I’ve been thinking a lot about tribes and how important they are in a writer’s life. Writers are often solitary beings so joining a group, any kind of group, can be stressful and intimidating. We writers write because writing is easier than interacting. Not for everyone, I know, but it’s certainly the case for me.
So while I’m a writer who enjoys being alone, I also yearn to connect with people. Not often, probably far less than others, but I do have that yearning. I realized this when I first took up fiction writing as an adult about 12 years ago. I’d left my job as an editor and while I knew other nonfiction writers and editors, I lacked a creative writer tribe. So I applied to an MFA program.
The Goddard College Group
I chose Goddard because it was a program that focused on quality work but didn’t discriminate against writers who wrote plot. My interest was not only in the literary, the strong sentence and profound insight, but in the thrill and ride of suspenseful events. And so, I attended Goddard’s low-residency program for two years. I ended up getting what I’d wanted from that experience. I stretched my mind and skills as a crafts person and I found a community. I mean, a really great community. I met writers who were as serious as I was and we went through the growth trenches together.
It’s not surprising to say I felt untethered after graduating. All of the students scattered back to their respective cities from across the country and I was left with a small core group of Seattleites that eventually dissipated. I still have a couple of local friends but mostly my Goddard tribe is spread far and wide.
What Social Media Offers
Enter the internet. So, when I wasn’t raising my kids and spending time with my family (how did I, a loner, end up with three kids again?), I joined groups on Facebook and made friends on Twitter. I found a core group of online gardener pals who I was able to share my passion for plants with, and I joined writer tribes. I joined a group called Women Writers who were supportive and caring. Later, I joined Sisters in Crime (even though I was unsure I belonged there), and a writing moms group called Writer Moms. I added the Women’s Fiction Writer’s Association too.
These groups have given me so much support. I’m able to ask for specific advice and have received useful help and experienced wisdom. I’ve found free information about building an online presence, book marketing, how to publish, how to write, and other tips I didn’t know I needed. I also got integral support in balancing my mom life with my writing life. I’ve found online friends who’ve been generous with their time and knowledge. It’s been a productive and amazing experience. In return, I’ve tried to offer my own support and advice.
Twitter in particular has been fruitful for me. In addition to making friends, I’ve received a few professional opportunities. I also found my author coach. And I made one very important connection.
Stumbling Upon Publishing
I found the Writer Moms group via their usual Monday night Twitter chats. I started participating in these chats and checked in a couple times a week on the Facebook group. I got an incredible amount of support as a mom and a writer here. During these months, I stumbled upon quality articles and excellent feedback. I even learned about a couple of small presses I didn’t know existed. I had been querying for a few years and submitted my manuscript to the two small presses. Within months, I had a book contract. It was unexpected and wonderful. All because I’d joined and participated in this particular online writers tribe.
So today online, when a writer friend threw out the question of whether online social media was a waste of time, I didn’t hesitate to answer. And after reading this, you probably know what my opinion was. I think it is worth joining writer tribes, you never know what might happen, who might notice you, who you might notice, and how you might connect. I don’t think writers should expect to make instant friends and have instant success. The network of fellow creatives I’ve built has taken me years to foster, and even now I’m still, arguably, a nobody! But at least I’m a nobody with a huge supportive tribe, headed toward a brighter horizon in my career.
I just finished a story on Medium about wasting writing time and 50 ways I’ve done that. When you get to middle age as I am, you realize how precious time is, which also makes you regret the time you’ve wasted. Granted, I haven’t wasted all of my time. I wrote during my 20s and 30s and have even published work, but I often feel like I could have produced more had I been more focused on the right things.
What Are the Right Things?
Figuring out what those right things are is never easy. What seems important at the time seems trivial later. What may seem trivial at the time actually is life-changing later. And was it worth it is the final question. This is what I’ve come to learn is a part of living life.
50 Ways to Not Write
Still, I spent too much time doing meaningless things I wish I hadn’t. They’re not anything terribly painful or heartbreaking, just the usual pedestrian things middle class people do without thinking. I found in making the list that most of what I did that was useless involved shopping, watching things I didn’t have to watch, interacting with people who didn’t give much back emotionally or psychologically, and reconfiguring my home.
The full article is on Medium. I’m grateful for any “claps” I receive. Here’s the post.
These last few weeks I’ve been immersed in the final edits of my novel. It’s the slow time for my gardening day job. I sit for two-hour-long chunks (or more) and I read and type words. This has been productive. I’ve lived in the world of my novel: Paris, plants, the people I’ve created. I hear nothing else except the dog barking occasionally, the hum of the heater blowing warmth in the room. I can concentrate, I can think, “No, ‘harsh, steady rain’ is better here because I used ‘downpour’ two paragraphs before.” I imagine the railing on a stone building, imagine my protagonist examining a plant, and create words to describe these things. It’s empowering. I have the power to create a world with something so simple as an arrangement of words.
The Silence Interrupted by Other Words
Time of course evaporates when I’m in this meditative state. Then my kids come home, one by one, and the situation changes. While I’m thinking, “What does he (my protagonist) see when in the car on St. Honore and what would be reflective of his story about it?” I hear my son come up the stairs. Sometimes he goes straight to the bathroom, sometimes he says hi, and sometimes he has words to ask or say to me. Eventually, as my two daughters stream in, the puzzle of what I’ll include in my story dissolves into which snack I’ll get up and make for the kids. And then, their words: A form needs to be signed. Can I go to the pool with a friend? A boy fell on the playground. I drew a dinosaur. We have a concert in two weeks. And on and on and on.
Soon, the last trickle of words and thoughts I had for my novel are drained. They disappear into the activity of my kids running around, talking to each other, asking permission for whatever, bickering, water running, doors closing. It’s transition time. If I return to the book, I feel displaced. Where was I? I was going to change the phrase on a street sign in the story but what was the new phrase I’d thought of? So I close my computer and move on to the mundane task of unloading the dishwasher.
Others’ Words Fill My Head
There are moments, when a child isn’t coming in the kitchen, where I have quiet alone time. But creating in miniscule windows is impossible. So on the radio goes as I do chores that can be interrupted. Voices talk about the drug dealers camping in RVs in Seattle. A commercial warns of gum disease. If I switch the station, NPR’s discussing Syrian refugees. If I switch again, Adele is singing “I’m in California dreaming about who we used to be…” A podcast jokes about Uber and the Eagles Club. The phone rings and my mother talks about mice in her basement. For each set of minutes that I hear these words, I travel to these places. I think about these issues. I feel, I worry. This is what fills my head. This is me now. A receiver of changing words and emotions.
Silence During Writing Is a Gift
Silent time is the most precious thing to a writer. There are no words and emotions coming at you. You are in control of creating them. And yet we’re social beings. We have families, friends, workplaces, a society with events. But lately, in these immersed days, I’ve realized that though I have housework and correspondence and errands to complete, the silent creating has to come first. So I’m not just reacting to the outside world’s words, but sitting with my own. Spending time where I imaginatively want to be. In a place that feeds my soul. In a place where I accomplish something important to me. That I even get some hours of the day and evening to be in that imaginative space is a gift. The best part is the more I get that gift of my own words, the more I can later give back to the world’s.