A Community of Writers by Elizabeth Anne Mitchell

The day after Round 3 ended, I was reading C. M. Cypriani’s blog post, on her official signing up for Round 4. I was struck by this statement, “Where before I wrote in solitude, I now write with friends. I enjoy sharing my writing now instead of hiding it, embarrassed, worried no one would like it. The support I’ve gathered has been phenomenal.”

Her thoughts really hit a chord with me. I think that is the biggest change in my writing life, both the reality of the community and the support I gain from it. Before I stumbled across RoW80, I had a fair amount of experience with writing. I have snatched snippets of time when I needed to think something through, get out my bile over something, or sing of joy and love. Granted, those last bits were often smarmy. Very rarely, those moments were shared with a small number of people, usually two or three. When I was in college, I wrote a poem that I was considering putting in a regional contest. My English professor convinced me to enter, and I made the final ten or half-dozen. There were three published authors invited to critique our poems; however, it was a public forum, held in an auditorium holding about 600. While the place was not full, there were at least 300 there. When my name was called, I had to come up on the stage to read my poem. Then I had to stand there while the critique was performed. For someone who had never had a poem go out into the public, it was an excruciating experience. Neither the novelist nor the essayist found much of interest in the poem, and gave it short shrift—negative, but blessedly short. The poet seemed to feel annoyed that I was wasting his time with this “boiled poetry.” He continued, but as he offered not one single constructive criticism, I have thankfully forgotten the rest of his vituperation.

After my negative experience with creative writing, I hid for years, well, decades, really. Eventually, I began to dream of having a community of writers. I had made a couple of friends who, I later found out, were also writers, and even began to share my writing with them, but as it turns out, they live in the UK. I live in the sticks, so there are no local writing groups—the closest one is 40 miles away. Stumbling over Kait Nolan’s RoW80 site was a serendipitous delight. I lurked for a bit, since I came upon it two weeks before the end of Round 2. I was immediately drawn to the support, help, and generosity of everyone in the group. Need a tip on how to work out a plot point? Send up a flag and no less than ten people will answer you, sending you links to blog posts, or titles of books that helped them. Have a day job meltdown or family crisis? No one will chastise you for not meeting your goals, but will cheer you on to start back on them as soon as you are able. Want to put an excerpt out there to see what people think? Six people will read it before the end of the day. Just feeling lonely? Go hang out at the Twitter hashtag #RoW80 and read the back and forth.

The change for me has been so complete, that I missed the first sign of it until much later. I had never done flash fiction, and never thought I would have the courage to put my fiction up in a public blog. But I entered a flash fiction challenge in late September, posted it on my blog, and didn’t even think about what a change that was for me until a week later. Did anyone laugh at me? Did I get ridiculed? No, I got a lot of very nice comments about it, which warmed me and made me seriously think about expanding the story. Granted, I’m sure it didn’t trip everyone’s trigger, but you know what? I didn’t worry about that; I was proud of what I wrote and even more proud that I didn’t give a second thought to posting it.

So I feel I have the “been there, done that,” to say don’t discredit what you can do, what you have done, what you will do. Don’t ever feel you must hide rather than make a “bad” check-in. I have checked-in when I got nothing done, because life got in the way, or I just had nothing in the well. I got so many responses, telling me that it was okay and that if I just kept plugging, the spring would flow back into the well, life would assume a state of normalcy, and it just meant I had to keep trying. As C. M. said, the support is there. It is truly support, not tearing down or diminishing. We are all here to help one another; this is one of the best support groups I have ever found, so sing out—don’t hide.

 ~*~

Elizabeth Anne Mitchell

 

22 comments

  1. That poet who critiqued your poem sounded like he needs a good kick up the a**e! Glad you found the courage to get back in the writing arena. I’ve had some negative responses that have put me off for a while but I’ve always found my way back. Keep writing, keep believing and don’t let the bastards get you down!

  2. Your painful experience of being critiqued made me cringe. Anyone who would scythe down a young writer like that, and on a stage in front of a crowd hasn’t learned anything from poetry. It’s supposed to improve human understanding and awareness, not simply be an intellectual exercise. Nearly all (if not all) writers suffer from unwanted/inappropriate critique. I want to do a blog post about this, it is a serious problem, particularly for people who participate in writing groups. In time writers who keep going find within themselves some reserves of strength and belief in their work. It sounds like you have, well done! And you have brought a generosity of spirit to your writing that means it benefits everyone.

  3. Pingback: A ROW80 Check-In :
  4. Ha! That critique reminded me of Matt’s comment on the English professor venn-diagram! I’m giggling all over again.

    Thank you for such a great post, Elizabeth. Anyone writing should get involved in a support group. It makes such a difference!

