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Going it alone versus finding a writing community

Updated on October 18, 2010

The answer seems obvious to me

I suppose that there are two approaches when one begins to write more seriously (more seriously, in this case, means writing with a view to letting other people read your work, rather than writing in your diary like you have done since you were ten years old.) Working alone, or finding some help.

Working Alone

Some people, myself included, may just launch themselves right into the river of words and flounder about for a bit, doing the doggy paddle and trying not to get tangled up in the weeds. They can get along quite well like that, sometimes washing up on a bit of a sandy bank and catching enough breath to come up with some good little bits of material. So far, this is the only way I have worked. For almost three years. I suppose I may be a little hard on myself sometimes, and I am more inclined to tell you that I am lazy and unmotivated because it's easier to beat oneself up than it is to praise oneself, is it not? But actually, in those almost-three-years of lone writing I have written detailed synopses for two books, I have roughly drafted twenty-six chapters of one of them, and I have written four chapters of the other to a standard that I am very proud of. I have written several short stories, and faffed about with hundreds of little bits of writing exercises and character sketches and word playings. I don't suppose I've done too badly, considering just how lazy I am.

But it's always in the back of my mind that I could do better. That's been the story for the whole of my academic life. I'll always choose the get-out if someone offers me one - albeit a very flimsy get-out such as that of watching a DVD. Oh dear. But yes, could have done better. How many of us will have that epithet inscribed on our tombs after we're gone? I'm sure I'm not the only one.

But working alone is something that a writer must get used to, so why not get used to it right from the beginning? If you can cheerfully get through a fairly lengthy period of being your sole critic and editor, before you really start to feel the need for the input of others, then you've probably got some of the most important qualities needed for this job. You should celebrate that, and not give yourself such a hard time for being a lazy git. Chances are that you're not as lazy as me anyway, so give yourself a break. I bet you get published before I do.

On the other hand, working alone for long periods can start to fry the brain a little, and it should be fairly obvious to anyone that I am starting to become a bit mad due to the cloistered nature of my work. I do talk to myself. I do left-handed conversations with myself as well - have you tried that? It's quite useful (though I don't know what it's useful for). You write questions to yourself with your dominant hand, and you answer with your non-dominant one. It's about exploring different characters and voices. Nothing to do with this hub, of course, but you should know by now that I like to tangentify.

Working with other humans

Working with other humans, I would imagine, can help to keep your sane. Of course, if you don't want to be sane then go right ahead and carry on with your hermitry.

But it's not just about sanity (although getting out of the house, instead of just sitting in with your dressing gown and slippers on and berating the rest of existence for ignoring you, is definitely beneficial to anyone), it's also about getting help. How can you possibly know if your work is any good if you don't show it to other people. You may have a good idea, but you can never really be sure. As writers, many of us tend to have insecurities about our work, even if we're brimming with confidence in all other areas of our lives. Well, the only real way to address those insecurities is through exposure. It can be a very difficult to show your work to other people, but the benefits are enormous. I have shared my work with a small group of people online, when I first began drafting my first (unfinished) novel. It was absolutely thrilling, in ways that I never expected it to be. The feeling a writer gets when someone posts a kind comment on their work, is like nothing else. You can feel euphoric for days if someone tells you that you have a good understanding on the proper use of the semicolon. But likewise, you can be smashed back down to earth with devastating force when a well meaning critic offers a well meant suggestion as to what to do with that superfluous exclamation mark. Swings and roundabouts is the expression that might be employed here though - you learn to deal with the criticism properly, and often find, when you've calmed down, that the points raised are well deserved and often extremely useful.  And you get to critique their work right back, so it's very satisfying from that point of view too.

Now, I have still to show my work to other human beings face to face. I am on the verge of doing so, when I begin a short evening course in Creative Writing in a fortnight's time. I will be able to write more on the wonders of sharing when that course is completed. But I am feeling nothing but excitement at the thought of listening to the work of other people, and of reading some of mine out loud in a room filled with school-type tables and chairs, whiteboards and marker pens, and eager novice novelists who will hang on my every word (at least for my first piece; maybe not so after that if they think I'm a pretentious idiot).

But I know this before I even begin the course: a writer's work needs to be heard/read. I am certain that working with other human beings will be nothing but a positive experience, both for myself, and also for those I am able to offer support to.

We shall see.


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