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Finding a Literary Community

One thing you often hear about being a writer is that it's a solitary pursuit. "Only you can sit down and get the work done, no one else." I understand where this idea comes from, but much like everything else in this life– writing is better with friends. I wrote by myself for years, afraid to get feedback from anyone. My family always knew I wanted to be a writer, and I had entered a few writing competitions and been published in my school's literary journal, but mostly my work was my own. It was like Schrodinger's cat. No one knew if it was bad or good because I wouldn't let them see it.

When I went to college, I declared my major as creative writing. I was one of the few lucky people who had the full support of my family... well mostly. I had the full support of my mom, which was really all I cared about. She was the first pillar of my literary community.

In my first semester at school I thought I wanted to be a poet. It was mostly what I had written up to that point. Yes, I had one terrible novel handwritten in a notebook and a few nonfiction essays, but poetry was where I lived. I had journal after journal of teenage angst with enjambed line breaks and drawn out imagery. In my first class of my first semester (Intro to Poetry), I got decimated. My poems were too abstract, an then they were too concrete. They were melodramatic and my metaphors didn't make sense. I felt destroyed. As a freshman in a 6-week summer course with mostly upperclassmen who needed one last credit, my dream of being a poet died. (Don't worry, it's all worked out for me.)

After that painful experience , I had my first fiction writing class and I learned to fall in love with the short story. My professor, Russ Franklin, came in on the first day and told us "probably no one in here will make it as a published author." I hated him for saying that, but slowly over the semester I saw his passion for writing and teaching it, and he became my favorite teacher I've ever had. (He is now mortified to learn he ever said that.) Growing up in a house of teachers, I've always paid attention to the ones to helped move my journey forward, my first advocates. Among those individuals is Mrs. Ernst in second grade, Mrs. King in fifth, Ms. Lacy in Eighth, Mrs. Ayers in Twelfth, and finally, Russ Franklin. He taught me what a workshop was and how beneficial listening to others would be for my writing. I took three more of his classes just so I could keep learning how to use community to hone in on my voice and craft.

After undergrad, I felt lost. I no longer had the structure of a class to push my work forward. No more prompts, no more classmates for feedback. So I applied to grad school. I've mentioned before that this was the first time I felt like I was truly among peers. Sitting around talking about manuscripts and world building and so on. It was the community I had longed for, but it was also a low residency program so I only got that rush of inspiration for a week twice a year and then I was back to being on my own. Writing from my kitchen table while working at Barnes and Noble and also planning my wedding. After those short 2 years at grad school, I was back to being even more alone. The friends I thought I made there quickly disappeared, busy in their own lives. My motivation to write was swallowed by the need to pay bills and support my husband while he was in grad school, the same way he had done so graciously for me.

2020 showed more isolation and the destruction of what little community I had built teaching. All of this to say, in all the years I just covered, I had completed three drafts of a novel manuscript, a handful of short stories, and only three publications (one of which doesn't exist anymore.) It was hard, even in those brief windows when I had a wobbly community.

It hasn't been until very recently that I found a groups of writers, a community, that seems solid. Most of us are from the same graduate program, all slightly disillusioned because of it. We meet once a week online and share encouragement and meme through discord.

I was invited into this group by Maddy. A woman who graduated our MFA program two years after me and who I had only briefly met one semester for ten days. I was desperate to be her friend. You know when you can just tell you're going to like someone? Like having them in your life might make it better? That is Maddy. I trapped her into being my friend, roped her into joining me on a committee for an organization that was dead-ending, and then got to be her sounding board as we complained about the work we were putting in for nothing. I was afraid to leave the organization though because it was the only way I could be her friend and talk about our writing. Until one day, she invited me into her writing group.

It's a magical thing when someone throws you a lifeline. I didn't even know I was drowning until I took it. I knew I felt lonely, but I thought writing was supposed to be lonely. I was supposed to feel bad about sitting at my desk and not actually doing any work. I was supposed to be motivated enough to muscle through on my own. If I was serious about writing, if I cared about it enough, I could do it on my own. What a stupid idea. Joining this group of writers has been like a breath of pure oxygen after not realizing I had been breathing in smoke. When we meet, we write. We talk. We champion one another when we don't have the strength to write. Sometimes we just do housework while the others write. It's just knowing that someone on the other side of this screen is seeing me and giving me time to work toward my dream.

Since joining my writing group, I've been churning out Twitter content, trying to build a bigger, internet literary community. I was able to go to AWP with Maddy and finally got motivated enough to build this website and write this blog. Writing is not supposed to be done alone. Yes, I am responsible for writing the story, but then I have my mom who is always my first reader, I have my writing group who gives feedback or encouragement when needed, I have Twitter which listens when I complain about the difficulty of writing, and now I have this blog, and you.

Maddy and me at AWP

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