In general, writers do not do their best work in a group. The very nature of creative writing is a solitary pursuit, but without taking great care, can morph into a feeling of isolation. And this can occur whether an author lives in a quiet rural town or in midtown Manhattan. (The one in New York, not Kansas)
So, how does an author, feeling isolated and alone stay motivated? How do they develop and maintain a marketing platform on their own? How do they maintain their creative edge when most of their time is spent in relative solitary confinement?
First and foremost, they need to continually hone their skills. This agency has many resources available on our website and Steve Laube heads the Christian Writers Institute, providing anyone with mentoring through classes offered and great information. www.ChristianWritersInstitute.com
But how do you overcome the feelings of isolation and loneliness which afflict so many authors? When you need someone to hold up your arms, what do you do?
Left unaddressed, isolation can lead to discouragement, creative-paralysis, and a myriad of other bad things threatening to stop writers of all experience levels in their tracks.
I am going to suggest a course of action counter to what you might think. To “zig” when you expected to “zag.”
Please bear with me as I tell a short story.
Over thirty years ago I attended a people management seminar. It was a broad ranging presentation over several days with some excellent teachers. About a hundred people were in this particular group.
Breakout groups were for new managers, refresher skills for experienced managers, those at government offices, non-profits, public corporations, etc. I still recall some of the presentation material today as very helpful.
I clearly remember one session on developing employee worth and self-esteem. The presenter’s approach emphasized the need for a manager to first have a high level of self-worth and personal confidence and once they had a “full reservoir” of each, distribute them to their staff.
It made sense.
But as we learned how to develop a high level of self-worth, I recall thinking their approach was different than my Christian faith would have directed. It pointed to somewhat “artificial” means to puff up one’s self rather than anything of depth.
After all, repeating “I am good, I am great, I am wonderful” only goes so far.
In a breakout session, we went around the table giving our impressions of the material and I mentioned the concept of giving and receiving (never mentioning the Bible or Jesus).
You want to feel appreciated? Show appreciation. You want to feel loved? Love someone.
I suggested if a manager wanted to increase their own sense of worth, they should focus first on improving the worth of others.
The stunned silence around the table combined with the apparent appearance of antlers growing from my head (based on the looks I received) proved I was suggesting a foreign concept.
Of course, as believers we do give from our abundance as God has lavished his grace on us, allowing us all to give others grace from his overflowing supply. But I felt this level of theological discussion was too much for this particular business seminar!
So I just kept it simple at the “Give much, receive much” level, which was confusing to anyone committed to a “Get first, give a little” strategy.
Let’s consider author isolation in a similar counter-intuitive manner:
- If you need encouragement, encourage another writer. Read the books of people you have met at conferences and correspond with them.
- If you need mentoring, start by mentoring young writers (middle school students are a good start). You don’t need an MFA to mentor a twelve year old in creativity. Teaching is the best form of learning.
- Register and attend a writer’s conference with the specific purpose of seeking out an isolated, discouraged writer (even if you are one) and offer to be their accountability/encouragement partner. (As opposed to going to a conference looking for someone to do this for you.)
- Help another writer establish their author-marketing platform.
- Help shape someone else’s work.
- Start a writer’s group and devote yourself to others’ growth.
- Start a creative writing group at your public library.
- Start a writing group in your church.
- Connect with homeschooler groups to discuss creative writing.
- Recommend other authors’ books to your friends.
When you spend time helping someone else, your own writing,
creativity, sense of purpose and value improve exponentially.
The more you focus solely on yourself, the less you will grow.
So how do you overcome the dreaded Isolated Author Syndrome?
Help someone else defeat it.
Aww! Loved your shout-out to Manhattan, Kansas! How ’bout them Wildcats?! 🙂
Great article too. As an extrovert writer, isolation is a real issue. Thankful for my writer friends and the virtual water cooler of the WWW!
Good to see you here, Deb Raney. Glad to know others are up and reading at 5:00 am. Sorry I didn’t get to this til midnight.
Does anyone else notice that writers are up when normal people are not?
I am so grateful for this agency’s blog. Great writers, great advice, and an occasional nudge.
Dan, I echo Deb’s “great article.” But then yours are always great – and helpful – and inspiring.
Judith, is that why I’m up at all hours? Then I need a nap.
Of course it is, Marlene. Writers are unique people whose minds never seem to shut down. Head on pillow signals three more plot twists or two characters deciding to do something other than you had planned.
Wow, I’m sitting here in an HEB feeling isolated? Yes, but realize. he’s trying to get me to focus once again on writing after getting out of the arena. Been trying to get back in but haven’t felt up to it, but recently something’s changing. I’ve pulled out some old material and feel led to work on it. And I’m starting a ladies small group for writers on February 21st. I’ve never done that before but have been praying and study in preparation for our meeting. I’m using Marlene Bagnull’s group material. Would appreciate any prayers that’s for sure. I so long to help them but I too need some help.
Will be praying for your small group, Marlene. Wish I were close enough geographically to crash the party.
Thanks Judith and may we pray the beauty of the Lord God be upon us and confirm the work of our hands. That’s my desire. God bless you.
Thank you for the coaching and mentoring you’re providing through this blog. I find it very true that helping others is one of the surest way to find the help you need. I am glad it’s not the other way round. I am also impressed by the way you deliver the articles to the box. Makes it easy. I can read every thing from my email box. I get that too: make it easier for the reader! Thank you!!!
