Something of the human condition speaks to loneliness. No matter our efforts at connection and community, we are in a very real sense always isolated within ourselves. That is part of the curse (and blessing, too) of being human.
For writers, that experience of loneliness is often exacerbated by one of the primary conditions of our craft – solitude. It is difficult for most of us to write when other people are near, or at least other with whom we have a relationship. (Coffee shops sometimes provide just the right human presence without the obligation of communication.)
Yesterday, a writer told me that he feels quite alone in the process of writing a book, and another writer mentioned how very much she NEEDED connections to other writers to be healthy.
Both of those sentiments ring like bells in the center of me. . . the loneliness in my writer’s heart AND the deep desire to beat that experience back by conversations with people who understand the experience of doing this lonely work.
Yet, finding these people who “get me” is hard work, especially when my real work of writing requires a great deal of time alone in a room.
Here are 5 things I have done to help myself feel less isolated:
1. Reach out to other writers. When I feel particular separate or when something about this writing life really bothers or puzzles me, I talk to other writers, people I know personally but also people whose work I respect. I email my concerns and questions, and almost every time, someone (and usually everyone) writes back. In those simple exchanges, I feel bolstered and challenged in just the right way.
2. Meet with writers face to face. Because I live in a rural place, I sometimes go days without seeing anyone besides my husband. So I have to work hard to meet with people. I schedule coffees and dinners, or if I cannot get out to see people, I Skype with folks, which is not the same but at least puts a face and a voice to words.
3. Go to public readings. As a literary citizen, one thing I try to do regularly is go hear a writer read in a public forum. I might find someone famous – Anne Lamott is touring right now, for example – or I might just go to an open mic at a local coffee house. Somehow simply being in the room with other people who value words can lift the weight of isolation in a significant way, like they’ve slipped their hands behind my writerly shroud to wave.
4. Join a writers’ group. Find a local group (check with your library or colleges and universities nearby) where you can go and share your work and give critique of others’ work. Or gather a group of writers in the area to gather once a month to talk and discuss what you’ve been reading. If you’d like, I run an Online Writer’s Community, and we’d welcome you to join us there. A regular gathering of writers helps me know that other people understand the challenges and joys of this work, and it gives me a space to share and receive support and accountability.
5. Attend writing conferences. Writing conferences inform me about the current state of the writing community. There, I get introduced to new writers – both through their work and their presentations. Plus, they give me a chance to have a dirty martini and swap stories with other human beings. I usually attend the AWP Conference (This coming year, it will be in Minneapolis in April.), and I always come back from that time both enthused and drained. It’s perfect.
I cannot stress enough how just the presence of other writers in my life – through blogs, through coffee meet-ups, through online groups, through email – keeps me going. In some ways, I feel like other writers are my back-up singers (and I theirs), moving and singing along to help hold up my voice. We support one another. . . it’s what we do.
If you don’t really know any writers, now’s the time to change that. Find a local writer’s community and sign-up. Email writers whose work you respect and introduce yourself. Talk to the folks by you at the next public reading you attend. We’re out here, waiting to hear your voice . . . and to shake your hand.
How did you come to form your writing community? What kind of writing community are you seeking if you don’t have one yet?