Today’s post is by regular contributor Susan DeFreitas (@manzanitafire), an award-winning author, editor, and book coach. She offers a first 50-page review on works in progress for novelists seeking direction on their next step toward publishing.
In part two of this series based on Sean D. Young’s bestselling book Stick with It: A Scientifically Proven Process for Changing Your Life—for Good, we’re taking a look at the C in SCIENCE, Young’s acronym for those strategies that lead to lasting change: Community.
Writing is by nature a solitary process, and many of those who dream of one day publishing a novel will labor on it alone, in fits and starts, over the period of many years—sometimes even a decade or more. This often results in a manuscript that never gets finished, and a “bucket list” dream that remains unfulfilled.
Establishing a regular writing practice is a stronger strategy for completion than just working when inspiration hits, or when you “have the time,” and harnessing the power of community is one way to make a writing practice a priority, even in the midst of life’s chaos.
In Chapter 3 of Stick with It, Young cites the examples of Alcoholics Anonymous, Facebook, and a special online community he helped to create aimed at getting men to prioritize their health, emphasizing the power of what psychologists call “the social magnet.” In each of these cases, the power of the bond that forms between people with something important in common—and in some cases, a common goal—had a huge effect in getting them to take action, by staying clean and sober, scrolling through their social media feeds on a daily basis, or getting tested for HIV, respectively.
For the writer who struggles to establish a regular practice, that kind of community might be a critique group, wherein members meet regularly to share and discuss their work. Such groups can be invaluable for the insight they deliver on our creative work, but just as often, it’s the power of the community itself, and the social contract we’ve entered into by joining one, that keeps us turning out the pages.
The sense of being seen and applauded for our small victories—the fine turn of phrase, the strong sense of place in a scene—is part of the motivation here as well. And the knowledge that others struggle with the same sorts of things we do can also be hugely encouraging.
We are by nature social beings, and part of why establishing a writing practice can feel like “going against the grain” is the sense that doing so is selfish, in that it takes away from the time we have for others (especially for women, who are often socialized to put the needs of others first). Part of the power of a critique group is that it’s no longer just about us, it’s about the agreement we’ve entered into with these people that we feel a common bond with—people who are on the same journey we are.
If an in-person critique group isn’t something that’s available to you, an online group can produce much the same results. Maybe your Facebook writers group isn’t eagerly awaiting your next 20 pages, but if you said last week that your goal was to get in three writing sessions that week—or to produce 2,000 words—the science around behavior change says that you’re going to be more motivated to do so, and to share that small victory with the group, thereby galvanizing others to do the same.
And if sometimes you’re the one who fails to meet their goal, while others meet theirs, there’s a lot more incentive to get back on the horse, so to speak, rather than continue to lie there on the ground.
Other avenues for utilizing the power of community include taking writing classes or attending workshops or conferences—opportunities that are increasingly available online, as platforms and presenters have pivoted to serve writers (and would-be writers) stuck at home under quarantine.
However you choose to do it, connecting with a writing community can help to provide both accountability and camaraderie, which will help you maintain your writing practice in the face of life’s ups and downs. As that process becomes more routine, you may find yourself offering encouragement and mentorship to others who are just starting out, which not only feels good, but further strengthens the social magnet.
So if you find yourself struggling to establish a regular writing practice, either because you’re just starting out or because you’ve spent some time away from writing, don’t feel like you have to go it alone—others are on the same journey, ready to offer encouragement when the going gets tough, and ready to applaud your hard-earned victories. We might be working alone, but we’re all in this together.
Susan DeFreitas is the author of the novel Hot Season, which won a Gold IPPY Award, and the editor of Dispatches from Anarres: Tales in Tribute to Ursula K. Le Guin, a finalist for the Foreword INDIES. An independent editor and book coach, she specializes in helping writers from historically marginalized backgrounds, and those writing socially engaged fiction, break through into publishing. She offers a free masterclass, Fiction As a Force for Change, here.