Recently I’ve heard a few people use the term “social writer,” as in, “I’m a social writer: I work best when collaborating with other writers.”
Now, I love people. I especially love creative people because they challenge me to grow my own work. But I have always thought of myself as an introvert. Over time I have learned how to open my mouth and talk. I have learned how to hang onto myself in a crowd and I think I can even put others at ease when I am at my best. But at the end of the day, I want to be alone or, at the most, with my small family. I like the quiet. I need time to mull over all the noise, emotional and otherwise, that comes with relating to other humans. It helps me make sense of the static of my own reactions.
I never even thought of any such thing as a social writer until I heard enough people say it that I realized it’s a real thing. I knew people collaborated; one of my favorite examples of this is Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchet. In fact, Gaimen collaborates all the time, but usually with artists or film makers. I’ve done my share of collaborating as a visual artist: several of my mural projects, most of my art shows, and all the art events I’ve organized have been collaborations. Right now I’m collaborating with HD Counseling to develop artwork that helps people tap into their own stories.
I could say I’ve never done collaborative writing projects. But this would not be true, not if I count the good-night games I sometimes play with my daughter Zoie: she writes a sentence, then I write one, and we pass the paper back and forth until we have a story. Or we roll the story dice and take turns building impromptu narratives. And there is that collaborative poem that my professor had us write at the end of fall semester. “Shelf Life.” That was my poem. I had been thinking of the title for about a week, and then Russ wanted us to write the title and first line of a poem. We passed each one around the room until we got our own back with the authority to pen the last line. The finished piece communicated exactly the sensibilities I had wanted to put down, even though I wrote only two lines of it.
Being in grad school is making me more aware of my own habits. My best writing, so far, still comes from sitting alone and slogging it out, word by word. But that is only half of the practice. If I just sit alone and slog it out, I lose momentum. I learned while writing Sarah’s story that the weekly reactions of some dear friends energized me and propelled the progress of the novel. As a student, I value my workshop classes, but they aren’t enough to push the work forward at the kind of exciting clip that weekly readings can do for me. In a four-month period, we only workshop two or three times. With longer works like mine, this functions more for the course grade than to serve the work as a whole.
Now that summer has hit, a few other writers and I have started a workshop for long pieces: novels, memoirs, and graphic narratives. I am finding that energy all over again. I am so excited about working on Adelle’s story after getting reactions from the group. I’m equally excited about being a part of their processes. It’s different from class; we are writing because we are writers. We are meeting because we need each other. It is not for a grade and it is not because attendance is required. It’s because we feed each other as artists. As much as I need to sit alone to work, I am finding I need community in equal measure. I am learning to redefine myself. I need time alone as a person, but my work suffers from too much of it. I am a subbreed of the social writer class: I work best when in community with other writers.