Writing is a solitary activity. It’s something that happens when me, myself, and I all get together for a nice chat, whether it’s in the coffee shop across town or alone in the kitchen after everyone else has gone to bed. At the end of the day, no one’s thoughts are scrawled on the page but my own. Many writers work alone, but does this mean that writers are alone?
The truth is, simply writing can be solitary, but writing well requires community. This is something many beginning writers are uncomfortable with for a number of reasons. Writing can leave us feeling vulnerable, especially for those who write about personal experiences. Writing is subjected to intense criticism, which people can take personally. Some writers feel the need to compete with one another, as if writing were a race with a single winner. Writers can often be cruel to one another, taking out their insecurities on their peers. They justify their harsh words by claiming to help fellow writers develop the “thick skin” they’ll need to deal with negative reviews.
No matter our initial discomfort, we must learn to work together. In the digital age, when we are free to publish our work at will, there is no need for competition. Each person in a writers’ group can eventually become a published author, whereas in the old days of traditional publishing, maybe one would be lucky enough to see their name in print. The dark side of 21st century publishing is that writers have to do more for themselves, including blogging and social media branding in addition to actually writing books. Fortunately, we’re all in the same boat. Writers can help one another handle these additional responsibilities by cross-promoting each other’s books, posting on their peers’ social media pages, and writing guest blogs for one another. They can also share advice and experiences so they don’t make each other’s mistakes. Of course, our peers can also help us improve our writing, and constructive criticism is one of the main ways writers learn to identify their strengths and weaknesses.
Writing communities may be practical and help us professionally, but there is another reason they’re important. It’s true that writers need to learn to handle criticism, but a support network is as important as “thick skin.” I’ve seen so many beginning writers work up the nerve to share their work only to be gunned down by relentless negativity. Don’t misunderstand me—we all need to learn to cope with negative feedback, but there’s a big difference between providing helpful criticism and just being mean. Learning to write is a difficult, life-long process, and it takes a lot of courage to share our work, especially if we’re just starting out. Most of us who’ve been writing for a long time have people in our lives who believe in us and our abilities. When our projects don’t pan out, they encourage us to try again. Writers need to learn to give this support to one another and build each other up, not tear each other down.
If writers can create entire worlds out of their heads, they can build communities in real life. Some have already formed such communities, and that’s wonderful. If you want to join an existing community, ask your local library or indie bookstore about writers’ groups in your area. You can also join organizations such as the Independent Book Publishers Association and Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance to participate in writers’ conferences and retreats.
Writers need to work together to improve their writing, develop their platforms, and support one another. For some writers, especially those who don’t self-publish, even more people are involved in the writing process, including editors and graphic designers. Here at Wisdom House Books, for instance, we help our writers with every step of the publishing process. The act of writing may be solitary, but writers themselves shouldn’t be.