“An ivory tower is a fine place as long as the door is open.”
– Darby Bannard
This week I met up with some fellow writers from my writers’ group, The Oslo Writers’ League. We sat in the beautiful green surroundings of Frogner Park. We feasted on strawberries, chocolate truffles, water melons, cheese and crackers, and more picnic goodies. As we relaxed on the lush green grass, we got our creative juices flowing with a micro-fiction exercise where each of us would start a story, pass it on to the person sitting to our right. That person would write a middle for the story and pass it on again. The third person to the right finishes the story. At the end of the exercise, we read out all the stories. We even had hungry seagulls and sparrows as our feathered inspiration! You can read our creations here.
Since I joined this group, I’ve realised what I’ve been missing. This is the first time I’ve ever been part of a writers’ group. The support and encouragement I’ve found in the group is amazing. We have writers of all levels and we inspire and motivate each other. I’ve even got ideas for stories from conversations with other writers in the group. This experience has only reaffirmed my belief that art should not be a lonely pursuit. The image of an artist toiling away in a cabin in the middle of nowhere may sound idyllic. But how long can someone sustain that?
“Putting out something that’s new in the world requires temporary removal from it.”
– Sarah Lewis
Writing, like most art forms, requires intense concentration and persistence. Writing a novel or a story when you are distracted by emails, tweets, Facebook updates, and family commitments can be exhausting and annoying. Just as you lift up your head to answer a spouse’s queries about dinner, you catch a glimpse of the tail-coat or skirt hem of your muse fleeing away from your mundane life. You make a desperate attempt to grab it, but it’s too late. The idea is gone, your spouse is upset because you snapped at them to chase that fleeting idea/muse which they obviously cannot see, and worse, you have to move on to make dinner. Easier to just live in a hermit’s hut you think? Trust me, that doesn’t work.
We humans are social creatures and art is a means of communication and self-expression. So who are we communicating with if we don’t want to be around anyone? Temporary isolation is essential for an artist. But the problem with complete isolation is that we give up on having a support system. Artists are prone to depression, self-doubt and self-loathing because we have been led to believe that we can do our best work only in absolute isolation. Being social does not mean you should stop in between your painting or writing to tweet. You don’t build support systems that way, you only manage to procrastinate. What sustains us are meaningful relationships formed with supportive and encouraging people. The alternative: You run out of ideas, inspiration, and life, while you wait in that idyllic cabin on your own to create that all elusive masterpiece that refuses to happen. And you end up alone, without anyone to listen to you gripe about it.
I’ve found that being a part of lovely group of fellow writers (or artists) has many benefits. You have others who go through similar struggles as you do – trying to find time to write, fixing a plot or characterisation problem, searching for references for a historical or scientific fact that you want to include in your story. They understand, and they generously help and share their wisdom.
It can be terrifying to trust other people who do what you do and open yourself to criticism. I’ve met some artists who avoid talking to other artists because their biggest fear is that someone would steal their ideas. It’s sad that we are constantly told that we live in a competitive world and the only way to “win the game” is to not share what we know with others. Of course, there are people who do steal others’ ideas, who like to put down others to make themselves feel better. But they are not the norm. They don’t realise that it’s much more fun when we share what we know. Sharing knowledge helps us learn from each other, learn from each other’s mistakes.
As a writer, it’s great to have people who can poke holes in a story you’ve written and be objective about it. It’s certainly helps to find problems in your story before you approach an agent or a publisher who really don’t have the time to help you learn. The benefit of having a fellow writer read your writing is that they don’t just read as your audience, they read it as a writer. So they can tell you about ways to improve it and they give you a different perspective, which adds depth to your writing. Since I’ve joined the writers’ group, I’ve had more “Aha! I didn’t think of that” moments than I can count. I get to learn and I get to share what I know. And I’m glad that I have people to help me, and I don’t have to do it alone.
Are you an artist who likes to interact with other artists and how has it helped you? Share your experiences in the comments.