    1. This Matt? What did I do now? 😀

      … but of course.

      Sadly, I don’t have enough grays to pull it off. Nor the smoking jacket. Nor library. Nor the curtains. Ah, but we can aspire to great things, can we not?

      But yes, that critique represents one of my worst nightmares. In fact, I could probably recount it to the same fellow in the jacket while reclining on the leather chaise (which compliments the recliner) and he would tell me that it represents a deep-seated fear of failure and salami sandwiches. (Seriously, do you know what they put in that stuff? But it’s sooo good.)

      Er… where was I? Ah yes. Awful, awful, bad, naughty lit snobs.

      Support and encouragement are key. I think we all write better when we feel confident, even if it’s simply a veneer nurtured by community. Safety in numbers, and all that. Plus, y’all are great fun. No one likes laughing or crying into a vacuum. Friendly shoulders are much preferred.

      1. We always have to watch you, don’t we, Matt?😉

        What I love about the support here is that it is given whether participants have seen one’s work or not–sort of your veneer bolstered by community–but I’ve also seen honest, constructive criticism asked for and received. I feel as though I would get a real critique here (not the friend or relative who loves everything I write) but that would give me a sense of how to improve.

        I have to say that I, too, much prefer the friendly shoulders here.

  5. Love this! I agree, anyone who would tear a you apart in a public forum has no right to call themselves anything other than douchebag!
    Your post was wonderfully inspirational! I get what you mean about the value of such a group. I’ve come out as a “writer and blogger” to everyone here (my online family) but funny, not to more than half a dozen of my friends and family. I fear their nit picking, rejection, or lack of understanding and support. I don’t want any “negativity” playing on my fragile insecurities right now! But with everyone here, I feel such a sense of acceptance, help, and support from “so called” strangers. Safe.

    It’s been liberating and inspiring. Had I not discovered you all, I don’t know that I’d have even considered undertaking my first WIP.

    1. Thanks, Natalie. I think most of my family would be supportive, but I’ve always been the “flighty” one (“Graduate school? What in heaven’s name for?”), and I feel it would just be seen as further proof of my instability.

      “So-called” strangers–that is spot on. I feel like I have known all of you for a long time, and almost forget I’ve never met any of you in real life.

      I’m really glad that you found the group supportive enough to take on a WIP; I’ve gained a lot of confidence here.

  6. I think the people who were doing the critique were just showing off their own supposed importance. It happens.

    ROW80 is the best thing that’s happened to me in my writing world. I can’t thank Kait enough for doing this challenge. I feel like there will be a lot more books written and sold because of this. I know it’s certainly helped me. I agree that it’s the best support group ever!

    1. Excellent point, Lauralynn. I look back and see “Insecurity” all over that poet’s arrogance.

      I join with you in thanking Kait for creating this community. I feel sure that there are books being written because of it; I certainly am listening more to the characters in my head since joining.

  7. Thank you for the insightful post, it actually got me out of “hiding” and made me post a ROW80 Check-In – granted it is a null Check-In, since I had accomplished zero towards my ROW80 goals, but on careful examination I found that I have accomplished things to be proud of over the last week, even if the writing took a back seat.

    Now, to work so I have something to report in two days time…

    Kevin

    1. That means a lot, Kevin; your comment makes writing this post so worthwhile. I’m glad that it brought you out of hiding. I completely understand the impulse to retreat back into the dark corners, but the support I’ve received here has made it easier for me to come and ask for help rather than hide.

      I think you’re hit the crux of it by saying that you found things to be proud of–the check-ins are a great opportunity for seeing the positives, not just the negatives.

  8. A powerful message. Thanks so much for sharing, Elizabeth. I have written for years, but only “come out” as a writer in the last year, as my book was being published. It has been at times painful (public speaking), but ROW80 has been a blessing. I’ll never again be content to be isolated now that I’ve discovered how much my writing community means to me.

    I tweeted this, hoping non-ROW80ers will find this group. Thanks again for such an honest and touching post!

  9. Thanks for tweeting this, Tia; I’m glad you liked it. I feel so safe in this community, I can write about feeling that people would call me out as an imposter or make fun of me. It is not something I could share with more than a couple of friends before finding this group.

    I now have no problem with public speaking–lots of Irish bluster in my background🙂 Seriously, as I continue my baby steps, I have other fears that will continue to plague me, but I know that I have a group that will be honest and supportive of me. I will never hide in a corner again.

  10. It’s so terrifying to put ourselves out there. Especially if we’ve ever had any negative experience with going public. It’s so important to have a supportive community. Creativity thrives with encouragement, not ridicule (what does thrive with ridicule?). We’re all still growing.

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