Writing is, by nature, a solitary endeavor.
Inspiration, conception, research and development, and execution are, for the most part, done in a state of introspection. Collaboration, if any, occurs when we finally allow someone to look at what we produced during that time, a period of length which varies for everyone. What may take one person a few months to write could be a year (or more) for another. We may have someone––perhaps a friend or even a professional––review the work, edit, advise, or critique, etc., but the initial writing occurs alone. At least, I believe this to be true for the majority of writers.
But, writing doesn’t have to be done entirely alone. A few years ago, I was invited to write with others and discovered a way in which writing did not have to be a lonely pursuit.
“No man is an island, entire of it self” – John Donne
I always imagined my favorite authors locked away in their secluded writing rooms, doors closed, others reverently respecting their creative space, leaving the author immersed in the mysterious magic of inspiration. Earnest Hemingway holed up in a hotel with his typewriter, or Stephen King holed up beneath the stairs. There is some romance to the idea of the reclusive writer, reinforced by Hollywood. What we don’t usually hear about are authors, in the beginning, who probably wrote wherever they could find a place to sit, whether it was at a café drinking a carafe of French wine, at an actual desk during office hours, on lunch breaks in their vehicles, or at the dining room table after dinner has been cleared.
I have a desk, but I don’t hesitate to declare that no one in my house respects my writing time. It is in an office loft I share with my husband. My children and boxer puppy are always interrupting my writing. Even on days when the children are in school, the husband is at work, and the puppy is asleep, I can’t focus because I have chores or other projects calling to me. Sometimes, I need to step away from the house for an hour or two, get comfortable at a café or coffee shop with my novel and allow that time for writing, research or plotting that is (mostly) uninterrupted.
I know many other writers do the same. It’s funny how going somewhere which is likely to be busy and noisy can help me focus. Sometimes when I’m at the coffee shop, I can pick out another writer easily: the mad typing on their keyboard, the note-taking, the way they pause typing or handwriting to look off into the distance at some imaginary world only they can see.
I want to ask them, “Hey, are you a writer? Me too! Why don’t we make arrangements to meet here again and write together?”
I never ask, though, because I’m afraid they will look at me and, rightly, wonder why anyone would want writing company. How could that be productive? Or, they may say, “Do I look like I came here to make friends?”
Some people prefer to be alone. I’m not saying I need a cheer section every time I sit down to write or that I’m incapable of writing alone, but humans need interactions with other humans. Why else sit in a café? It can’t be just for the free WiFi.
I admit, in the beginning, I was dubious about this concept of writing with others, but I came to look forward to these weekly meetings at the local bookstore. Through group consensus, small talk stayed to a minimum. We worked on our respective writing projects separately. But, together.
Writing with others first came to my attention through an organization called National Novel Writing Month also known as NaNoWriMo. I’ve been a member since 2009 and was a regional liaison in 2017. For those unfamiliar, NaNoWriMo is a worldwide “contest” to complete a 50,000-word novel during November. The prize is only to have achieved the goal and, hopefully, have a baby novel that will be the beginning of something great (after the requisite revisions, of course).
I could do an entire blog post on NaNoWriMo––and probably will––so I won’t go into details except to say that during the month local members get together and participate in a what the organization dubbed a “Write-In”. We meet at scheduled times and places and work on our novels. The format is relatively relaxed, but the idea is that we set a time (say twenty or thirty minutes) where no one is allowed to talk, and everyone works on their novel, then we break for five or ten minutes. This can be sprinting (trying to write as many words as you can in the allotted time) or whatever you want to do: outline, research, edit, … whatever.
Last year, after November ended, some of my fellow NaNoWriMo writers wanted to continue to meet. Many of us wrote year round, not just during November. While we didn’t necessarily want to replicate the harried pace of November, we did want to keep up some momentum to complete the novel, revise or work on other projects.
We were all at various stages of our writing careers; some self-published (and doing very well!) or traditionally published, some still trying to get published, some with ten years of writing and some only recently entering this crazy world of fiction, setting their first novel to paper. What we all had in common, however, was the desire to write and the desire for a community of like-minded individuals. Perhaps we also required motivation and some accountability to stay on track. Life certainly has a way of diminishing some goals and, unless you are already earning a living writing, that novel tends to take a low priority.
By meeting regularly, we connected and had, in a way, accountability for our writing. We agreed to meet at a particular place, and at a specific time, to write, unlike a writing group that meets to critique or read works aloud. If it is difficult to comprehend, consider a reading group that meets not to discuss the book, but to read the book together, silently, and maybe take breaks to discuss. While this may not be everyone’s cup of tea, for some it works well.
For me, writing with others kept me on task, even when these meetings were sometimes not very productive because we mostly talked. Sure we might talk about families, but we also talked about our writing, sought advice in areas we struggled or suggestions for new writing programs, applications or websites that might be helpful. It kept our writing projects active and in the forefronts of our minds, even when other responsibilities drew us away. Even when I didn’t get much writing done during the actual Write-In, I found inspiration when it might have been lacking and went home to regroup.
Self-motivation is not easy for anyone. While motivation may be more natural for some more than others, we can all use a little motivation from our peers. That is why writing communities are so important. I encourage anyone wanting to write to find writing groups. What works for some may not work for others, but keep searching.
After I moved to a different state, I struggled to find local writers. It took a while, but during that time I found online groups (Facebook is good for that, at least!) who used timed writing or writing sprints to stay motivated and check in with each other regularly. The important thing is to find what works best to keep your words flowing onto the page. Write alone or write with others, whatever it takes to make your writing dreams a reality.