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Gathering Your Posse: Writing in Community

In his brilliant essay, "The Talent of the Room," Michael Ventura famously and eloquently points out the solitariness of the writing process. “Writing is something you do alone in a room,” he writes. “How many years — how many years — can you remain alone in a room?” You can read the entire essay here.  

Ventura is saying something true and simple about writing: That, when push comes to shove, it’s just you and the page. But, for all the truth and beauty of his statement, there is an addendum I would like to attach to it.

It is absolutely true that writing is done alone in a room. But the writing life is not lived alone in that room. The writing life is lived with others. And those others can make the difference between a life of joy and success and one that is sheer drudgery and discouragement. To put it another way: the writing life is all about writing in community. 

Over the years, many people will impact your writing life. A lot of them will be discouragers--no doubt you already have a few of those. The editor or agent who doesn’t merely reject your work, but slams it. The unsympathetic teacher. The jealous friend. Even the well-meaning loved one who gives unsolicited, unwanted, and unhelpful advice (like the father of a writer friend of mine who suggested he go to plumbing school, since it was so impossible to "make it" as a writer). These people can drain your energy, dampen your hope, and leave you feeling depleted.

But there are others you will meet on your writing journey. There will be people who offer hope, support, nourishment, and encouragement. People who become the Samwise to your Frodo, the Donkey to your Shrek, the Wilson on your deserted island. They are your posse.

When I think about writing in community, I think about the wonderful posse I'm blessed with. A few members include:

My husband, John, who is my sounding board, the first recipient of my bursts of elation or frustration—as well as my tireless one-man IT department.

My brilliant editor Lynette, who seems to have a special hotline to my vision and an almost preternatural ability to see when it's going off-track.

My good friend, Kris, who has shared years of ups and downs in my writing life as well as her own.

The generous and amazing writing coach, Bella, who took the time to Skype me a few months ago when I was in the middle of a debilitating case of the blues and talked me back to joy in exactly 17 minutes.

My hardworking and skilled agent, Winified.

And many others.

Human nature being what it is, it’s a lot easier to notice and remember the people who are dragging you down than the people who are building you up. If you have not thought recently about who and who isn’t in your posse, it is time you did. Who is offering you support? Who is showing interest in your work? Who is helping you build your career? Who is enthusiastically reading your work?

The friend who exclaimed with genuine pleasure when you got that publication you were so happy about. The co-worker who came across an article about your favorite author and sent it to you because he knew you'd be interested. The readers of your blog. The members of your writing group. The brother or sister who is truly proud to have a writer in the family. The professional editors, teachers, agents, and coaches who go above and beyond the call of duty to work with you. All of these people make up your posse.

As 2013 draws to a close, give some thought to your posse. Remember the people who were on your side this year. Acknowledge them and be grateful for them. And then think about how you will strengthen your posse in 2014. Gather around you a strong band of supporters and offer your own support in return. Learn the importance of writing in community, and see how your writing life blossoms.