I’m a long-time advocate of using technology to build community and help writers feel supported. When COVID brought unforeseen changes and demands into all of our lives, I felt grateful that at least one aspect of my life–creating community via distance–could adjust with ease in the face of so many unknowns.
Most of our work as writers is invisible; filled with micro-decisions that are unnamed and unrewarded. In the long years between drafts and publications, revisions, and rejections, how can a writer ascertain where they are in terms of growth and improvement? How can a writer gauge the “so what” factor of their own work and revise effectively? How can a writer find confidence, which feeds stamina, which leads to the completion of a project?
So many writers I mentor are asking these questions, and too many of them are at risk of getting into ruts by acting as their own biggest bullies. But bullying doesn’t help sustain a writing practice, and it certainly doesn’t deepen craft and community–two things I care about most. As soon as I point this out to a group of my writing clients, someone inevitably asks about accountability. When I tell them accountability can’t be taught via deadlines on a syllabus or word-count goals, they get a little squirmy. Isn’t that what I’m supposed to be teaching them–in one writer’s words–“how to get sh*t done”?
I believe most writers’ actual needs are to be seen and understood, especially when it comes to those invisible, micro-decisions made as a writer drafts new pages or deeply revises. This is why all my programs include opportunities for writers in the community to do just that. It’s my sneaky way of helping them feel that they’re learning to “get sh*t done,” when what I’m really doing is helping them experience the value of shared vulnerability and fluid definitions of success…and from there, how that experience can positively influence their creativity and productivity.
Whether it’s writing live together, in silence, via Zoom video streaming; freewriting in our journals to a shared prompt during a webinar; or posting our first paragraphs, favorite sentences, and “darlings we killed” in a chat box…what happens is that writers start worrying less about harsh goals, and instead focus on the validation they experience by being uplifted in their community.
“I was surprised how much my creativity increased and by how much I enjoyed writing time during the Zoom webinar, not to mention the ideas and confidence all of this generated. Katey’s class was probably one of the best classes I have ever taken, and the online format was part of what made it so effective. There was enough face-to-face interaction, with plenty of time for exploration and reflection.”
As the above quote taken from an anonymous, end-of-class survey after one of my courses shows, a technology platform alone can’t create community. But when a teacher uses that platform to encourage creative thinking and considerate communication, together, tech and writers can soar.
And speaking of soaring, although I’m now over 4,000 miles from Alaska, it is a state and literary community I will always hold in my heart. Over half of my first book was written in Alaska (mostly Fairbanks and Anchorage) and the seeds to so many lasting friendships were formed (starting in McCarthy, with a nod to Sitka and Homer). I would not be the writer I am today without The Last Frontier. To that end, when 49 Writers emailed me about volunteering, despite the distance, I replied and asked how someone as far away as the Black Mountains of Western North Carolina might be able to help.
This blog post is one small help. A greater help–and here’s where you, readers and writers, come into play–is to offer a free writing consult to any member of 49 Writers. I find great satisfaction in helping writers name where they’re at in their projects or goals, and pointing them toward any resources that might help. Sometimes that means offering a curated reading list; sometimes it means referring them to a friend I know in the business (Need help with a pitch letter? Need a manuscript review? I have strong leads and referrals in these areas…reach out! You’re not alone!). Other times it means working together in one of my classes or introducing a writer to beta readers who want to trade manuscripts. If any of this strikes a chord, email me directly and let’s get the conversation started.
It may be just one email that you send, and of course we’re all sending dozens and dozens of emails per day. But what makes this different is that on the other end of that imaginary flight path between your desk and mine, is a willing volunteer who believes in the power of communication and co-creative support, no matter the distance. I hope to hear from you!
KATEY SCHULTZ is the author of Flashes of War, which the Daily Beast praised as an “ambitious and fearless” collection, and Still Come Home, a novel, both published by Loyola University Maryland. Honors for her work include the Linda Flowers Literary Award, Doris Betts Fiction Prize, Foreword INDIES Book of the Year for both titles, gold and silver medals from the Military Writers Society of America, five Pushcart nominations, a nomination to Best American Short Stories, National Indies Excellence Finalist recognition, and writing fellowships in eight states. She lives in Celo, North Carolina, and is the founder of Maximum Impact, a transformative mentoring service for creative writers that has been recognized by both CNBC and the What Works Network. Learn more at www.kateyschultz.com.