It’s really easy to fall into the trap of believing that writing, of any kind, is a job that is purely done on one’s own. I could go for several days talking about the hows and whys of that not being true- both in positive ways and negative ways-but for right now I want to focus on writing groups.
When I started this whole writing thing as kind of a hobby back in high school (lord, I’m getting old) I really thought that I didn’t need anyone else’s opinion on my writing. I knew what was best for my style, I knew what was the best thing for me to talk about and I knew what sounded good or not. Creative Writing classes existed purely so that I had somewhere where people were forced to sit and listen to my genius, but I didn’t have any obligation to listen to anyone else.
Since then I’ve realized that that kind of attitude is not only idiotically self-absorbed, but it was also toxic to my art. My poetry was less poetry than it was creatively spaced pity partying spanning several relatively expensive art journals. I once heard in a writing workshop for short stories by Jim Daniels that the problem with a lot of amateur artists is that they spend most of their time telling people how they feel instead of showing how they feel. And they never learn how to, because they refuse to admit that there is anything to being relatable beyond laying bare their own feelings. They never learn to take into account the places from which their audience will be coming. What kind of feelings will scare them. What kind of things they don’t want to admit to. The things that are easy to say, but shouldn’t- and the things that should be easy to say, but aren’t.
Being part of a writing community can help ease one’s own ignorance on that front. There’s nothing better than sitting at my university’s poetry club, listening to other students read their pieces for a half-hour on a prompt given not even an hour before that. Some of it is downright awful, and some of it is heart-breakingly beautiful. Both kinds of pieces can come from just one poet, depending on the week. And both kinds of pieces gets me, as a poet-listener, just that much closer to understanding who an audience is. What kind of particulars I can point out to. What kinds of beauty I forgot to pay attention to today. What kind of hurt or joy I forgot certain kinds of feelings could bring. Listening to the writings of others in a non-professional setting (I’ll talk about the benefits of a more professional setting later on) is more beneficial than I could have ever imagined.
You see, I only thought that this kind of inspiration could come by sitting in a room with a bunch of poets who all want to be published and make names for themselves with their art. The kind who compete and submit and go through the same agonizing process of waiting and being rejected, or the unexpected euphoria of acceptance, as I do in my own journey. But the thing is… getting better at your poetry, and getting better at being yourself, isn’t achieved by surrounding yourself only with the kinds of people who do the exact same thing that you do. It’s surrounding yourself with the people who will make you better, regardless of how closely they fit to your own ideals.
In my poetry club, the one I’m proud to call home, we’re a pretty similar in that we are all students at the same university. But at the same time, we are commuters, off-campus livers, dorm dwellers and student life employees. We are Math, English, Science, Philosophy, Nursing and Religion Majors. Some of us write poetry to keep from killing ourselves. Some of us write poetry because we are so enraptured with life that it spills out of every pore. Some of us want to become professional. Are professional. Some of us will never read poems aloud at meetings. Some of us write in diaries. Some of us write on our computers. Some of us Slam. Some of us rhyme. And we’re never better than when we are together, bouncing our souls off each other as easy as laughter.
So if you’re stuck in your writing, stuck in your formation as a poet- join a writing group. If you’re still a student, chances are there are one or two at your high school or campus. If you’re not, there are online places such as Meetup that will help you find a group near you who will fit your specific needs. Can’t do in person things? Try a site like Webook or Wattpad that are online critiquing communities. Start a collaborative Tumblr or password-protected WordPress blog. Heck, even a Wix or Webs site.
Just don’t ever think you have to do this alone. That you even can do this alone. It may seem like a waste of time, or even an added stress. But keep at it- keep going, keep sharing, keep opening yourself to what other people have to say. You just might find that it helps you become better at being able to say things yourself.