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“Walking with a friend in the dark is better than walking alone in the light.” – Helen Keller
One of the coolest writing experiences I’ve had happened a number of years ago in the cafe of the Borders near me. It was part of a busy mall and the place was often packed, especially on a Friday night. I’m in the Los Angeles area, so seeing someone working on something isn’t an unusual sight. (Even if what all of us really want to do is direct.) I was settled at a long table with my laptop, tapping away, when I happened to look up and discovered sitting opposite me was a writer/producer whose work I admire. He was clearly just chilling, but there was a moment when our eyes met and he asked, “Screenplay?”
“Novel,” I replied.
He made a sympathetic noise and I went back to work. A few minutes later, the person he was waiting for showed up and they headed off to dinner or a film at the theatre in the mall.
What was so cool about that moment is that, for just a second, it was a peer to peer exchange. I was working and he knew what that felt like. It wasn’t a moment to pitch a story or something like that, but the acknowledgement that we were both, in some ways, part of the same tribe.
Writing is, for the most part, a solitary exercise. As I write this, I’m secluded in the back of the house, away from everyone else. The idea is to get the words out before I’m interrupted with a question or a request to handle something. Headphones help – especially since my husband has learned not to simply interrupt me when those are on and the fingers are flying. Possibly the blood-curdling shriek I emitted when I was surprised had something to do with it. Now, if only we could teach my father-in-law this lesson…
When writers write, we lock ourselves away in the little worlds we have in our heads, occupying a landscape different from the one around us. Even if we are with other people, we’re alone. Worse, when we emerge from our self-imposed exile, those who share our living spaces don’t necessarily understand what we’re discussing or the peculiar highs or low that can come in the process of putting a story together. This is why, from time to time, we need to seek the company of our fellow writers, to find our tribe.
The problem is, finding a group of writers who are the right “fit” for what you’re doing is not always easy. I’ve had a few experiences where some folks have been very welcoming – until they learn that I write “genre” fiction. Worse, I write ::whispers:: romance. This isn’t all writers or even the majority of writers. But when you’ve been having self-doubts and need some support, it’s the worst thing that can happen. (Yes, I know. We’re writers. There are always self-doubts. It comes with the territory.)
I will say that I haven’t had this happen with NaNoWriMo folk. Not that I’m claiming our little noveling enclave in November is a perfect world and there are kittens, puppies and sunshine all the time. We’re human. But folks who do NaNo seem to be more open to the idea that people are writing all sorts of things, diving into with outlines or nothing but a wish and a prayer, all of us trying to get those words onto the page. What’s more, we’re not competing with each other. Me “winning” early doesn’t mean there’s one less slot for you to try for. In November, the doing of the thing is what’s important.
So, take the opportunity to get out of the house and attend a write-in if there’s one in your area. If there isn’t, ask your municipal liaison on the forums for advice in setting up one of your own. Check your local library and see if they have a room you can sign up for or rent for a nominal fee. (Never be afraid to pass the hat for contributions at a write-in.) Grab the big table at your local coffee shop and send out a tweet to let folks know there’s an impromptu write-in going on.
If you can’t get to a write-in for one reason or another (events have conspired against me doing so for the last couple of years), reach out to your fellow writers on line. Add folks to your NaNo Friends list and check in from time to time to see how they’re doing. Get on Twitter and check out @NaNoWordSprints. Between sprints, chat with the other folks who are involved. You may meet new people – and get some of your words done for the day, even if it’s the middle of the night.
Featured image by Jens Johnson / Unsplash
If you find these posts useful, check out my book, Surviving 30 Days of Literary Madness. I’ve posted the introduction and the essay for November 10 on my site as the Amazon preview is…less than robust.