Why Writing Communities are Important

The stereotype of the solitary writer is firmly ingrained in our culture. And, in truth, we are all alone when we write, even if we meet up with other writers to write in a group. However, being a writer with no writing community is a certain path to fast burnout, and can lead to depression and isolation.

Having other writers around to understand the pain of rejections, to help walk you through the minefield of publishing, to simply understand the joy of finding the right title for your book, is undeniable. But there is another asset to being part of a writing community: creativity.

Simply being in a group of other writers can charge my batteries. Start throwing ideas around, and the buzz is almost a roar. Synergy does exist, and sometimes a passing comment from another writer can spark an idea or a solution to a creative problem.

I now have 4 publishing credits to my name, and none of them would have come about without my writing community. At first glance, my short story, TO LIGHT AND GUARD (adult psychological horror), my novel, OZCILLATION (a middle grade sci-fi retelling of the Wizard of Oz), and my short story, DYING BREATH (YA contemporary) have little in common, other than my byline. However, every one of them was sparked by a writing prompt exercise in classes with Jonathan Maberry. (In case you are wondering, the prompts were: “Write what scares you most,” “Rewrite when Dorothy meets the Scarecrow in a different genre,” and “Combine these two ideas: organ transplant and Afghanistan.”)

My fourth publishing credit is a poem, THE TOWERS STOOD, and it is an example of how a writing community can expand your knowledge base. I rarely write poetry, but wrote this and felt it was strong. A friend in the writing community, Diane Sismour, pointed me to a poetry anthology that was a perfect fit (World Healing, World Peace 2014). And with my novel, OZCILLATION, Jonathan Maberry once again weighed in, suggesting I try Evil Jester Press, where it has now found a home. In both cases, I had no knowledge of either outlet, and so my writing community became my extended brain.

A writing community stirs the creative pot and helps us through the publishing maze, but most of all, a community gives us a safe place to experiment with our writing. They will catch us when we fall, and cheer us when we succeed.

I am very lucky to be a part of the vibrant writing community that has grown up from the seeds planted in Doylestown almost 10 years ago. Under the nurturing wings of The Liars Club members, this community has grown and flourished, bound together by the single ideal that we will get farther working together than we will alone—that a rising tide lifts all boats. From what I have witnessed over the years, that seems to be the case. Many success stories are rolling in from this community, and I’m sure there are many more to follow.

How about you? How has your writing community (or lack of one) impacted your career or writing life?

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The Horror! The Horror!: Write Your Fears Away

I am not a horror fan. Even in the absence of gore and blood (which will cause nausea in no time), I have never been able to deal with the horror genre. In a discussion in a workshop last month, I finally realized why I don’t like horror – and it isn’t because I’m scared.

As long-time readers know, I have an anxiety disorder. Aha! you say. So you are scared!

Not really. It’s not the fright that gets to me, it is the disturbing images/thoughts that horror deals in so deeply. Disturbing images stay with me far longer than with the average person—sometimes to the point of obsession. I can get trapped in a downward spiral of darkness that takes me to places I really shouldn’t go. It’s not healthy for me, and it’s very hard to break out once the spiral begins. Not only can it lead to disabling physical panic attacks, but it affects my mental state to the point where my daily activities are disrupted.

So that’s why I don’t read horror.

That said, I actually wrote a horror story last week.

Jonathan Maberry, head of our Advanced Novel workshop, had our class brainstorming outside our usual genres in the last class. One of the things he asked was, “What scares you the most?”

My answer was, of course, something happening to my child.

And that opened the floodgates in my head.

Terrifying visions of things that could happen to my toddler are nothing new for me. I shove them away quite often. They pop unbidden into my head, and I must use my coping mechanisms to turn them off and keep them at bay. Even though I know most of them are extreme and unlikely to happen, the terror is there in my brain. So I have no need to go there intentionally.

Opening that box in my brain even a little bit, one scenario leapt fully-formed into my imagination. I tried to put it back in the box but it evaded me, growing stronger during the long ride home from class. By the time I pulled into my driveway, I was on the verge of an all-out panic attack.

Over the next few days, I wrestled with that scenario, but whenever I closed my eyes it would jump up and laugh at me. My brain could not let it go. So I did the only thing I could do.

I wrote the thing down.

In an hour and a half, I knocked out a 2,000 word rough draft. I poured that horrendous vision out of my head and onto the page, and sent it off to a friend of mine (who was so scared by it, I am surprised she is still speaking to me.)

And, finally, the feedback loop in my head stopped, and the images went away.

I’ll go back and polish it up, and maybe see if I can get it out to the public anywhere, but I can tell you right now any horror stories that comes out of my pen will be few and far between. I can’t live in that place in my head—not if I want to have a healthy life.

So, do you love horror or hate it?

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