I think writing has a social component that isn’t emphasized enough, especially at the level of basic fundamentals. I grew up thinking of writing as a solitary thing. The popular image of the writer hunched over a desk into the wee hours of the morning, not socializing for weeks on end, neglecting his family to pursue the craft, and so on, is culturally powerful.
That image has a solid factual basis. Much of writing is like that, and writers who are distant from social life because they are so driven to create are not difficult to find.
However, that image isn’t a complete picture. Many people will disagree with me, and some will no doubt say I’m in danger of adding marketing to the writing process. But this is what I believe. The part where you create a draft is only one part of writing. The process isn’t finished until you’ve made the decision to release a piece of work into the wild and found other people to read it.
That doesn’t mean only writers with large audiences are proper writers. It just means that, unless you’re writing in your personal journal, the whole point of creating a text is so that people can interact with it. I have a private metaphor I use for writing sometimes. It’s like painting in words, but the paper isn’t the canvas. Other peoples’ imaginations are the canvas.
It’s a good idea to have people read your drafts in progress, if you can find the right sort of reader for that. It’s also important to listen to feedback and think about it, whether the feedback is on a finished piece or on something in-process. Not all feedback is helpful, but a lot of it can be.
The periods in my life when I’ve made the most progress with my writing in the shortest amount of time were:
1. Junior and sophomore years in college. Those are the years I took 4 poetry and fiction workshops, which required me to produce regularly and sit quietly while other people critiqued my work when it was my turn. By then, I also had a lot of friends who were into writing and thought I could be pretty good at times, so I had plenty of people outside the classroom who I felt safe sharing my work with.
2. Second and third years as a small-town newspaper editor. I was an experienced reporter by the time I got my first job editing. I spent the first year learning about administration and advertising, and the second two redesigning and improving the paper I worked for. During the second year I started getting reader comments on a lot of my stuff, and plenty of them were just negative. But a lot were helpful. Again, being forced to write every day and listen to a ton of feedback are the two things I credit for my improvement.
3. Graduate school. I didn’t do the graduate work in English, but I did choose a writing-intensive discipline. So, no workshops, but at that level, the student-to-instructor ratio is good and I was fortunate enough to find a program with a lot of professors who were interested in helping students improve their skills. The same principles apply here, and I think these are enough examples to make my point.
I went with this topic instead of the original one because I think the social element of writing is just that important. This is the conclusion of a sort of miniseries that Started with Q and continued with yesterday’s post, but really, if you think about it, I’ve almost closed a circle I started drawing on Day 1. Tomorrow, we’re on to tone, and from thence to a handful of fabulous words like Villanelle and Zeugma.