Here is a simple truth: If you want to survive as writer, you need a literary atmosphere. Despite the fact that writing is often such a solitary act, there's no escaping the fact that we need each other, we need a literary community to keep ourselves going. We need support.
Think of all the times you’ve sat at your computer, telling yourself 'Today is the day I write my next big story!' - only to find yourself clicking through yet another Buzz Feed quiz, entitled ‘What Famous City Are You?’ or scrolling through the endless feeds of Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and Instagram, all before the ‘Welcome’ screen has barely loaded its final 'hello.' Think of how many times you’ve told a friend about that project you’re 'currently working on', only to realise it’s been months since you’ve added a single word.
Now consider - how often have such instances occurred when you’ve found yourself alone in the writing game? Times when you’ve gone what seems like a short lifetime without speaking to another writer, attending a writer’s event, or possibly even just reading a good book? No doubt these aren’t the only times you’ve found yourself avoiding putting pen to paper (or indeed, fingers to keyboards). Let’s face it; procrastination can strike at any time. But, we're willing to bet that these crimes of ‘writer’s avoidance’ (i.e. opening a word document, then proceeding to surf YouTube videos for the next five hours) are far more common when you find yourself without a support group – without a literary community.
But what is a literary community, and how can one help you as a writer?
Placing yourself in a 'literary community' can mean any number of things, all of which can be extremely beneficial to writers of all backgrounds. Immersing yourself in a literary environment can keep you motivated, provide inspiration, and improve your writing and editing skills. To further illustrate this, here are some examples of what a literary community may entail, and how such a literary atmosphere can help you, as a writer, thrive!
1. Attend a Writers’ Workshop
Never underestimate the benefits of a workshop. Workshops provide a very rare, and remarkable opportunity to meet, interact, and exchange ideas with a vast array of refreshing, fellow writers. When you attend a workshop, you are truly in the centre of a literary community, and the support you find there can be surprisingly therapeutic.
If you have never attended a writers’ workshop, or writers’ group, you should definitely consider enrolling in one. Short courses can be found at places such as the NSW Writers’ Centre, or the Australian Writers’ Centre. It is also worth investigating whether any free writers’ groups are meeting in your local community. For example, those living in the Blue Mountains may wish to look at the Blackheath Creative Writing Group. Alternatively, you can search for writing groups by postcode on the NSW Writers' Centre website.
I myself discovered the true value of writers’ workshops while I was studying at University. As part of my degree, I took a class called ‘Creative Writing Project.’ This unit was designed as a creative workshop, allowing students to submit their work for group editing sessions. Here, the class would read over submissions together, and offer their own critiques and editing suggestions, in order to help refine the piece. When I attended the first class of the semester, the idea of showing my work to other people terrified me.
But here’s the thing about sharing your work with other writers – they know exactly what that type of anxiety feels like. They’ve all felt it before. They understand you in a way that many others in this world never will. When you share your work with other writers, you don’t have to worry about being torn down, or criticised, or labelled as 'the worst writer in the world.' With other writers, you will be treated with respect, and a huge amount of understanding.
As the weeks went on, and I came to realise what a supportive environment I was in, my fear of handing over my own work slowly dissipated. I began to understand that I was not alone. Constructive criticism no longer felt like a personal attack. In fact, any kind of criticism, positive or negative, became far easier to handle.
If this had been the only thing I had gained from that class, it would have been more than I had hoped for. But there were other benefits too. Examining the work of others helped me take a critical view on my own work. Suddenly, I was able to take a step back, and examine my writing with the objective eye of an editor. Not only this, but hearing from other students helped shape my writing in ways I would otherwise never have considered.
Workshopping is also beneficial for those who intend on having a professional writing career in that it teaches young writers to work collaboratively, which is what they'll do in future with an editor. This experience makes the transition between writing as a hobby and writing as a career much smoother, as the writer is used to receiving constructive criticism.
And finally - attending a writing workshop allowed me to make some wonderful new friends. Friends who were also writers! And this, as I am about to explain, is another great way to immerse yourself in a literary community.
