You Don’t Have to Write it Alone: Finding the Right Community

It helps to have the right people in your life.

Writing is a solitary pursuit. Kind of, but not really. At least, it shouldn’t be.

Let me explain with a personal story: by the time I graduated high school, I knew that I wanted to be a writer. It was the only thing I could see myself doing. But for the longest time, I was the only writer I knew. I attended city college with a lot of my old high school classmates, but none of them were writers. They were mostly musicians, forming bands left and right, none of them making it past performing outside of our hometown. Eventually, many of my friends gave up on their artistic pursuits and joined the workforce, married, and began to settle down.

Regardless, being the only writer in our circle of friends was lonely. I had no one to talk about writing with. I tried to mention my stories and poems to my friends, but they just didn’t get it. Only writers can understand other writers, and it became increasingly clear to me that I had to find my own community.

That, however, proved to be incredibly difficult. I attended creative writing courses in college both in the hopes of honing my craft but also to find other writers. And I did find other writers. But they weren’t my kind of writers. A lot of my classmates were older folk, many of them retired, who were just taking creative writing courses for fun (one of them even turned out to be a high school teacher of mine). Outside of that demographic were a group of writers who, though were closer to my age (I was 19 at the time), were completely obsessed with vampires. I tried to get to know them better. But I was a writer who was inspired by Latin American authors like Gabriel García Márquez. As much as I tried, I just couldn’t connect with the older folks obsessed with writing about California in the 50s, nor the younger crowd self-publishing their YA vampire fiction.

From then on, I continued to meet writers as the years went by, but I still failed to find a good community. I transferred to university a year after college and majored in English. I still wanted to be a writer, so I thought the major would help me find other writers I could connect with. And I did find other writers. But, again, they weren’t the right writers for me. Many of them spoke of wanting to write, but they ended up not writing anything. And those that did write were not dedicated to the craft. I remember I was part of an English club that invited one of the English professors to talk about his experiences on publishing and having an MFA. At that time, the POC vs. MFA debate was the talk of the industry. I remember asking the professor about the topic, and the professor said he hadn’t heard about the debate. I asked him similar questions — about the publishing industry, contemporary authors, etc. — but the professor didn’t address any of them. After the meeting, one of the members chastised me for making the professor feel uncomfortable and said that “nobody knew what you were talking about.” I learned then they weren’t my community either. Like the writers I knew before them, I couldn’t relate to them, nor them to me.

At the end of my undergraduate studies, I applied and was accepted to an MFA program. It was there that I finally felt understood as a writer. Where I used to know nobody who read Jhumpa Lahiri or Roberto Bolaño (apparently English majors in undergrad never read authors past the 1960s), I was now being given recommendations to contemporary authors I had never heard of and was excited to read. My classmates were also incredibly dedicated to their craft, their feedback so insightful, their energy so positive and infectious. The instructors were the same way. I loved my classmates. I loved my instructors. For once, I felt like I finally had a community I could bond with.

But then I didn’t. I returned to my hometown after graduating and started working as an educator. I had none of my classmates with me. We managed to stay in touch, but it wasn’t the same as taking classes together. I tried my best to write on my own time, but I didn’t have my community anymore. Once again, I was alone, and I was less and less motivated to write every day. I missed my classmates. I missed my instructors. I missed their feedback, insights, and energy. I missed having my community.

I stopped writing for a while, and I would have stopped writing for good if I hadn’t moved to Los Angeles. After a year in my hometown, I realized I was stuck again. I had no writing community there, and I had to find one if I were to write again. So, I packed my bags and made my way down south where I currently live. Since moving here, I have met screenwriters, poets, novelists, writers of all forms. I don’t feel the same energy with all of them. But the ones that I do motivate me to work harder on my craft. It’s the same feeling I felt with my classmates at my MFA program. I’m still in touch with a few of my classmates, but not all of them. That doesn’t bother me, though. I have learned through trial and error that not everyone will be part of your community, and that’s nobody’s fault. The YA vampire writers had their community, as did the English club in undergrad. I’m certain not all my classmates keep up with each other all the time. Some writers will understand you more than others, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

Writing is a lonely experience, but that doesn’t mean we have to go it alone. I might spend a lot of time in front of my laptop alone, but it makes a big difference when I have someone to share my writing with, someone who understands me when I can’t get this story right, someone who can offer good feedback on a story I’m struggling with, someone who just gets you. There’s a reason why books are published with acknowledgment pages. Having a community that understands you and your writing will help you grow and feel less alone.

I started writing mostly out of a sense of loneliness. I wanted to be understood, and writing was the best way to express myself. Not everyone will understand me or my writing. But the few people that do make it all worthwhile. Despite writing alone in my room, I don’t have to be alone. I have a community now, and I don’t have to write it alone.

Fiction Editor for Watermelanin Mag. Contributor for Reclamation Magazine. Twitter: @ChSoriPalma.

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