Don’t be weird all by yourself

By Elizabeth Engstrom

It could be that I’m preaching to the choir here when I talk about the benefits of attending writing classes, writing conferences, retreats, joining and becoming involved at the volunteer level of writing organizations, and engaging in writing activities with other writers.

If you’re the classic introvert and eschew those things, I beg you to reconsider.  Because I can’t speak for anyone but myself, let me share a little of the value these activities have given me over the years.

  1. Attending writing classes. My first writing class was with the inestimable Theodore Sturgeon. Needless to say, I stood in the presence of greatness, and he not only helped me launch my career, but gave me advice on my career and my writing that has served me well all these years. Since that memorable workshop, I have taken dozens of writing classes, and each time I do, I learn something new, or I remember something I had known once but forgotten.
  2. Attending writing conferences. There is energy at a writing conference that starts with the buzz about the presenters and what they might say, and continues with the people who attend. Friendships are forged, and relationships among introverts are sometimes intense and lasting. At the very least, it’s good to see a friendly and familiar face in the crowd, not to mention all the amazing things to learn from a wide variety of presenters. Sometimes we can hear the same thing over and over again, but it doesn’t register until we hear it from just the right person from just the right point of view when we’re at just the right point in our story or character development.  Plus, conferences are a boatload of fun. There are local, regional, national, and international conferences. Find one that appeals and go to it every year. When you make your reservations, make three goals that you intend to achieve at the event, and then go about achieving them. Needless to say, I highly recommend the Wordcrafters conference coming up in March.
  3. Attending writing retreats. This is where the rubber meets the road, as they say. This is intense learning and putting into practice immediately that which you just learned. This is a way to cement the policies and procedures into your overly-heated, plot-crazed brain that helps you make sense of it all. When you sign up for a retreat, commit yourself to do what the retreat leader tells you to do and don’t argue about it. Put your personal agenda aside and allow the wisdom of that person to engage the magic in you.
  4. Joining a writing organization. Writing is such a solitary endeavor that it is always good to feel as if you are a part of something greater. There are writing organizations for those who write romance, science fiction, thrillers, westerns, horror, fantasy… and on and on. Join one. Get the newsletter, go to their events, volunteer for a committee. It won’t hurt you and it just might help your career.
  5. Engage in communal writing activities. Last November, I participated in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) wherein I wrote a 50,000-word “novel” during the month of November. It wasn’t exactly a novel that I ended up with, my experience detailed here. But I wrote in coffee shops with other writers, went to the Thank God It’s Over party, and I enjoyed the camaraderie of it all. I’m glad that only happens once a year, but I have a friend who writes in coffee shops two to three times a week with other people, and I have discovered that with a nice pair of headphones, that’s a pleasant activity. I haven’t done it enough to know how it affects my work, because no matter how you do it, writing is a solo adventure. But it’s good to get caffeinated with other people, no matter what you’re doing. And sometimes a group of writers renting a house in the mountains or at the beach is a good writing activity, too. Get inventive.

There’s no need to gnash and thrash over your writing all by yourself. There is inspiration and strength in hanging out with other writers. There is comfort in knowing that you are not only weird, but in the company of other writers,  your weirdness is understood and accepted—even admired.

So be weird. But don’t be weird all by yourself. That’s no fun.

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