Writing Alone Together

As you probably know if you’ve been following this blog, the concept of writing as a lonely pursuit is often a fallacy, or at least a melodramatic representation of the writer as a lonely, angst-ridden individual. Sure, some of us are–and I know many writers are introverts–but one of my favorite things about being an author is that I’m part of a community, or several communities. (In my case, primarily speculative fiction and children’s fiction.) And one of the things I miss most now that I don’t live in a major city filled with other writers is getting together with my friends to write together.

It can be incredibly motivating and inspiring to set a “writing date” with a friend to meet up at a coffee shop or someone’s home to write next to each other. It’s the best of both worlds, really. You’re getting work done, perhaps with the added pressure of seeing how productive your friend is being, but you’re also hanging out. Depending on your writing partner and your own style, you can even carry on a conversation–and it’s great to have a sounding board for ideas right there in front of you.

Add a few more people, and you have what I call a “writing day”: getting a lot of people together to write in each other’s presence. You can take over a coffee shop, but I was fortunate to have a day job that allowed us to use a conference room on evenings and weekends. This can only work if you have the right people there; some writers do really need complete silence when they’re working, or they want to be near you but not talking to you, etc. But it can also be helpful to push yourself out of your comfort zone and get a change of scenery. I used to be precious about needing a certain amount of time to write, in a certain place, with a cup of tea, and so on… Over time I’ve gotten less precious about it, and I think–especially if you don’t have much time to write or live with a lot of distractions–it’s essential to be able to write anywhere, any time, under any conditions. And it was always nice to meet up and make it a sort of party, even if to most people it doesn’t look like a particularly exciting party.

Then there are writing retreats. This can get expensive depending on where you go and how many people are involved, but this takes the writing day party and turns it into a working vacation. My writing group would often rent a house for a long weekend or week, which is surprisingly affordable. Choose the right people, buy a lot of food (and yes, maybe some drinks), and come with ideas or a set goal of finishing a story or revising a novel or whatever. (Maybe don’t book a reservation for a house at the top of a mountain in the winter, but if you do, make sure your rental car has four-wheel drive.) Just saying, no reason. I’ve also attended some critiquing retreats, which had the added bonus of establishing a deadline by which you need to complete and submit pages from your novel, and giving you a chance to learn from other writers and benefit from their feedback on your work and the work of other attendees.

©Disney

I’m trying to schedule a few days at the Highlights Unworkshop in the fall to jumpstart a new book, which will be more a proper “retreat” to get away from my daily responsibilities and really focus on writing, rather than write and socialize, but I’m sure I’ll meet some interesting people there. (I’ve heard good things about Highlights, but I’ve never been. I’ll report on the experience afterward, if you’re curious.) The thing is, the only people who know what it’s like to be a writer are other writers, and it’s uplifting to be able to spend some time with them and share your experiences and anxiety and advice about all this with each other. That’s kind of what this blog is for, right?

What if you don’t live near other writers? Some of my friends have scheduled Skype or Google Hangouts video calls to write together virtually, which means you don’t even have to change out of your pajamas and you have the best of three worlds: the comfort of your own home, companionship of other writers, and motivation to do the work. Sometimes people announce “writing sprints” on social media. Even the busiest people should be able to coordinate one of these sessions every once in a while.

What do you think? Do you like writing with other people around, or do you prefer solitude? Do you have any other strategies for writers who need to write, but crave social interaction?

One Response to Writing Alone Together

  1. Maria Vale Aug 26 2017 at 8:49 pm #

    Only with someone who is able to work quietly, without hand holding. It sounds selfish, I know, but I can’t work with someone who needs to be able to “run something by.” It’s inevitably at an inconvenient moment. Then I get nervous, knowing that the “can I just….” will strike at any time. It’s like trying to write under the horrid buzz of ancient fluorescent lights. So I guess the answer is no. I’m with you on #writingsprint though. Forces focus.

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