This is an essay by Joseph Dante.
Writing can often turn into one of the loneliest activities I know. Unlike reading, you don’t feel like a part of an ongoing cultural conversation. Most of the time, you are in a bubble. The romantic days of the rebellious writers and their turbulent lifestyles are over. The gracious benefactors, the squabbles and betrayals between artists and their mercurial temperaments. Today, there is very little tragedy and celebrity. Pure and simple, writing is work and meditation: it is a quiet process of sitting down and thinking. There is nothing romantic or tragic about it, and people want to know little of it. It’s about organizing, erasing, and revising. It’s about going back and doing that all over again on another day, with another new project. And maybe, if you’re lucky and stick it out, exciting things happen.
But it can get especially lonely if you live in a very suburban town in Florida like I do, where there are very few places to engage in conversations with other writers or people who actually want to hear what you’ve been doing, who aren’t just humoring you or trying to be polite. Here, there is only one independent bookstore. Most other larger bookstore chains have gone out of business entirely. It is endless pavement and highways, with very few cultural hubs, apart from the local library and a few art galleries sequestered far away from the main roads.
When I was in school, I had a great support system. There were teachers who encouraged my writing, pushed me to try and publish, and urged me to continue with it once I graduated. There were creative writing classes I could take and a literary journal I could start. There was a book club. In college, there were fiction workshops, where everyone helped to critique each other and learn together. There were professors who were also published writers. There were speakers who would come in and talk about their writing process. I was always surrounded by people who wrote and read.
Once all that ended, I felt lost and confused. I couldn’t tell if what I was writing was good or not. I questioned myself a lot. I still had a few writer-friends I could count on, but it wasn’t the same. It didn’t feel like it was enough. And when it was, I felt more like an intrusion or an imposition.
Fortunately, I’ve managed to find other ways to have some sense of community. Since I come from a place with few other options, the internet was a good place to start searching. Today, various platforms of social media have allowed us to connect with each other in ways that we never saw before. Chances are, you probably found this piece of writing through one of these outlets. Everything has become very easy and instant and ubiquitous.
Just in case you’ve had a similar problem, here are some suggestions I’d like to pass on:
NaNoWriMo: The website for National Writing Month, which happens every November. Writers gather in order to complete a novel within a month’s time. I’ve never tried it, but know several people who have. People tend to have really good rapport with each other and sometimes have local meet-ups in order to check in on everyone’s progress. A good place to push yourself and get motivated.
MeetUps: If you search the writing sections, you can find workshops, where people bring a piece of writing and critique it. There are also a lot of book clubs if you’re interested in that too (sometimes with themes or specific genres). You can search for other activities and interests as well, and it seems to be a great way of meeting new people.
Luna Park Review: One way I’ve also made friends with writers is by following several online literary journals. If this is your kind of thing, Luna Park is a good place to keep you in the loop.
Duotrope: If you’re an aspiring writer that’s looking to publish in a journal, this database is invaluable. You can search for all kinds of places: by name, by category, by story length. If you get an account, you can also keep track of your pieces and which have been accepted or rejected.
Fictionaut: A place to post your writing and receive feedback on it. There seems to be a very good sense of camaraderie here too. I know several writers who have used it.
Red Lemonade: Something of an experimental hybrid: a publishing brand and a writing community all rolled into one. You can read all the books they publish online for free. If you want, you can also order copies of their books. Zazen, one of the best books I read this year and can’t stop talking about, is on this site. People are able to comment and contribute to your writing and the direction its taking.
Tumblr: A microblogging site with a fairly large literary community. There are people writing book reviews, reblogging their favorite quotes and poems, and even contributing their own writing. Sometimes silly, sometimes intelligent, often personal.
Twitter: I was extremely reluctant to get an account at first, but there is no denying that there are a lot of writers on Twitter, which includes everything to genre writers to the more literary big names (Salman Rushdie, Margaret Atwood). I’ve also been introduced to some fantastic upcoming writers as a result. A lot of them are very friendly and more than appreciative that you’re supporting their efforts. It’s also sometimes good for finding new people with similar interests, since Twitter will make suggestions to you based on the people you tend to follow.
Pen pals: Outside of online communities, another good way to keep up with people and share things is through letters. Ever since school finished years ago, I’ve missed all the time spent passing notes back and forth between friends. I’ve always tried to keep some kind of correspondence like this going, regardless. It seems like a method of communication so long forgotten. It seems almost mythical. With everything else so instantaneous, it feels like waiting to open a gift from someone who knows just what to get you every Christmas.
Through several of these outlets, I’ve not only managed to find a decent group of fellow writers to bounce ideas off of, but have also formed very enduring bonds with kindred spirits. It’s a good feeling.
What is your favorite literary hangout? How have you tried to make writing feel a bit less lonely?
Joseph Dante is a writer from South Florida. His work has been featured in Paste, Monkeybicycle, and elsewhere. He has a blog where he talks about writing, books, and the internet, and is currently a reader for Hobart. You can follow him on Twitter @storyforburning.