Embrace the Positive: The Benefits of a Writing Community

Cathy and I have been hosting MFA students from my fiction and creative nonfiction workshops for Cathy’s excellent vegetable soup and her wonderful homemade bread. It’s a way to extend the community of the workshop and to remind ourselves we are all more than just the work we do. I love hearing my students’ stories about their past and present experiences. We sit around the table and get to know one another as people. Oh, sure, writing comes into the conversation—how could it not?—but for the most part we talk about the places we’ve lived, our families, our hobbies, our guilty pleasures, and in the process we find out that even though we may come from different places, we’re more alike than we are different.

Writers must make friends with solitude. We spend so much time in our rooms, facing the blank page, alone with our characters, our images, our ideas, trying to find the words to bring them to life. That solitude can be seductive. It can lure us into a retreat, closing out the world as much as we can, but we shouldn’t forget our lives take place within a larger community. It’s our interactions with others that bring us to what Faulkner called “the old verities and truths of the heart.” For me, the act of writing has always been a dance between immersion and retreat. I go out into the world to take in its mysteries. I come back to my writing room to explore them.

Last night at dinner, someone told a story about arranging travel for movie stars on location. Certain stars demanded that they not travel with certain other stars. Writers, of course, have their own feuds, grievances, and petty jealousies. I’ve always thought that was energy wasted. The time spent nursing grudges, complaints, and resentments would be better spent working on our craft.

The students who’ve gathered around our table these past few weeks have demonstrated a great unity. They genuinely like one another. They encourage and support. They tactfully tell the truth. They are everything one would want in a best friend, someone who’ll celebrate with you, mourn with you, and tell you the truth when you need to hear it. We writers need these kinds of people in our lives. We need friendships with other writers because they alone know what our craft demands from us. They know the highs and lows. They know the challenges. They know what it takes to overcome them. Wherever we can find such community is a good thing. Finding a supportive group of writers opens our hearts. It expands our empathy. It shows us we’re not alone. This isn’t to say, of course, that petty jealousies don’t exist within such communities—after all, we’re only human—but even our flaws can more easily be tempered when we know our peers truly have our best interests at heart.

I’ll close with this thought. If we can give more in the way of supporting and promoting other writers’ work, we can receive more in return. We can clear our hearts and minds of the negative and embrace the positive. Will that sort of energy make us better writers? Maybe, or maybe not. I really can’t say. All I know is giving to others will make us happier people, and how can we argue with that?

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