Writing exists to be read. As writers, we accept that fundamental fact, yet the realist of sharing our work with friends/tutors/agents/publisher can be physically paralysing. It is the uncompromising reason why so many manuscripts sit idly in drawers, wasting away their potential, and eventually becoming something shameful. Being a writer means learning to become comfortable with exposing your soul. As teenagers, we have the relative safety of anonymity; many of us, undoubtedly, posted our fictions online under pennames or pseudonyms, choosing how much of our real identities we were comfortable with revealing, or not. Fast forward a few years, and refine the art into something we actively want to pursue, it becomes necessary now to put our real names and faces to our work, at least for some part of the process; it becomes necessary that we take ownership for our fiction, with all the adult criticism, aversion, and crushing self-doubt that entails. It is exhilarating and terrifying. We want to be read and we fear to be read, writing is a weird, sadistic profession, no wonder people call us mad for choosing it.
So, with the dichotomy stated, how do we overcome it? The harsh truth is that the only way to become comfortable with having work read is to have people read it. It’s like the concept of immunisation: unpleasant, feels more like a punishment instead of a preventative, but is undeniably necessary. Here, the writing community truly comes into force. As a scattered siblingship trying to do the impossible, the writing community is a fantastic resource for encouragement and improvement, regardless of whether you’re just starting out, returning after a long absence, or are world-wide successful. No-one lives and breathes writing like other writers. No-one understands the struggle and triumph of writing like other writers. And no-one will ever be more genuinely willing to help you and benefit from you in return than other writers. Writing is not an isolated profession, it is vibrant and interactive, it always has been. Finding even one person who you can trust with that brittle, work-in-progress blood of your soul is the best feeling in the world – it can even make the difference between a three-hundred page doorstop and a best-selling novel.
Sharing your work with the writing community is often the foundation in building up to getting it published. Peers and superiors can give you unique advice about what works in your writing and what doesn’t, as well as suggestions on how to change or improve certain features. I won’t lie, they will not always be kind or polite, but they will always be constructive, and no-one ever benefited from having their work overly-praised anyway. Trust me. Like me, you still might find sharing your work difficult, and that’s fine, I have only two people who I’m comfortable with reading my writing, and it took me a long time to trust them. Aside from your heart, your work is the most personal and vulnerable thing you could give to somebody, and you need to make sure neither of them get hurt. But even if you find sharing your work paralysing, I still encourage you to do it (I spent so long not doing it!) because it will help you phenomenally.
How to get Involved with the Community:
- Work-Shopping – This is probably the easiest and most informal way you could start. Work-shopping entails a small group of writers getting together to provide feedback on each others work. Short pieces of fiction are passed round in a circle with each member marking something they like about the piece, and something they consider might need work, as well as any other comments they see fit to add. When the piece comes back to its original owner it is fully annotated with lots of ideas/insights and a fair bit of praise. If the group is confident, feedback can be given verbally, otherwise the written-on sheet suffices. Work-shops need no special set up, and can be as formal or informal as you like. The only conditions are that everybody brings something, and contributes equally to the task
- Writer’s Groups – A quick search on Facebook/Twitter will bring up literally hundreds of writing groups open for new members. Some of these are based on geographical location, others on specific forms of writing (e.g. Prose, Poetry, Flash Fiction), but all will be full of diverse people sharing their work, asking/answering questions, and providing advice and support. You can spend your time getting to know people and experiencing how they write if you don’t feel confident enough to post your own work initially. On the other hand, you might burning want feedback on your latest piece, in which case people will be happy to oblige. Just make sure you give back as well, as with work-shopping it has to be an equal contribution otherwise it’s not fair.
- University/College Societies – Every university I know has a Creative Writing Society, and if they don’t, make it your prerogative to found one! It is literally the most interesting group of people you will ever encounter, with many attending whose degrees lie outside the English discipline. This can be a wonderful way to build confidence right from the get-go, within a happy and supportive environment. Many even have weekly writing challenges, inviting you to test your ingenuity and grapple with forms you may never have encountered before. If you don’t feel confident presenting/reading your own work, go there and listen to others, take inspiration from them. You could build a life-long network simply from people you spend a couple of hours a week with doing what you love.
- Open Mic Nights – If you’re fearless or thespian, take to the stage in these brilliant organized-but-informal events. The atmosphere is vibrant, thrilling and studious all rolled in one. Check your local town/community for any of these meetings, usually held in cafe’s or bars once or twice a month. It is a great way to meet other writers in a relaxed environment, and hear some truly great work. There’s also the option to take a nip of Dutch courage before you face the plunge yourself (seriously, no judgement). You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll stand in awe, but most of all you’ll feel connected, a part of something, and that’s not to be disregarded lightly.
Use the community, become a valued member of it, do anything to stop writing becoming the isolated profession most people think it is. It took me years to realize what I was missing by keeping my soul to myself. You are forewarned and forearmed 🙂