Support; the Secret to a Writer’s Survival

Support; the Secret to a Writer’s Survival

Sometimes, writing feels like the worst, most thankless task in the world. It never fails; on the heels of my greatest high – finishing my first trilogy – follows the rollercoaster plunge toward my greatest low. Why did I bother to spend the last five years on this project? Who is going to read it? And of the few that do, what are the chances they’ll actually enjoy it? I know I should be celebrating, should be asking friends out for drinks and jumping for joy, but instead I’m sitting at my computer moping.

The problem is that most creativity, at least where writing is concerned, takes place in isolation. We writers sit at our computers with a cup of tea or coffee, put on our favorite writing playlist and try to charm the words from our fingers. We take note of our word counts and try to beat them the next day. We encourage ourselves on the bad days with whatever tactic works best. Sometimes we just eek out tiny amounts of words until we get over the hump, because sometimes there’s nothing else you can do. Then we take out our red pens and descend deep into the editing cave, emerging only when the task is done.

Though we sometimes write in places filled with people, human contact is the anathema of writing. The last thing you want is someone interrupting your zone-flow to ask a question or make an off-hand comment. They might derail the perfect sentence and you might not be able to find ‘the zone’ again. Often, writers are content with their own company, at home among their made up worlds and imaginary people. But that doesn’t mean we can survive the process without human interaction.

Writing in isolation makes us believe we’re alone. That we’re the only ones experiencing the problems inherent in wrangling ideas onto paper. I used to be surprised by the number of gifs on Tumblr that perfectly depicted my writing experience. But why did I think I was the only writer who ever slammed their fingers on the keyboard after twenty minutes of trying, and failing, to compose a sentence? Why did I think I was the only one whose soul slowly drained out of me when I started a new edit?

I wasn’t talking to other writers!

This is where Twitter and Tumblr have become my lifelines. So often I feel myself plunging into despair, believing that every other writer has some secret knowledge I lack. I think myself foolish for failing to find this thing that everyone else knows. Until I start talking to other writers who admit they, too, feel lost on the path to success. In fact, the more I talk to writers the more I realize that we’re all in the same boat. Some of us leap into the water prematurely, believing there’s no hope of bailing out the water because we haven’t glanced around and realized that ten other people are doing the same thing.

When writers talk, magical things happen. Not just new ideas and fabulous collaborations, but a lift in moral, a banishing of the weight that hovers over our shoulders throughout the writing process. It isn’t so much that misery loves company. It’s that we realize our feelings about our work are perfectly normal. That doubt is a part of the process which every writer has to deal with. Even Neil Gaiman has written on his Tumblr about phone calls to his editor bemoaning the current draft of his novel. He’s also written about the years before he reached his current popularity, when he struggled to keep writing to put food on the table in hopes he might some day be successful.

No one is born with the talent to write a bestseller on the first try. No one wakes up instantly knowing how to handle every part of the process. It takes a whole lot of effort, a whole lot of trial and error. And the more we talk to other writers, the more we realize we’re doing it right, that everyone’s going to fall on their face a couple dozen times along the way. That’s how we learn.

So the next time you’re ready to throw your keyboard across the room or burn the latest pages of your manuscript, take some time to visit your writing community. Ask how others are doing with their projects and maybe admit you’re in a slump. Because if ever there was a community ready to encourage its members, it’s the writing community. You might even find other writers expressing your frustrations before you open your mouth. And don’t forget to return the favor by checking with your writerly friends from time to time, in case they’re in need of some encouragement.

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