Contributed by Sarah Foil
Writing is a mostly solitary activity. We sit in our homes with our coffee and wine and cat. We hide under our covers and read our books. We stare at our computer screens and send our emails and check facebook, but it’s easy to forget that we need a community. Writers need people to share our work with and commiserate, but it’s important that you find the right people to work with.
I’ve been writing for over fifteen years and have been a part of many different writing communities. Some of them have been pretty bad, some have been good, but I only have one tribe. When I first started writing in late elementary school and middle school, my community was other fellow classmates. We’d write on our wide-ruled notebook paper and swap them during freetime. Everyone was new and terrible but also supportive. We were excited to be writing and to have readers.
Even in high school and college, I had fun sharing with fellow writers but as I got older, things became more complicated. Me and my friends were suddenly competing for the same literary prizes and the same spots in the campus literary magazines. But I still felt comfortable writing and reading with other people. Even as things became competitive, we still supported each other.
For some reason though, once I found myself out of that classroom environment, that supportive, encouraging place was so hard to find. I graduated college and wanted a way to push myself to keep writing, so I joined an online writing community. The concept was pretty simple, you share your writing with other writers all over the world and you read their writing. You share feedback with each other and initially it seemed like a great way to keep writing my novel. There were talented writers and I got to read a ton of great work. The problem was that it wasn’t a supportive community.
I remember one specific instance that I shared parts of an early draft of what would become my graduate thesis. I’d been working on this story for years and it was a true work of heart, even if it wasn’t the best writing I’d done. I had graduate school on the horizon and wanted to make sure my work was good enough for an upcoming workshop. I had hoped to get back some idea of things that I could improve before sending it to my future professors, some clue of what was and wasn’t working. Maybe even some correction of grammatical mistakes, because I make those a lot.
Instead, I got back some of the most brutal critiques I’ve received to date. I remember word for word the opening lines: “Since you’re going to graduate school, I’m not going to hold any punches. If you can’t handle what I’m going to say, you should reconsider starting your program.”
It only got worse from there. That critique broke my heart. It made me feel like the ten years I had spent writing before then were wasted. I really started to believe I should drop out of my MFA program before I’d even started. Luckily, I have friends and family who pushed me and I did end up attending my grad program.
There, I found the right community for me. I found my “tribe”, a group of fellow writers who I could share with my work with. I felt like I could get up in front of people and read my work, not just my fiction but also poetry and vulnerable works of nonfiction. I felt comfortable complaining about deadlines and didn’t feel threatened by my friends’ successes. I had workshops where I got constructive feedback on pieces that I’d go on to improve. I never had someone make me feel or even attempt to make me feel the way that review from the online community had before I began.
I would have missed out on finding my perfect tribe, the group of writers I’ll stay in touch with and continue to work with for the rest of my career, all because I tried to force myself to be a part of community that wasn’t right for me. I’m grateful that I had a support system outside of a writing community that kept me going, but not everyone does.
Here’s my point: communities are essential for writers, but not just any community will do. Find people who make you want to write, not those who discourage you. Be part of a community that can celebrate your accomplishments and hold you up when you feel like you want to quit. Writing isn't a solo effort, as much as we want to think that it may be. Get out there and find your tribe.
About Sarah foil
Sarah Foil is a writer, editor, and media manager based out of North Carolina. She has an MFA in Fiction from the Mountainview MFA program and focuses on YA Fantasy. While her current passion project is her YA Fantasy trilogy, which is currently seeking representation, she spends much of time running and managing Sarahfoil.com, a resource for writers and readers of all kinds. She loves encouraging writers to continue to improve through her editing services and sharing her personal writing journey through blog posts and on Facebook and Twitter. If you have any questions about her services, please reach out via sarahfoil.com/contact .
Thanks for sharing, Sarah!