Judy, thanks for the privilege of writing the first guest post on the MCW blog!
There’s a stereotype of the writer as anti-social: the hermit who locks himself away from the outside world, the recluse who goes off to a cabin in the woods to be alone with her manuscript and her thoughts.
“I need solitude for my writing; not like a hermit—that wouldn’t be enough—but like a dead man.” – Franz Kafka
Stereotypes exist because they’re often true. The sad fact is, though we all want our work to be read and deemed profound by readers who identify with our characters and thoughts, we also want—or need—time away from human contact because that’s how we get stuff done.
However, connection is what helps us write well, in three specific ways:
It’s always hard to share fresh work with friends. Will they see how much effort we’ve put into our scenes, our verses, our word choices? Will they understand the nuances we’ve considered, and will they love our characters the way we do? Can they answer that burning question on our minds: does it suck?
But not all readers give good feedback. “I liked it.” What specifically? “The action was good.” Okay, but what about the conflict? “It felt alright I guess. They argued and stuff. Looks good, man.”
That’s not going to answer anyone’s questions or satisfy anyone’s curiosity.
A group of fellow writers means getting insight into the process and the details that concern each of us. “Did I include all five senses? Were there any grammar mistakes? Do you think the character’s voice sounds authentic or affected? Is the conflict building naturally, and is it enough to keep a reader’s interest?”
Done properly, feedback sessions can provide the constructive criticism we each need to improve our weak areas while revealing what we’re already doing right. We all walk away stronger as writers because of the fresh perspectives we’ve been given.
“I should just quit. This is rubbish. Who am I kidding? How dare I call myself a writer? No one else seems to struggle like I do with this part of the craft…”
Surprise! We all deal with frustration about our work—we all want to be better than we are because we know we’re not as good as (your favorite author here).
When we spend too much time alone, it’s easy to wallow in negative emotions. Our dissatisfaction with our work may make quitting seem the better option. Worse, we’re more likely to lose motivation and let our writing craft languish, even without a conscious decision to quit.
Getting around other writers sparks creative connections. There’s a value in camaraderie and community that makes our individual efforts better.
On my own, it’s easy to let my writing projects gather virtual dust, filed away on a hard drive or in a preferred writing app. I’ll happily call myself a writer, and say “I’m working on a book.” But my actions prove whether my words are true.
Like many endeavors—a diet plan, a workout routine, a study program—working with partners and peers helps us stay committed to the journey. Maybe it’s a sense of accountability that spurs us on: “I’m going to have to get something written, because the group meets next week.” Or maybe it’s a rekindled excitement: “Kyle’s suggestion was just what I needed!”
A suggestion from a fellow writer might break a log jam or fill in a plot hole. Hearing how others overcome the varied challenges of writing may give us another tool in the kit for those days when nothing seems to work and every page looks like trash.
Commitments work better when they’re mutual. The end result is that there are more results.
We writers are an odd bunch, but the good news is, there’s a bunch of us. I am not alone in the strange experience of feeling like there are voices of other people in my head whose thoughts and deeds I record in stories or poetry. I am not the only one who watches a movie or reads a book and begins dissecting how the tale is told instead of simply enjoying the telling.
Writing is undiagnosed but socially acceptable schizophrenia.
“Writers aren’t exactly people… they’re a whole bunch of people trying to be one person.” – F. Scott Fitzgerald.
If we’re going to be crazy anyway, why not do it together?
Follow this blog to watch for upcoming events in the Military Community of Writers. We’re expanding to Korea, and connecting across the Pacific. We’ll be sharing writing by active duty servicemembers, veterans, and civilians associated with the military community, and we’ll have groups—both in-person and online—designed for providing mutual feedback or helpful suggestions as we all strive to improve our efforts in this craft.
I hope you’ll come along for the ride and share your story with the rest of us.
About the author
Dave Williamson is an enlisted Air Force aircrew member living on Okinawa with over 20 years in the service. He is married to a phenomenal, supportive wife, and has four awesome children. Dave loves drinking coffee, singing, playing piano, writing, video games, tabletop role-playing games, and drinking more coffee. He has two self-published novels and is a published contributing author in Chicken Soup for the Soul. Dave writes fantasy, sci-fi, short stories, devotional thoughts, ideas about tabletop gaming, and the occasional haiku. Go to http://davidmwilliamson.net to see his most recent work.