Friday, August 11, 2017

The Value of a Writing Community--To Help You Finish Your Book

Summer is teaching time for me.  I just returned from a week on Madeline Island, a blissful spot, made even more so by the twenty-three writers who attended this summer's retreat.  We formed a perfect community, I thought:  supportive, funny at times and serious at others, able to work hard and celebrate each others' growth.

On Thursday evening, we traditionally have an open reading time, where writers at the retreat can choose to share a small excerpt of their book-in-progress.  I ask them to choose someone else in the class to read it aloud for them--it's a wonderful gift to the writer, who hears new things.  Without exception, the writings were excellent.  We applauded, commented on what we loved and what we wanted more of.  It feels, always, like a celebration and an acknowledgement of what was achieved in just five days.

This week, my two summer online classes are ending.  For the final assignments, each writer shared a revision of a piece posted earlier in the course.  Again, without exception, the writings were top level.  As were the comments from the class.  I gave some next steps to consider for each piece, but really, there was such improvement, my feedback was mostly cheers.

Whether online or in person, writing community is essential for anyone working on a book.  You can't go it alone, not easily. 

Many of the writers in the online classes are already getting together and planning how to keep exchanging work.  Retreatants are emailing me about connections they made in the Madeline Island class.   I'm very pleased--because it's something I believe in, deeply, and foster in my classes, always.

I couldn't have produced the books I've published--or the novel I'm just finishing--without a writing community.  Sometimes it's one or two colleagues to exchange chapters with, sometimes it's a monthly or weekly writers' group that keeps me generating pages.  

Writing community does this for me:

1.  Provides accountability
2.  Gives me feedback
3.  Helps me not feel alone during the long haul of writing a book
4.  Lightens me up when I feel down about a rejection
5.  Keeps me from the edge of crazy (especially when writing fiction or memoir)
6.  Normalizes the writing life
7.  Gets to know my story almost better than I do, and is able to point out my blind spots and give me new inspiration

Maybe you're in a writing group that is slowly falling apart, getting stale, or becoming more social than creative, and you know you need to freshen things but you're not sure just how to do it.  Or perhaps you're newly invested in your book and need more rigorous accountability, soon. 

Writing communities ebb and flow, just like any relationship.  It's important, I've found, to be honest with your partners/groups and let them know if you need more or different.  I just got emails this week from two writing partners, whom I adore and appreciate but who have been derailed from writing with life lately.  They're back, and I'm ecstatic.  But while they were away, I searched and found other avenues to get my feedback.

This week's writing exercise is to assess your writing community.  Do you have one?  Is it serving you well?  If not, what might you do next?

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