It's said that writing is a lonely occupation. I haven’t found that to be true. My world is filled with international writer friends who meet regularly to exchange critique duties, to bounce ideas around, and to share the birthing process as our individual creations take shape.
Some of these friends form a local critique group. Attending meetings serves multiple purposes. It forces me to write. I feel obligated to have something ready to present at each meeting. But when that doesn't happen, I'm still ready and willing to make constructive comments on the other members' projects. Additionally, I benefit from the experiences of the other members, who are in different career stages and different places in the writing, publication and marketing process. And, of course, it's fun to hang with people I don't have to explain my quirky thought processes to.
On those rare occasions when I don't see another writer in person for a week or more, I connect with them on a website where I've been active for years. Again, I read and critique far more often than I submit work. It's there that I meet with other poets and ask the questions I need answered to improve this part of my craft.
Writing is never far from my mind. Even when I'm alone, I'm surrounded by my characters and by the "voices" of those wonderful and generous authors and editors who are my teachers. I like to try out new approaches and new forms. For this, alone-time is necessary, often late at night, and the notepad app on my tablet is invaluable.
All this activity is outside my work at Page & Spine. Here, again, I read and evaluate other writers' creations, often asking myself why something does or doesn't work while paying close attention to the editorial staff's evaluations. I’m always looking for an opportunity to learn something. Sure comes in handy when I have to plug a last-minute hole in an upcoming edition!
None of this interaction just happened. I sought out a local writers' group, answering a newspaper announcement. Best thing I’ve ever done in my writing life. I took a mail-order writing course, which led me to explore several writers’ websites, and I joined one. I devoted time and effort--I still do--to reading others' work and learning from it. I ask questions and make suggestions when it seems appropriate. One has to give as well as take for these associations to bear fruit. And the best fruit is a rainbow of reaction from the most literal readers to the most imaginative. It’s amazing how many interpretations a simple poem can have that the poet has never considered.
I'll tell you a secret. All that effort--and it is effort, as I'm very shy among strangers--is worth it. My writing improves because of the personal interaction, the exchange of ideas, and my appreciation of other writers' styles. And best of all, when I get stuck or need a quick edit there’s always someone there to give me a helping hand. (Thanks, Jade and Bonnie!)
Like I said, I never write alone.
Fred Waiss is a former high school teacher and coach who writes poetry, articles, short stories, novellas, and novels as the muse attacks; as an author he considers himself a work in progress.