Katie's Voice

Building Community in the Online Age

I began my writing career in an analog time. We got our news from Poets & Writers, the AWP Chronicle, and good (or bad) old-fashioned gossip. We wrote letters and put stamps on envelopes and spent time checking stationery shops for envelopes that would contain a SASE (self-addressed stamped envelope) while holding five pages of folded poems. We were obsessive about mail, and long trips were stressful because we might get an acceptance while we were away. 

But we only had the option of checking our mail once per day, and we got Sundays off. We sometimes didn’t find out at all that our graduate school nemesis had published with Big Press X or that someone we always liked had been published in The New Yorker (yes, we read that magazine, but often in libraries, since it was expensive). We didn’t have to shout our publications from the rooftops of social media, feeling squirmy about it, but we did have to decide where to have the extra print copies of the magazine sent, and sometimes postcards announcing the publication. Often we just kept the extra copies, unwilling to impose on friends and family, and when we moved, the boxes of books cost far more than the furniture.

One thing I don’t remember thinking about was community. I don’t remember feeling lonely, and certainly not lonely for other writers. Admittedly I was—and am—an introvert, but it just seems like, before the age of constant connection, I was better with being alone. Waiting at the doctor’s office, I brought a pen and a piece of paper, and sometimes came up with a few lines for a poem. I taught, and I loved teaching, though I never got that coveted tenure-track position with 4 or fewer classes per semester. I worried about my career, took rejections too much to heart, didn’t recognize publications for the validation they were. But until email and social media got me addicted to the dopamine hit of “likes” and fast responses on submissions, I didn’t feel the constant spinning energy of discomfort in my core, the almost unconscious urge to pick up my phone to see if anyone was thinking of me.

I was also young, and there was a chance—dwindling with every year that passed without publishing a book—that good things were in store for me. There was so much I didn’t know, and that ignorance was like a bubble, cushioning me from the realities of literary careers, publishing, awards, and the awful truth that you never feel like you’ve “made it” as a writer, just as you never figure out your life in all the ways you thought adults had when you were a kid.

Now, any young writer can hop on the internet and compare themselves to the new “it” writer, not yet 30 and in-demand, publishing in all the genres and being quoted on Literary Twitter as though only they could express the wisdom of the moment. Comparison is the thief of joy, Theodore Roosevelt supposedly said, and oh, there are so many ways to compare ourselves to others now.

So whether it’s the strange new world of online living or the fact that I’m in my fifties and still can’t quite figure out what happened to the last three decades, I’ve come to recognize that community and connection, especially with other writers, helps sustain me. That community takes conscious effort, and the pandemic highlighted that fact for so many of us. I don’t miss the AWP Conference, but I do miss the smaller writing conferences I used to attend, where I’d see old friends, listen rapt to their readings and panels, and re-engage in the collective understanding that what we do matters

Based on the initial results of our survey, which Lisa introduced in the last post, you also have been thinking about community, the pooling of knowledge, and the power of support. Over 40% of you are “very” interested in a virtual retreat, with the rest interested in, at least, more information. You want a retreat to provide both interaction and “offline” time to write, with the possibility of sharing your work, since that expectation can be motivating. (Hmmm, finish watching Bridgerton or write in response to that prompt? Well, they might ask me to read, so I guess I’ll write…) You don’t want a leaderless free-for-all, or faceless people with their video feed turned off, or impersonal recordings. (Makes sense—we can find “free-for-all” in FB groups and recordings on YouTube.)

57% of you are very interested in monthly virtual salons, and in those salons you want to talk about submitting your work, finding time to write/submit/promote, rekindling your creative joy (yes! I’m all about this one too), craft issues, books (!), and writing-adjacent activities, like reviewing, editing for a literary journal, and attending conferences. 

Only 33% of you are very interested in an in-person retreat, but that’s not surprising given COVID, day jobs, and family obligations. However, some studies have shown that humans “sync up” when they learn and discuss together, as a group (and yes, I read that in a reputable article but—alas—did not save it, so I can’t link it here). That is, our brain waves synchronize and the experience ends up being more memorable and meaningful than the same information conveyed via pre-recorded video.

For our future newsletter, you’re most interested in publishing and writing industry news, as well as information on future TGS salons, retreats, and other activities. A close second is writing and creativity tips. 

Don’t agree with the above responses? There’s still time to take our survey and/or comment on this or the previous post! We want to support and encourage you in the ways that work best for you. Please help us do that!

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