In Praise of the Writerly Tribe

After spending what many people know as “Christmas break” teaching an intensive 9-day course at work, spending the outset of 2014 sick with some virus that a student helpfully shared with the group, and spending any remaining downtime readying my classes and workshops for the coming months, I was feeling a little humdrum about the new year. While I’m usually one to embrace any opportunity for resolution making (especially when it comes to writing goals), this year, the change of calendar seemed more like an inexorable march toward more work than a time for celebration and expectation of good things to come.


Happily, I had the chance to shake free of my less-than-exuberant mindset with a trip to the Whidbey Island (Northwest Institute of Literary Arts) winter residency. I’d be invited to come give a talk to the MFA students in the program. While I’m sure that many of those who attended my session were smarter than I about the content of my talk, I jumped at the opportunity to return to the program that launched me into the writing world.


It’s always good to see those whom we’ve been away from for a time, certainly, but there’s something particularly important about interacting with a writing community. Too often, writing seems like a lonely and solitary enterprise, and it’s easy to become discouraged, distracted, and stagnated. Coming back to my writing home on Whidbey, even if just for a day, is a much-needed infusion of energy and a reminder of just what a privilege it is to tell our stories.


Over the years, I’ve seen too many talented poets and writers stop working when they find themselves overwhelmed by the exigencies of everyday life, jobs, kids, and obligations. People whom I thought would be the last to put down the pen—people for whom writing seemed more like a need than a desire—have slipped into the silence that comes on by slow degrees. I’ve noticed that those who’ve stopped working on their poems, novels, and essays have something in common: they’re often the least engaged with the writing tribe.


This is, of course, a chicken-and-egg scenario. Do people fall away from the work because they’re disengaged, or do they disengage because they’re slowly giving up on the writing life? I suppose it’s impossible to say. But, having a pretty good sample size of writers with which to work, I can say with confidence that the greatest predictor for success in those whom I’ve known is remaining part of supportive network of those who care about the craft and art of writing.


The next time I’m staring down my ever-growing to-do list and thinking it would be better to take a nap than to start the litany of tasks, the next time I put of writing a draft of new work in favor of doing a load of laundry, or the next time I find myself ready to wallow in a “what’s the point of writing, anyway?” pity party, I think I’m going to pick up the phone and call a member of the writing tribe. Set up a coffee date. Talk shop a little. Remind ourselves of the reasons we chose this writing life in the first place. Kick ourselves in the butt a little. That’s a doable resolution for the new year, isn’t it?

3 Replies to “In Praise of the Writerly Tribe”

  1. What you say is very true. For some of us, realizing the importance of having a writing community helps mitigate the more difficult challenges of writing, such as making a living doing what we love, and dealing with the non-writing aspects of this pursuit (self-promotion, submitting, etc.) There’s nothing more inspirational to me than just talking writing with another writer.

  2. Having a tribe, and sometimes even a partner, to call upon in moments of writerly discouragement has been so important in my writing life. Thanks for this reminder and all best to you in 2014

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