For more information on the benefits of writing workshops/groups, click here.
2. Make Friends with Other Writers
As a writer, having a ‘writing buddy’ is truly an invaluable gift. This is something that, evidently, many famous authors have discovered themselves over the years. Think of writers such as C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien. Lord Byron and Percy Bysshe Shelley. Ezra Pound and T.S. Eliot. Ernest Hemingway and Gertrude Stein. All of these writers were able to share in a mutually beneficial, literary friendship. (Although, granted, not all of these friendships lasted.) Take, for example, Ezra Pound, and T.S. Eliot. How did their friendship benefit them in their writing?
Perhaps you have heard of T.S. Eliot’s epic poem, The Waste Land? Well, Ezra Pound is essentially responsible for the poem’s final form. When writing The Waste Land, Eliot consulted his fellow poet for advice, and Pound heavily edited the work. The Waste Land is now one of the most famous poems of the entire Modernist period, and no doubt owes a great deal of this fame to Pound’s extensive collaboration.
When we make friends with other writers, we form valuable connections with people who can help make us better at what we do. We can bounce ideas off each other like a sounding board, and help iron out the crinkles in each other’s work. Having friends who are fellow writers is also great for networking. You can help each other connect with others in the industry. Promote each other. Build up each other’s literary community. Eliot, for example, was willing to credit and promote his friend for his contribution to The Waste Land. He dedicated the poem to Ezra Pound, calling him 'il miglior fabbro,' which translates to: 'the better craftsmen.'
3. Attend Writing Festivals/Events
Much like Workshops, Festivals can be a great place to meet new people, and exchange ideas on writing. (You could even make a new friend!) But most of all, writing festivals are an ideal location to simply absorb information and knowledge. This can help keep you motivated and inspired when your mind is lacking creative stimulation.
The Sydney Writers’ Festival is held every year, but this is not the only event you can attend. You can search for other Literary Festivals in your state or territory by visiting this website here. You should also keep an eye out for any writers’ seminars that may be scheduled in your local area. For example, for those in Western Sydney considering the avenue of self-publishing, a seminar is being held in Parramatta by Jennifer Mosher on the 28th June. (Full details to be found here.)
But establishing a literary community is not merely about surrounding yourself with other, literary people. You also need to maintain a literary mindset. To keep yourself breathing in a literary atmosphere. And this is something that you can often achieve on your own…
4. Read More
To truly know how to write, we must first know how to read. Reading helps us gain a natural understanding of writing. The more we read, the more we appreciate the intricacies of language - its rhythm, its structure, its flow.
At her recent lecture at the Sydney Writers’ Festival, ‘On Craft: Storytelling and the Storyteller’, Lian Hearn, author of The Storyteller and His Three Daughters, also spoke of the importance of reading. When discussing character, for example, Hearn simply stated, 'People arrive in my head.' She advocated that, for her, characters were not a creation. She did not sit down and plot out an entire backstory. She did not ‘construct’ them. They just came to her naturally; walking into her brain as fully formed individuals, ready to tell her their stories. Hearn then credited this innate understanding of character to reading; claiming, “I think it comes, perhaps, from a huge amount of reading around the subject.”
In other words, reading helps us form an inherent understanding of the art and craft of writing. This has also been expertly expressed by author and playwright, William Faulkner, who emphasised:
Read, read, read. Read everything—trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master. Read! You’ll absorb it."
For more on the advantages of reading, click here.
5. Never Stop Writing!
As with anything else, writing comes with practice. A gymnast cannot win a gold medal by sitting in their armchair, eating ice cream and thinking about their routines. They need to practice. Run through their exercises, again and again. Stretch out their muscles. Flex their limbs. Keep themselves limber. The same is also true of writers. We need to stretch out our writing muscles. Keep ourselves in literary shape.
Because if we truly want to benefit from a literary community, we must remain literate ourselves.
Just as William Styron once said:
The writer’s duty is to keep on writing..."