With another lockdown looming over us, the prospect of continued isolation feels overwhelming. Does it for you?
But COVID-19 has taught me that I am not alone, especially not as a writer. There came a point where I could have capitulated to loneliness and lost my sense of words. I could have stopped writing because it sometimes seemed to amplify my solitude. There is an irony in this as writers are often seeking solitude to accomplish their work. It might seem like the prerequisite of solitude to be able to create means that writers, like introverts, were born to weather lockdowns and quarantines! But while we might need quiet to make art, we need community to grow and stay motivated as artists.
I’ve learned that, for me, writing is an inherently social act. In other words, if I’m not connected to other writers, I’m not writing.
Since we still cannot connect in-person, here are three pandemic-safe ways to stay social and keep moving forward in your writing practice:
Join or start a writing exchange.
I did. Each week, we share a piece from our memoirs-in-progress. We read and comment on each other’s work. This means every week, I am receiving constructive feedback from other writers, exposing myself to new work, and thinking critically about how that work can be a success.
If you have never been part of a writing exchange or are not comfortable with your knowledge of how to give or receive feedback, it might be helpful to start with just one person you know and trust. Collaborate on the logistics—frequency of exchanges, deadlines, what you will and won’t comment on, and so on—and try not to overthink it. Just write, share, and respond, and repeat as needed. Sharing work with someone on a regular basis keeps us accountable and motivated.
Join or start a book club.
I know the cornerstone of book clubs is the in-person potluck. I get it. But there is absolutely no reason why you can’t prep your favorite carry-along and enjoy it (maybe with a glass of wine or a fine coffee or tea?) during a virtual meetup. Sometimes, Zoom etiquette matters less than human connection—and book talk is one of those times!
Instead of focusing on what you are missing, use the intro minutes of your meeting to go “around the room” so each person can describe the flavor and makeup of their dish with as much writerly detail as possible. Some niceties must be observed, though—don’t forget, this is a book club. Do the reading. Remember, good readers make better writers. Offer your comments and perhaps a recommendation for the next month’s selection. Be on time, and bring a friend (who has done the reading). Any and all attempts at staying connected will be appreciated during the pandemic; any and all attempts at staying connected with writers and a writing community will deepen your commitment to your practice.
Retreat! (Sort of)
I don’t mean, step back from writing. I mean, step into it fully. Immerse yourself in a work-in-progress with a home retreat, whether it’s a staycation of your own design or a virtual offering through the Center or another organization.
There is no shortage of opportunities for virtual connection and inspiration in today’s world. If it’s your writing itself that you want to reconnect with, take the time to thoughtfully, intentionally plan a long session alone with your words…and then, once you have a draft or two, see step 1, join or start a writing exchange. Sometimes we have to get excited about our work again before we feel motivated to share and connect with others. Sometimes, taking what feels like a step back into isolation is the best way to keep moving forward toward connection.
If you want to retreat with a group, and under the guidance of a passionate and professional writing teacher, do some research on what’s out there (you might start, ahem, with our virtual writing retreats, which will resume in 2021 with even more options!).
What do all of these options have in common? Peers, goals, rules and deadlines. Translation: external accountability. In order to prevent our writer minds from becoming isolated, we must engage them regularly. Having accountability that comes from outside yourself will keep you motivated, engaged, and learning.
If you find yourself in need of writerly connection and you have exhausted other possibilities within your circle, please reach out and share a little about your needs and goals. Yes, we offer online writing courses, virtual retreats, generative and private sessions; but we have a number of other community-building opportunities suitable for aspiring and practicing writers. No matter what type of investment you are able to make, we can help—during the pandemic, and beyond.
Try this exercise. Journal or free-write for 15-20 minutes on where you are right now, today, as a writer. Explore the challenges to connection that you are experiencing. What would help? Write it down, even if it feels impossible right now (like I wish it was safe to travel to a place I’ve never been before for a rustic getaway, or I want to get all my writer friends together for a salon-style cocktail hour and literary reading. Write until you feel finished with your wish-list.
Now, pretend you are looking not at your own list, but a friend’s. What advice would you give about recreating that friend’s greatest wishes for creative connection? Being objective will help you resist the urge to shoot down each entry on your list of alternative activities before you even write them down. Try to come up with one alternative for each wish (like Research a place I’ve never been to before and write a short story about a writer who goes there for a rustic getaway, or Ask for recommendations of podcasts or recordings of my favorite writers reading their work, and listen to them on a conference call with friends.
I hope these suggestions help you feel less alone, as a writer and as a human being navigating these unprecedented times.
What are your biggest connection challenges right now? Do you belong to any groups, or have you considered starting one? Share with us in the comments!
Related reading: 4 ways to write yourself out of isolation
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