I love quotes. Someone else thinks the same as me, then captures it perfectly in a few words. They often feel poetic. I enjoy learning from them. A great quote can resonate with my own psyche. This one sums up ROW80 for me, for example:
“What really knocks me out is a book that, when you’re all done reading it, you wish the author that wrote it was a terrific friend of yours and you could call him up on the phone whenever you felt like it. That doesn’t happen much, though.”
It does so because although I don’t have your phone numbers, I can communicate with a wonderful writing community and find support in all things writerly, at the click of my keyboard. In Salinger’s time, this was certainly not the case. Although, once he found that illusive support we all crave, it turned the tides for his life-path and writing career.
Indeed, until he attended a Columbia University writing class, taught by Whit Burnett, longtime editor of Story magazine, Salinger had ‘failed’ at everything; dropping out of one course after another. He hadn’t even distinguished himself at the writing course until a few weeks before the end of the second semester, when Burnett finally praised his work. Soon after this, Salinger’s debut short story was published in the magazine’s March–April 1940 issue, and Burnett went on to become Salinger’s mentor and friend for several years.
How about that? That’s the power of praise, of support! Of course, without a huge dollop of talent, The Catcher in The Rye wouldn’t have been so brilliant either, but would Jerome have had the confidence to write it, to even show it to anyone in the first place? How many The Catcher in The Rye’s are hidden away forever, beneath insecurities and doubts?
My point? Support. Without it, Salinger may have flopped from one job to another, only ever writing beneath his sheets, secretly, erroneously believing himself talentless. Once he’d found Burnett, his true talent emerged, invigorated by Burnett’s encouragement and faith. But what if we aren’t so lucky. What if we don’t find our Burnett?
Support can come to us from various sources. We may look to our family for example, but can we trust their opinions 100%. If they praise us, isn’t that out of duty or bias? If they don’t, is that because they haven’t forgiven us for pulling their pigtails twenty years ago, or dating that greasy biker at 16? Or perhaps they think being a writer is a pipe dream and encouraging it would be somehow negligent.
I have also found that writers are at heart not massively social animal’s (there are exceptions), which can often leave them lacking in the friend department. Unless they’re lucky enough to have found an understanding buddy who is fine with regular weeks or months of irregular hours, of repeatedly declining invites to party or even meet up, of constant requests when we do so, to read/hear about our latest WIP, which would be lucky and extremely unlikely.
I’m a loner at heart, always have been. Age has strengthened that part of me, which is why an online writing community allows for interaction without the strain of small-talk and apologies for my social impatience. The encouragement and guidance of fellow writers, now that’s something special. There can be doubts there too of course, but not in a community like ROW80, where we feed off, reinforce, inspire and reassure one another.
In essence, with support, we can go far. Without it, we flounder in the darkness of uncertainty. Some need less of it, others need a constant stream of it during the process of writing. Whether you participate twice a week, every round, or only once a week during a few selected rounds at the most difficult times, it’s up to you. The community is always there, ready to welcome you back into the fold.
Without you all, I’d still be writing stories and poems, which only I would ever read. I wouldn’t have had the courage or self-belief to push the goal-posts, to embrace the torrid tides of publication, to take the icy plunge into the sea of readership and possible condemnation. I have no idea where it will take me, but I know I am supported no matter what the outcome, and can consult you all every step of the way.