In Praise of Writing Community—And Fancy Cheese

Twenty-five years ago, I met a woman in the Loft mentor series whose feedback was superb and whose prose I adored.  When she mentioned her writing group, I was so overcome with envy I blurted, “Any chance you’re taking new members?”  Sure enough, someone was leaving and I was most welcome.  Two and a half decades later, our little fivesome has written thirty-three books, published almost as many, been awarded five State Arts Board grants, consumed a ridiculous amount of fancy cheese, and collectively declare we wouldn’t be half the writers we are today without one another.  Some authors are lone rangers, but not usWe.  It takes a village to raise a child, and for us it takes writing community to sustain our practice.

When I first began teaching at the Loft Literary Center (back in 1996; oh, my!), we described the Loft as “where writers learn from other writers.”  Alongside craft lessons and workshopping drafts, classes formed connections.  I’ve come to appreciate just how valuable those connections are.  When writers have colleagues making the same commitment to their creative work, rising before dawn to scrawl a poem, duct-taping the bumper back onto the car to buy a few weekly hours of creativity, obsessing about which pen’s ink flows best and is this sentence both truthful and beautiful—that is, when we’re not alone in this countercultural, deeply interior, largely unproductive and rarely paid endeavor, we do our best work.  Writing takes faith, not in God but in creativity’s inherent value.  Without others struggling to sustain their faith alongside us, we’re apt to lose our own.

Now that I’m entering what’s likely my last decade of teaching, I’m convinced community is key.  We need each other.  My writing group has saved me from public humiliation; they’ve cheered me on; they’ve read thousands of my pages, gladly, graciously; they’ve asked questions that make my stomach plummet and knees knock; they’ve plied me with wine, cheese, and crackers; and, most importantly, they now hover in my awareness as the embodiment of ideal audience, front-line readers eager for my next installment.  If I could wave a magic wand to grant new writers anything, I wouldn’t wish for genius, talent, originality, inspiration, or even perseverance.  I’d wish for life-giving community.

Which is why I’ve been hard at work with Eye of the Heart forming writing circles, practice groups, and—drum roll, please!—a new online writing community platform, set to launch in January.  Together we can generate the creative, supportive environment we need.  I hope you will join us.

– Elizabeth Jarrett Andrew

Photo by by Ikostudio