Knowing a lot of writers doesn't make you a writer (and other thoughts on community)

Picture 15I was the first author I ever knew. I’m also the first person I’ve met who got sprayed by a skunk, shot himself in the leg with his BB gun, and put a sweater defuzzer to his tongue (ouch!).

I did not grow up in a community of writers or artists. I grew up in a community of farmers, and then non-writer college students, and then SCUBA divers. I have never talked craft over a cup of caffeinated anything.

Because of all of this, or perhaps in spite of all of this, I am the writer I am today. I’m not saying I’m a fantabulous writer, but I tell stories that allow me to do what I love and earn a living. What I lack in writing tools, I try to make up for by doing interesting stuff. I live by Dave Barry’s writing advice: “Do things, not think things.”

I’m a doer every bit as much as I’m a writer.

Knowing a lot of writers doesn’t make you a writer

This weekend I had the pleasure of addressing students at the Wabash Entrepreneur Summit. Afterwards a student who wants to be a writer came up to me and said something like, “I want to be a writer, but I’m stuck in Crawfordsville, Indiana, where there isn’t a community of writers to inspire me.”

Crawfordsville, Indiana, is the perfect place to be a writer. You don’t have other writers or a city full of activities to disturb you from the thing that actually makes you a writer: WRITING!

(Also, rent is a heck of a lot cheaper in Indiana! A major bonus for living and working as a writer in the Midwest.)

Let’s cut the crap. You can surround yourself with a community of Pulitzer Prize winning authors and you aren’t going to catch their genius like you catch a cold. I don’t mean to discount the benefit of inserting yourself into your local or the virtual writing community, but too many writers overemphasize community and underemphasize alone time writing.

Community is important, but don’t let it or the lack of it hold you back. I’m a committee member of the Midwest Writers Workshop. This is a fantastic conference nearly 40-years-old that I owe a lot. Because of the Midwest Writers Workshop I found the agent who sold my first book, and I landed one of my first big ($3,000) magazine assignments. I searched for a community of writers and found a good one.

The Midwest Writers Workshop and other conferences have played a crucial part in my writing career. I would be living someone else’s dream right now instead of my own, if it weren’t for writing conferences.

So, again, community is important. But knowing a lot of writers doesn’t make you a writer, writing does.

Stop talking about writing and write.

Stop being a tortured artist and create.

Stop daydreaming about your first book signing (overrated) and lose yourself in the story bouncing around in that melon of yours.

You have all of the tools it takes to be a writer; now let go of the excuses holding you back.

Don’t think. Do.

I’d love to introduce you to my community of writers. Join the Midwest Writer on March 17th for a one-day intensive session with bestselling author Shirley Jump and picture book author Peter J. Welling.

Registration for the summer conference will begin soon. Check here for details.

Tim L. says:

So true, so true. Most writers would be better off if they spent 90% less time on Twitter and Facebook and did some real lasting writing work instead. Community is good when you need a favor or working partner, or a reference maybe, but that should be a very small part of your day/week/month. I think conferences are very useful, but after that you’ve got to go do some real work. If knowing a lot of writers made you successful, all the people who go to TBEX would be at the top of the heap. You might like this one:

Kelsey says:

Tim, you’re dead on. Saying you’re a writer is a lot sexier than putting your butt in the chair and wrestling with words.

Tweet for show, write for dough.

Great piece by the way. So many folks think that FB or Twitter is going to make them make it. Sad.

Charlene Ashendorf says:

If you want to be a writer, you write… Yes, emphatically. But romantically, it would have been grand to live in a era where you were surrounded by writers, or artisans or painters…

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