Tuesday, June 14, 2016

The Power of Community

The type-A perfectionist aspect of my personality is a double-edged sword when it comes to writing. I can create the perfect spreadsheet on how to progress through a project, but once that's done everything comes to a screeching halt.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/matthewragan/6861394236When faced with beginning a task, especially one requiring actual effort, my brain immediately looks around for some excuse not to start.

"Time to write, Brain."

"Look at those dishes that need washing!"

Recently I met another writer. As part of our getting-to-know-you conversation, she admitted, "No, I don't have any poetry published yet." Then she interrupted me to add, "But only because I haven't tried."

She and I are victims of the same flawed thinking I often saw in my former students: it's better to fail through controlled avoidance than to discover that our best work just isn't good enough.

One of the best ways I've found to combat this kind of fear-based paralysis is to communicate with other writers. I have experimented with several different kinds of writing groups in the past year. While each has had a different format and focus, they've all had one thing in common. They all challenge me to risk real failure.

One-on-One Meetings


One form of community is to set up a regular one-on-one meeting with another writer in your area. I have an uncle who has been writing in one form or another -- music, newspaper, novel, screenplay, etc. -- for most of his life. I respect his talent and I value his opinion. Whenever I get the chance, I like to take him to his favorite coffee shop, buy him a half-caff latte, and pick his brain. He's helped me explore my personal motivation for writing and, in sharing his writing habits and routines, helped me begin to develop my own.

It has proved helpful to have to look my uncle in the eye and explain why I haven't written a single word all week long. On one hand, he's in a position of familial authority, and I don't want to disappoint him. On the other, he has known me my whole life and it's safe to talk to him about my personal demons. He's got to love me regardless of how crazy I sound!

The More the Merrier

If you're not up for one-on-one time, there are many ways to find a writing group to join. Schools often have writing clubs that meet regularly. Announcement boards at gyms, coffee shops or places of worship often have notices about clubs that are looking for new members. I've found many of my new writing buddies through the wonders of Google and the Meetup.com website.

Writing groups come in all sizes and styles. There are groups dedicated to a single genre and groups that welcome everything from screenwriting to poetry. Some groups meet multiple times a week, while others meet only once a month. Whether you're looking for writing prompts or critique, hand holding or a kick in the butt, there is a group out there to meet that need.

Small Groups

I recently became part of a small group of women writers. There are many things I enjoy about having a small, consistent group like this. I like the intimacy of seeing the same faces each time we meet. It's allowed me to start getting to know them not just as authors, but also as friends. Everyone gets equal opportunity to share their work and present their thoughts each time we meet -- something that isn't always possible with larger groups.

Larger Groups

I am also part of a larger, more fluid group that meets twice a week. I never know who is going to be there (although there are a few dedicated regulars), so I never know what unique perspective or new bit of expertise I'm going to get. The frequency with which this group meets gives us time to broaden our focus beyond critique. Some meetings are all about writing -- speed writing based on ten minute prompts or committing a two-hour block of time entirely to writing silently. Others are spent discussing things we've read and how they influence and inspire us. My favorite meetings are the ones dedicated to the rambling conversation that happens when you put a bunch of writers in a room together.

Find Your Group!


Being part of a writing group takes time and energy. It means putting on clean clothes and leaving the house. It requires courage, strength, and open-mindedness. These are a small price to pay for the accountability, camaraderie and learning opportunities that come from having a community, if you ask me.

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