I had to have logic and evidence for my ideas.
On my first day at Antioch University, where I got my MFA, my workshop group consisted of people who were writing about their first lesbian love affair, living in a house haunted by Charles Manson’s victims, having sex that included a variety of vibrating toys (a pig comes to mind now), and the repeated killing of baby mice in a South Dakota farmhouse. I had written about how I felt I had to sneak away to read Madeline L’Engle’s Walking on Water at my Christian college because it felt subversive. Whew! I sat stupefied most of the workshop.
But those two years at Antioch, well, they opened my heart in the most profound of ways. I found that I could develop deep, lasting relationships with people whose worldview was quite different than mine, and I found my worldview shifting – not in the basics of my faith – but in the hardline dogma that almost my whole life had taught me. My judgmentalism fell – largely – away. It was beautiful.
So when I see us as writers recommending the same books or the same tools or the same blogs, when I hear us saying we won’t read certain things because they’re hard or non-Christian, when I see us judging other writers because they don’t write the same way we do, I cringe. Because I know what it is to be a part of that bubble. I know what it is to think we’re protecting ourselves by staying in it. And I know what it is to take a giant pin and burst that sucker – there’s beauty, and friendship, and growth, and Christ out there. We need but see it.
For me, the way out was to push myself. To trust that I could open myself up and not be in danger, that my faith would be intact even as it was stretched. Now, my writing community and my life in general is full of people who challenge me even as they hold me up. I’m a blessed woman.
When do you find your writing community to be incestuous? What kind of actions do you take to break out of that pattern?