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Writing In Community

The image of a writer in popular culture is often a solitary one: we imagine writers of old scribbling away in cold rooms with quill pens, and writers of now hiding in closets with their laptops, or else in a café alone at a small table with noise-canceling headphones on signaling that they are to be left alone at all cost. And I admit, as an introvert, these images are really appealing. But they’re also quite wrong. Writing is not solitary. Writing is social.

An old typewriter with a solitary lamp shining on it, all in sepia tones
The lonely image of the writer

Sure, I’ve spent a lot of time hiding in my writing. High school and college were filled with late nights, just me and the computer and music blasting as loud as I could to drown out the rest of the world so I could avoid being social. But that’s not really the formative moments, nor is it how most of the writing gets done for me these days. That period in my development as a writer is also marked by, well, not finishing anything.

Most of my development as a writer has come from social situations: online role-playing games, writers’ groups of various kinds, meeting with friends at cafes to get work done, and most recently streaming my writing on Twitch and using other writers’ Twitch streams to get things done. And this isn’t remotely strange. Writers throughout history have moved in social circles with each other, reading each others’ work for criticism and writing in tandem.

A table around which several people are seated with notebooks and pens
Writing works a bit more like this in practice.

Obviously, with the pandemic, we’ve all had our social lives overturned in various ways. Most people I know are struggling with “what next?” If you want to grow as a writer, I recommend that you consider making your writing practice social in some way. This can be as simple as having a friend text you to check on your writing goals at a certain time each week. It can be as complex as joining a writing group, of which there are plenty online. The key here is not only accountability, but that language and storytelling have always been, and always will be, primarily social activities.

I am not, of course, suggesting that you should go out and join mass gatherings of writing. The pandemic is still very real, and you should put your health and the safety of others first. However, I do think it’s wise to consider how to consciously incorporate social situations into your writing practice, and perhaps use that as a way of building your social networks in conscious ways. Notice, for instance, that a lot of ways that social writing has happened for me are online: there’s plenty of ways to bring social elements into your writing no matter what your situation.

This isn’t a new realization, of course. I have written on it here before. And even before that, I realized that I needed to hold writing and the social together. When I was young, I wanted to be a botanist. I fantasized about long hours alone in a greenhouse, surrounded by my plants, working to breed better plants. And then, as I was seriously considering my major and my career path, I decided I should be a writer because it was more social. While I stand corrected in a lot of ways from my childhood ideas, I stand by my assertion that writing is a social endeavor.

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