Most writers I know tend to be introverts — people who gain energy and rest from time spent alone. Writers are people whose job is to dive inward while also doing their damnest to understand other perspectives.
The words and thoughts in our brain that beg to be placed on paper take time and concentration to get out. Sometimes we get so frustrated we quit, or so moved, we cry.
I had a writing teacher ask me early on in my writing life if I could be alone for hours at a time. “Of course,” I said. “I thrive while I’m alone.”
At the early age of 22 I hadn’t given much thought to extroverts and introverts and how understanding my personality type could affect my career choices.
I have never been able to write in coffee houses or pubs. I get distracted. I listen to the conversations around me. I watch people. Even now, as I sit on my back porch, I can’t help but take my eyes off this page and watch the crows that are clearly fighting over something, a girl crow? food? I don’t know. But nature is more soothing to me so it is easier for me to keep writing or go back to my writing than writing in public.
And yet after a long morning of writing, I sometimes do get lonely in the late afternoons. There are no lunchroom conversations. No one stops by my desk to ask how my weekend was.
There is no exchange of ideas in the noon meeting or sharing of projects near completion. I sometimes hunger to talk about the latest scene I am working on or the last book I read.
Why writers need a community.
Even though writers tend to be introverted, we also need community.
We want to talk about our work. We want others to read our work and get what we are doing. So belonging or forming a writing community can be beneficial to stay in the game for the long road to prevent burnout and connection.
This can be done by belonging to a writer's group. Many towns have local writers' groups. A great place to ask for this community is at locally owned books stores.
Another place to meet other writers is at writing conferences. Writing conferences attract other serious writers. Once you meet a writer or two that you connect with you can a make decision to stay committed to one another.
Of course, online writing communities are significant. You can find them by a simple web search. There are communities for memoir writers, fiction writers, sci-fiction writers, romance writers, and content writers.
Sometimes you need only one person.
Though in the past belonging to a group has helped my writing grow. Today I generally tend to gravitate to one-on-one. My dear friend Cindy Martinusen Coloma is a writer of over 15 novels and has been a huge supporter. She is the person I bounce ideas off of. We share each other's thoughts on our novels, and often full manuscripts.
There have been many household-name writers that hung out and shared ideas and criticism. One of the most famous friendships was between C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien. They are known for meeting in pubs and sharing ideas.
They both had a love for stories, myths, and languages. Neither cared for politics or pop culture. They both served the other as first readers. Tolkien wrote:
“The unpayable debt that I owe to him [Lewis] was not influence but sheer encouragement. He was for long my only audience.”
Other famous writing friendships are Truman Capote and Harper Lee. Also, Carson McCullers and Tennessee Williams were dear friends and would share a home in order to write.
One-on-one writing relationships can be more intense and life-changing, but also more demanding in that writers rely on each other’s loyalty. This relationship can nurture your writing like any great friendship where there is honesty, loyalty, and a give and take.
Give and receive.
A rule is to give as much as you need. By this I mean don’t just ask questions, attempt to answer them as well. Read other peoples’ work and be a light of encouragement to others.
One of the best ideas I learned before reading and commenting is to ask, “What is it that you want me to pay attention to? What do you need help with?” This avoids reading coldly. I also find it helps to alleviate hurt feelings because the writer is asking more specifically about what she needs help with.
When you commit to a community do so wholeheartedly. Writers tend to really appreciate knowing their work is being read — be that person for your writing community. The same will be reciprocated.
If you are fortunate enough to find one great writing friend, nourish the relationship. This person may be the writer to keep you focused, help you develop your craft, and be your greatest reader.