If writing is a solitary effort, how important are relationships with other writers?
Oh, this is so of this moment. I arrived in Substack at the start of this year and had no more ambition than to build a body of work (albeit one that might be useful to my agent as my book is on submission here in the UK). However, I've since found the goalposts shifting, as you describe so well, with the arrival of Notes. I'm hustling again. The pace has picked up again. The sense of competition (as well as inspiration and support) has made itself felt more keenly.
This has been positive, though, as I have clarified where I stand now between those two terms 'audience' and 'community'. We are here building our community of writer-peers with the hope that our community of readers grows with that. Not just within and among ourselves with content to push on Substack but with readers coming here just for the pleasure of reading.
I hope, like you do, I think to find balance. An ability to block out the noise of Notes (which, of course, offers instant gratification and distraction in equal measure!) in favour of the deep thinking and writing I came here for - as a writer AND as a reader.
Whenever I worry that competition will take the fun out of writing (because you're right - it's quite a competitive endeavor), I remind myself that the things we write are so unique that an actual competition between any of us would be impossible. (At least, I hope they're unique!). We'll all attract a slightly different subset of readers. Thanks for reminding me of the tremendous importance of the writing community. I don't know what I'd do without it.
I think you’re asking a question that points to a rascally habit among writers: we forget we’re fledgling humans with skin and organs and nervous systems. 😂 I’ve lived in near obscurity for four years in the mountains and my formal writing basically went to poop. This adventurous life has had its moments, no doubt. But in my case, obscurity made my thinking obscure and that put my writing life through a lot. (Though I would surmise that I was nourished in other parts of my existence as a human, so it's not an entire loss!) Your post makes me imagine that classic image of a solo writer bent over a typewriter, cigarette in mouth, whiskey in glass, for months on end (in seeming bliss), but that photo never seems to share what the writer also lost in the process of bringing their writing to the world.
What it sounds like you’re saying is things like Notes have the capacity to overwhelm and create “static on the line” and you’re noticing an uptick in perhaps a bit of social exhaustion? I know there are some topics where I’ve got about 14 minutes a week to spare and then I’m maxed out and need some neurological down time. But if there’s anything I have learned from being 90 minutes round trip from the nearest Target for four years, it’s that energy will be stolen from us no matter how much we try to "manage" our circumstances. So maybe the thing for us writerly folks to explore is what our own energy in/energy out limits are in order to let our writing serve us and then readers?
Such a fun topic to explore. Thanks for tossing this out for my Monday musings.
Right now, I'm loving the connections I'm making with other writers. It isn't just about growing my audience (although that has happened some), but I haven't really been immersed in a community of writers since I was in graduate school. While I wish it were in person, the online community is better than nothing and it was also made me brave enough to reach out and work on finding actually community here in Indy. This is is a really good and important conversation for many of us to have, and I'm glad that you're starting it.
The first few days of Notes felt great. Like you described it. Fun, like hanging out. Then the arguing and the competitive feel rose about a thousand degrees in my unqualified estimation, and I haven't spent much time on there since. I avoided Twitter for similar reasons that I now find myself (mostly) ignoring Notes.
I did get a bit of an 'I should be on there to grow my Substack' for a minute. But I resolved a while ago to not live my life based on 'shoulds', and I'm trying to stick to that with this.
If I go on there it's coz I feel like it. That's it.
I try to spend some time on notes to connect with people and share interesting things, but after that first-time glow faded I have found it easier to ignore and just come around when I’m able. I’ve been enjoying the more real time connections here!
I do write in a vacuum, I suppose as none of my geographically close friends understand the need to withdraw and be solitary, nor are they particularly interested, and that's fine.
But from the early days, I belonged to an online peer review site which was the best thing since sliced bread. I made friends globally who were going through the same creative angst as me and we're still friends some 12 years later. We've collaborated, commiserated, laughed and cried.
Facebook has been wonderful too. It's where we keep in touch the most because there we are friends, not writers necessarily. It's the social side.
Technically speaking, I have a couple of beta-readers I trust, but the person I need the most is my editor and as long as he's at the end of an email, I'm happy.
Substack is something I enjoy for its content and thanks to both readers and writers, I've met kindred spirits. But I don't take part in Notes because it doesn't serve my purpose. I have Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, my family and life and that's enough for me without affecting writing time on the ms.
Writing IS solitary and should remain solitary for best end results. I always remember Stephen Fry saying that when he is working on a book, he goes into writing purdah. That says it all really.
I most definitely need the company of writers,. But my particular need is for abstract conversation about the "writing life" (why we do it, where we've come in our struggle with it) rather than where to send submissions, how much to charge for work, how to handle competition, etc. I am mercifully beyond needing to worry about that--not because of any fame or income I have acquired as a writer but because I am finally able at my age to write only what I want to write and to put it out into the world without expectations. I know this is a privilege very few writers on this platform share, and I am grateful every day for it.
Oh, my goodness... and here it all is one more time - the "community" - exactly what I needed to engage in, and with, in order to step out of a strange "funk" that arose following a recent longer than normal travel time. Thanks as always Ramona. The second to last paragraph in your post really touched my heart/soul.
Overtired leads to withdrawal leads isolation leads to that old song of sorts….”Nobody likes me, everybody hates me, I’m gonna eat some green green worms. Big fat juicy ones, long skinny slimy ones…..” (I don’t remember it all). Suffice to say that’s where I’ve been for a few days.
I do have to admit that I was starting to feel somewhat overwhelmed with all the Substack Notes I was being notified about. However, as with all manner of media, I have choices as to how much time and energy I’m prepared to give up. When the writing starts to flow, I can simply move into those moments and let it unfold. Right? :-)
So now, because of your Q&A and all the wonderful comments, it feels like there may be another “Perfectly on Time” Substack post "in hiding" and just waiting to be brought forward. I so appreciate the all-inclusive / non-judgemental approach that’s shared here. Most definitely a “community of like-minded souls” and one that I feel privileged to be part of.
There seems to a bit of a trend toward pulling back. I have been noticing a overwhelmed, fatigue sort tone in what writers'are sharing. NOTES may have been the tipping point. The work is the Thing' and when that starts to be crowded with 'promotion' gimmicks and confusing stats it all gets muddled
I appreciate your candor in this post, Ramona. I’m all for keeping things real.
As for Notes, I’m keeping a healthy distance. Giving up Twitter for many reasons, was enormously freeing for this writer and a good perspective shift. I find community among writers and readers in a variety of ways--daily online writing groups, writing workshops and retreats, monthly discussions with other foodwriters, and yeah, even Instagram and surprisingly a boisterous subreddit--but the one that’s been the most life changing is right here in the COMMENTS section of substacks!
It's important to connect to other writers as long as we don't lose ourselves, which is easy to do with comparisons and that natural competition you wrote about. I give myself 5 minutes or so on Notes at a time, maybe twice a day. Also, I nurture the connections with writers who also feel a connection to my work. Yet, I still become overwhelmed, like a swirl of too many ideas and too many pathways in my small brain!