Tuesday, 4 August 2015

On Finding a Writing Community and Culture

I read something years ago about Anais Nin being part of a community of writers (including Henry Miller) who were getting paid  $1 a page to write, shall we say, 'explicit' stories for an anonymous, wealthy collector.

You can find out more about the story itself easily enough, but the thing that really struck me and stayed with me, was that Nin was part of a group of writers who hung out together, worked in a collective and were trying to make a living through writing, creating. 

How, I always wondered, did these writers all find each other? I mean, I assume that they were all hanging out at the same cafés or salons or gatherings all the time, but still... How did they go from crossing paths to having and sharing a writing community and culture?

For a long time for me, there didn't seem to be a contemporary equivalent. 

The main option seemed to be a Writing Group, complete with members, and scheduled meetings in pre-organised venues. The idea of the Writing Group felt (and still feels), I don't know... a little bit self-conscious, contrived, structured. Sure, you can read about people like Chuck Palahniuk having awesome, supportive experiences with their Writing Group and with whom they still meet to this day. But... I overheard a writing group meeting in a coffee shop/bookshop once. My overriding impression was of it being hijacked by a single domineering type who was determined to give her view on what was wrong with other people's work, while probably genuinely thinking she was having a dialogue with the author and giving helpful feedback (she wasn't). It left me with the resolute feeling that a writing group doesn't automatically translate into a writing community or culture. 

But now, quite by accident, I feel like I've fallen into a little bit of a 21st-century equivalent of a writing community.

On Twitter, and specifically, in the FridayPhrases game, I've found a virtual gathering of people from everywhere and nowhere, from all different walks of real life (RL), of all ages, who share a common thread of words - a love of words, playing with words, and composing words.

I've blogged about FridayPhrases (FP for short) already - see more here. Participating in a weekly ritual of composing tweet-length pieces of micro-fiction on a shared theme on global Friday time, people (affectionately known as FPers) drop in and out to compose, share, exchange witticisms, express admiration or offer witty and wily continuations. 

But it's more than that.

It's where my Anaïs Nin-inspired image of an organically-formed, supportive community, free-flowing, and that you drop in and out of as you want to - where you can go hang out and sulk if the writing isn't going well, or to celebrate if you've had a success, and there'll always be someone to commiserate or celebrate with you - has come to life.

FP is also founded in a culture of writing. Many FP people are writers, ranging the full gamut from having honest-to-goodness books already published and for sale, to finishing full manuscripts and taking the next tentative step of finding agents to send it to, to those who haven't yet finished a story, to those who have never thought about writing longer than an FP microfic. They're all people who love writing in one form or another.

And here's where the community bit comes in - many people in the FP game cheer each other on in their writing efforts; they lend a sympathetic ear if the words aren't flowing; they make jokes about (mis-)firing muses; they might beta-read drafts on request or help someone navigate the mysteries of self-publishing platforms based on their own experiences; they retweet each others' writing successes; and they will seek out and read FP players' works and provide voluntary feedback. On top of all this, you get to see, admire, practice and learn clever wordplay and word-crafting. You also get inspired to keep on doing it.

The FridayPhrases folk had a little competition recently, asking why FPers liked playing FP. Using the hastag #All4FP, the FP wordsmiths played their words with aplomb and heart, and six winners were chosen (with some difficulty). Their sentiments echo an appreciation and understanding of a writing community, what it is, and what it does. 

By the way, the winners had their words each transformed into a YouTube clip. You can find them here:

Go check them out!
In their tweet-length insights, you can see what it's taken me a whole blog post to get at - the rich refractions of a writing community and culture at work and at play. 

Nin had it. Palahniuk has it. Now I think I've found it too.


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