I like the full post in email, too. I often have weak, intermittent cell service where email will work but regular web won’t. I do my own blog as a partial post with clickthru for the whole, but I do that mainly so the RSS feed to sites like Amazon isn’t too long. I’m very glad the Laube Agency does full-length to email.
This is a helpful article for an introverted writer. I am curious to know how I can be introverted but love to interview people for newspapers and magazines and books. I think God made me to see that each person has a story and I can possibly help them tell the story that will in turn bless others. After a full day of being around people, however, I’m ready for a day at home to re-group. I know that I need my alone time and I don’t feel it’s wrong or weird to work in silence at home and not at a coffee shop. I don’t understand that idea at all! LOL. I plan to share this post with my writing clubs and encourage them to sign up for this blog. It was great meeting you at the Taylor University Writing Conference in 2016. I’m still working on a book idea you suggested there.
Kayleen, you might find some answers to your question as to why you can be introverted and enjoy interviewing people for articles in Susan Cain’s excellent book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking.
Introvert doesn’t meant you don’t like people–it means you get your energy from alone time, not from people (that would be extroverts). Very eye-opening and encouraging at the same time. Plus, Cain has written a book geared toward middle and high schoolers too (Quiet Power: The Secret Strengths of Introverts) that has been helpful for my introvert kids.
Thanks! I’ll look for it.
There are all great suggestions and I have practiced some of them, although I don’t mind isolation. My mentors are some of the great writers I have read, I started a writing group at our church’s community center and maintained it for several years, but the numbers where not there. I had a high of 6 or 8, but often I would show up on Saturday morning and no one would be there. I’d wait an hour and leave. It finally became too much of a drag on my time and energy, but it was helpful reading the books I had chosen for the group to discuss, among them MacEntyre’s Caring for Words In a Culture of Lies, Gardner’s The Art of Fiction, Vargas Llosa’s Letters to a Young Author, Dillard’s The Writing Life, and others. I keep my creative level high by lingering long in great writers’ words, writing book reviews, handwriting letters, and researching and revising my own work.
Your experience with the writers group reminded me of a time when a woman started a writers group at our church. At the most there was probably 6; this was in a church of around 300. Eventually the group disbanded; I know work issues were a difficulty for a couple of people.
A couple years ago the same woman contacted me and said she was going to lead a writers group at another church; she knew I’d be interested in attending. Unfortunately the numbers were lower there, and not long after the leader started the group her family members were hit with multiple health issues. So far as I know the group is at a standstill.
I don’t mind isolation either, though I may join an online group sometime in the future. Depending on writer friends for feedback doesn’t work well because they have busy lives.
Thanks for mentioning Caring for Words In a Culture of Lies; I never heard of it, but it sounds like it’d be worth the time to read.
Peggy, Interesting. Mine is a church of about 8000. But, we have a community center attached to the main church campus for anyone to use. The group started at 6-9 people and by the time I left a couple of years later, no one was attending except me. Some cited schedule problems, others just drifted away from writing or did not want to be critiqued.
Elizabeth Duncan Stretar
Excellent advice. Thanks for sharing your experience and insight on this important subject. You have challenged me and I will be praying about this and asking the Lord to help me move forward with this heart and attitude. I just became a published author and can relate to much of what you described.
I recently spent an entire day at a low income elementary school reading to the younger children and teaching writing workshops to over 250 third, forth, and fifth graders ….it was incredibly rewarding and life giving.
I appreciate your prayers as I navigate my way through my marketing strategy as I continue to write the words that God has laid on my heart. Thanks again.
Great advice, Dan, thank you.
By the way, there is also a Manhattan in Montana. Population 1600.
Sheri Dean Parmelee
Great ideas and superb advice, Dan. Thanks for sharing. I teach writing at the college level and try to encourage my students both individually and as a group. I also read other writers’ works, to keep my own writing fresh. As a result, my loneliness fades as I reach out to others.
Great ideas! I glean so much from other writers. I enjoy participating in online Christian writing groups, too. There is something to learn from everything I read.
I don’t read posts every day – yet most every time I do I end up appreciating the attitudes expressed even more than the information communicated. Today is a prime example. Thanks for all you do for writers!
Thanks for confirming that starting a writers’ group for local believers as I just did was a good thing to do! We all need encouragement.
Your advice is good and certainly Biblical but as a woman who has spent her entire life caring for a husband, children, elderly parents and now grandchildren and therapy clients I’ve learned that giving must be done without any expectations of return. God will be there surely and bless in surprising ways, but it is not necessarily going to be through the people you’ve helped yourself. In fact most often you’ll simply be taken for granted. So service has to be done for Jesus. Any benefits to self will be secondary.
Since I love working with kids, I have been kicking around the idea of offering a writing class for tweets at my local library. But I have had doubts about my abilities. Your suggestion is very encouraging
Encouraging words that motivated me to move forward. Thank you, Dan!
I can attest to the accuracy of this post. I’d plateaued and was getting somewhat discouraged as a writer. But since joining ACFW I’ve connected with authors both less and more experienced than me to exchange critiques and editing techniques. They have been tremendously encouraging, and I’ve grown and honed my craft as I help others. One of my favorite verses is “Iron sharpens iron, so a man sharpens the countenance of his friend.”