What to do when your writing life becomes too isolated.
I NEVER APPRECIATED having a convenient writing community until I was no longer surrounded by one. Throughout high school and college, there were always clubs and societies set up by writers who had been there long before me, and it was easy to just start showing up to their meetings, and—once I’d become comfortable enough—to share my work.
The more I attended these meetings, and the further I progressed in my writing practice, the better I became at workshopping others’ work. Being able to provide constructive criticism to another writer may not make you kinder to yourself when you’re editing your own writing, but it can help you see more clearly the places you need to rework, and the overall aspects of the piece that may or may not be working — to see both the trees and the forest.
I was lucky enough to do a creative writing MA at Northumbria University, and during my year-long program, the other students in my class became my drinking buddies and confidants, as well as my editors. Soon after I graduated, I moved to a small town in North Yorkshire. I didn’t know anyone there. It was half hour by bus and another thirty minutes by train to the nearest city, Newcastle, where my friends and community still were. Writers have a reputation for living like hermits, like my friend Parker said, each of us existing as “a solitary creature, slaving away at your typewriter.” I definitely do my best work when left alone, but suddenly this silent scene was all I had. I wouldn’t recommend it.
But for a long time, I haven’t just been a writer. Since being on the staff of my high school’s literary magazine, I have loved the process of sharing other artists’ work: from collecting pieces together from a range of people, to producing and putting everything on the page, to seeing the final product and remembering that feeling you get when you see your work in print, knowing that others will see it too. I’ve realized that helping other artists to experience the latter of these will be one of the greatest loves of my life.
Palm-Sized Press began as an online flash fiction community. When I felt isolated in general, and separated from a writing community in particular, I determined to create one myself, an online community—so that no matter where you are, you can always join. Writing communities aren’t just about the work of writing. It’s a key aspect of them — to become more productive in your writing, to share your work and have access to constructive feedback, to develop your own editing skills — but the craft is not all the community nurtures. Writing communities are support systems; a collective united by its love of words; a source for joy and laughter, and relief when we are weary or wounded.
Writing communities aren’t always convenient. Someone may not have created one where you are, or you may not have found the right one, but you can always start your own. So go find your people.
Emily Owens, who writes under the name E.M. Killaley, has been doing more editing than writing recently. Currently working for the publisher How2Conquer, she has also previously been part of Mslexia, a UK-based women’s writing magazine; edited various literary magazines over the years; is the founder and editor of Palm-Sized Press, an indie publisher and online flash fiction community; and most recently started the generative writing group, Drafts on Draft with Parker Hilley. Emily is a Northern Writers’ Awards New Fiction Bursary winner and graduate of Northumbria University’s MA Creative Writing program. Her creative work has appeared in Papaya Press, Alliterati, and We Wrote a Book: An Anthology of Stories.