18 Oct

Going it Alone

Posted in Community, Critique, DIY MFA

As a writer, at some point you’re going to find yourself alone.  Maybe it’s because a deadline has got you shut up in your house for days, weeks, months even.  Maybe it’s because you’re just not ready to share your work even with your most trusted readers.  Maybe it’s because you feel your work is fragile right now and you have to protect it from interlopers.  Whatever the reason, you and your work will become each others best company, so you’d better get along.

This is why I love this tree in the picture.  It’s a lone cypress tree just of the coast of the Pebble Beach golf course in CA.  It’s the only thing of green on that rock and yet it holds on with such tenacity.  It stands there, daring the world to get in its way: proud, tall, and alone.

Sometimes as writers we have to be the tree.  When people say “you can’t grow there, it’s a big rock” we just have to dig our roots in wherever they’ll squeeze and show those doubtful meddlers we can grow.  When people say “you’re all alone, a freak, an outsider” we just shrug, look out at the ocean and remember that while we might be alone, we’ve got the best view on the planet.

When it comes to writing, community isn’t just about knowing when to connect with people, it’s about knowing when you need to go to that room of your own and close the door.  When nurturing a small sprig of story, we can’t let everyone water the plant or it will drown.  New ideas are fragile and can get easily squashed if not protected.

Julia Cameron calls this “containment” and I agree.  I’ve made the mistake in the past of letting too many writers and non-writers into my “circle of trust” and subsequently stories have been pulled in every old which-way and got torn to pieces.  Now I have a smaller circle of trust.  One person reads my rough drafts and pushes me forward, five readers form a critique group that reads more polished work and one reader is my go-to person for career stuff and big-picture notes on my work.  The rest of the time, my best company is me, myself and I.

What about you?  Are you comfortable going it alone sometimes?


Comments on this post

  1. Kerryn Angell says:

    I rarely share my writing with others when I'm writing and revising. I'll discuss plot and characters and story trouble. I have one critique buddy that I completely trust who reviews my work when I want some feedback.

    I'm comfortable with sharing my work for critique and feedback but feel like it should be as good as I can make it, fixing all the things I already know is wrong with it, before I make use of someone else's valuable time. Though writing that I can now see how it might be useful to get feedback earlier in the process so that I don't waste my own time going down a dead end path!

    1. Merrilee says:

      I have three trusted crit buddies, who get to see the work before it's polished. When it's polished, it goes to an open crit circle, so I can see if there's a particular issue that comes up for a lot of people.

      1. Christine says:

        I have 5 people I trust with my work at various stages of the process. When I am brainstorming, I might go to a more intuitive writer friend who knows my process. For clean draft critique, I go to my CP who is very sound in catching details I have missed. For certain aspects of business, I go to two different people. I have learned that when it comes to my story I must follow my gut and write the first draft solo. The rest comes after I have cleaned it up a notch.

        I love this blog. I shall return to read your words again!

        1. Kelly Dexter says:

          Sorry for deleting the above comment! What I meant to say was . . .

          This is a wonderful analogy that paints a great portrait of the life of a writer, and that picture is beautiful! I love that tough little tree.

          1. darksculptures says:

            I needed this today! If you read the post I wrote last night, you will see that this is the point in my writing where I struggle the most. I need to be alone with my work for a while. Heck, my stories need it. However, I fear abandoning the small community of writers who have been there for me all along. Will they be as patient with me as I have been with them? I guess there is only one way to find out.

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