On the first Wednesday of any given month, I could be found at a cafe in Cambridge writing, and waiting. It wouldn't be long before I was surrounded by other writers catching up with each other, chatting about what they've been working on, what they've been reading. These conversations were friendly but brief. Soon, our laptops would be set-up and lattes or dinner served by our sides, and we'd get to work.
Write Nite wasn't like a traditional writing group. We didn't trade drafts or provide each other with feedback. In fact, most of us worked in different genres: there were fiction writers whose work ranged from speculative fiction to literary to somewhere in between. There were grad students working on papers. We were regularly joined by editors who would work on projects for clients. Some nights we were accompanied by artists who would sketch, or even work on a sculpture.
We were just there to work, together.
When I began writing ten years ago, I quickly discovered how solitary writing can be, how easy it is to become isolated. Even if you participate in a workshop or attend readings, the majority of your writing time is spent by yourself. Since college, most of my days have been spent alone with the characters I'm crafting on the page.
It can be incredibly lonely.
One of the challenges of being a writer is striving for connection, whether it is with our readers or our peers, while also working on our craft. While our friends in the performing arts -- musicians and dancers and actors -- are able to connect with audiences and collaborate with each other as they do their work, it can be tougher for us in the "lonely arts." For writers and artists, whose work generally require a mental state that is best achieved in solitude, building these connections often comes at the expense of time that should be spent on our craft.
After completing my first manuscript, I was frustrated by this predicament and wondered, did maintaining relationships and doing my work have to be mutually exclusive? The more I thought about it, I felt like there had to be a solution -- and I set out to find it.
In 2014, visual artist Melissa Ross and I formed the group, Social Artists and Writers. We were soon joined by co-organizer Lisa Hees as we started planning events for writers and artists to connect with each other, to get out of their at-home studios, to trade notes and talk shop, to learn from each other. Our Write Nites, Sit + Sketches, and Silent Reading Parties were open to the general public, too. We tried to include anyone -- not just artists and writers -- who wanted to do something different around town, or who wanted to be social while still doing the solitary hobbies they loved.
Our philosophy has been to plan events that we would enjoy, or arrange meet-ups for work that we needed to get done. We'd spread the word on social media, inviting Facebook friends and Twitter and Instagram followers and post it on the Boston Calendar. If people showed up, great. If we ended up alone, then at least we were out of the house.
But, we were never alone.
Friends and followers would spread the word, and often joined in. Colleagues who we always intended to hang out with outside of work would show up with sketch pads or books to read. Shy strangers arrived, too; fellow creators who had been holed up in their homes, alone, working, who happened to hear about us, and took the same leap of faith to meet us as we did by inviting them.
Building a community of artists, I learned, is its own sort of art. It requires thoughtful planning, courage to be vulnerable, confidence to spread the word, and consistent care. Each month, I would arrive at the cafe for Write Nite and start writing, not always certain of what would happen next. Writers would trickle in, and sometimes they would come back the next month. Usually they did. And over time, they became friends. Between our monthly meet-ups, I'd see notifications come up in my Newsfeed of the Write Nite members sharing news about their work, supporting each other, and talking about these updates when we got together on those first Wednesdays.
I can't speak for everyone in the group, but at least for me, work became much less lonely.
At one of our recent meet-ups, I looked around the table as everyone was working. I was reminded of the quote from Timothy Leary,
"Who knows what you might learn from taking a chance on conversation with a stranger? Everyone carries a piece of the puzzle. Nobody comes into your life by mere coincidence. Trust your instincts. Do the unexpected. Find the others..."
Find the others. They are in your community, quietly making art and writing stories about things that matter. Or, if you look around and can't find them, be the other, get the word out, and wait.
The others will find you.