June was a busy month for me professionally, but I still wrote a fair amount of poetry. This is due, in part, to the fact that my professional responsibilities meant leading the Morehead Writing Project’s Online Summer Institute – so I wrote and shared along with my students. However, it is also due to the fact that I participated in #LexPoMo for the first time this year. Lexington Poetry Month was created by Hap Houlihan (formerly of the Morris book shop) and Katerina Stoykova-Klemer of Accents Publishing to get Lexington, Kentucky, writing and sharing poetry for the entire month of June. While the challenge was to write a poem every day, a challenge I failed to meet, I was pretty pleased to end up with 12 posted poems. I have a few more still residing in fragments in my journal that may be finished one day, but considering my workload for June I thought 12 was a pretty good start. I was #LexPoMo Poet # 291 if you want to see what I created. In all, 156 poets participated by sharing their poems throughout the month. Some poets shared only a few poems while other shared dozens.
Both experiences led me to remember how important it is for writers to write with other writers. Many people have a vision of writers slaving away in a cabin in the woods or an attic garret – supply your own stereotype here — but always alone. However, if you read author biographies (like I do) you will realize that, in fact, writers need regular contact with other writers for a number of reasons.
First of all, living inside your head too much can make you a little crazy. Have you read or seen The Shining? Trust me, you don’t want to end up like Jack Torrance. Sometimes you need a break from writing that only your non-writing friends and family can provide, but other times you also need to talk with people who can understand the tragedy of writing your characters into such a corner you had to throw pages away! There are only certain people who will understand your obsession with just the right pen or the perfect keyboard or the need to celebrate the perfect turn of phrase. There is nothing wrong with the people who don’t get it, but they aren’t writers. It is a joyful relief to spend some time with our own kind once in a while. In addition to this understanding that non-writers cannot offer, spending time with other writers writing, talking about writing, and sharing writing can provide three solid benefits.
I know writers can find inspiration in many places. Nature, books, candy aisles… But one of the things I love about attending writing workshops and retreats or reading books about writing by other writers is the inspiration they offer. Whenever I step outside my comfort zone as a writer it is because someone pushed me there (or sometimes enticed me with treats). I try to write my way into my day every morning, but I have a few comfortable ruts that I fall into as a writer. I write blog posts. I write rants. I write 6-word stories. I write Tanka poems. There is nothing wrong with that writing, but too much comfort is not a good thing. So this summer I was inspired by various writers to branch out and I am happy that I did as some of the coolest work I’ve done for a while came out of that experimentation.
You can learn from your fellow writers in a number of ways. I always learn from reading their work as well as talking to them about their methods, struggles, and triumphs as well as what they are reading to inspire and teach them. My journals are always sprinkled with the names of books and writers along with my own writing. Every writer with any miles on their odometer has some tricks and tips they can share, so don’t try to reinvent the wheel yourself. If nothing else ask them what they are reading as well as what they are writing. Writers need to read a lot to refill their well with inspiration and to provide models and guides for our writing. There isn’t a writer on the planet who cannot learn something new from another writer. I learn from my students as well as my fellow teachers whenever we write together.
One of the ways that writing has benefited me as a person has been the ways it allows me to explore and understand myself, others, and the world. Sharing pieces of our writing (you don’t have to share everything all the time!) with others can bring perspective and help us on our journey of growth. Sometimes another writer might hear something in our words that we did not even know was there or provide a nudge that will benefit our work and our understanding. Also, there is the simple fact that writing is communication. It can be an intensely private act, but if we never share our writing with others then we will never feel like a writer. While family and friends can sometimes be a good audience, although not so much in my own experience, other writers can be sympathetic and challenging in ways that non-writers cannot. They know responding to writing can be a tricky business and will often feel their way carefully through the shifting sand. There is something magical about coming together to share our words and thoughts, our hearts and souls, that can inspire my writing for days after we share.
While writers can write alone, they should, ever so often, resurface into the real world to live and love like a normal human – and, most important of all, they should occasionally connect with other writers to find inspiration, learning, and growth. Where do you find other writers? How do other writers benefit your writing? How do you benefit from other writers?