In Defense of Not Writing #20: Building Community

This column explores the myriad ways we can — and maybe should — engage with our creative process beyond actively writing.


Most of the time, we think of writing as a solitary sport. The words, sentences, characters, and scenes exist inside ourselves until one day, hopefully, we get them on the page for others to enjoy. Because of its isolation, writers crave community. We find ways to make it part of the writing process — workshops, writing hours, craft talks, book readings. Simply just moaning about whatever you’re working on with another writer can be enough to sustain us for weeks. I found that out in grad school.

But then I moved back home. And while I love Rochester and it’s love of indie artists, the attention tends to mostly be focused on musicians or visual artists. There’s maybe only one coffee shop I know of that does readings, but they’re strictly poetry. And no one is asking writers to decorate coffee shop walls with printed versions of their writing. But no one ever does, anyway.

Writing is a tough art to share, and we tend to only do so in the form of readings. In Rochester, there was a lit mag doing that for its issue launch parties, but they ran out of money and need more community support. So there goes that for the time being. (They’re called Lilac Mag if folks feel inclined to help!) And don’t get me wrong, readings are great, but they often limit the amount of folks who can go a night, and it’s a lot of listening to someone else talk. Not a lot of building community, forming connections, finding ways to support one another.

Rochester is also home to a publishing company, but they barely do any outreach and are, again, focused primarily on poetry. There’s Writers & Books in the city, but they mostly put on really expensive workshops for non-writers who can afford it. So moving back here, and trying to find fellow writers, has been frustrating, to say the least. It feels like the infrastructure is nearly there but either no one cares enough, or people are too busy.

So I started taking it into my own hands.

First, I got lucky. A friend of mine from my grad school program moved to Rochester not even a full year ago with her partner. We’ve been meeting up mostly to help them get acquainted to an area I’ve known all my life. Through leading her around, I’ve come to know Rochester in a wholly new way. It’s wonderful.

And then I tapped on a random woman’s shoulder in a coffee shop.

We were working right next to each other,l and when I looked over, she seemed to be working on a draft of something. If you’ve spent nearly a year writing a manuscript, like I have, you start to recognize the form everywhere. Her document spacing was similar, the way she set up the word count on the right hand side was as well. Somehow, I just knew: She’s a writer, too. I spent the good part of a half hour inching closer and closer to her until I finally got up the courage to just tap on her shoulder.

She was a writer. Her husband grew up in the area but she only recently moved here. A couple years ago, at most. She left a much bigger city with a much bigger community of writers. She’s been desperate to recreate that here.

I gave her my number and quickly connected all three of us — her and my friend — together. We met up, and have already added another local writer to our group. We had our first workshop three days ago. For an hour we talked, and sipped tea, and got to know each other through our practice. Eventually, it became clear that this couldn’t just be for us. That we’d need to, and wanted to, do more to build our community of four into something that wrapped around all emerging writers in our area. Maybe we couldn’t always be the ringleaders, but we’d get there when that graciously, beautifully, became an issue. When there were too many writers in our sphere to hold at once.

Part of me is annoyed that I, or we, have to be in charge of creating this space. I wanted to move here and have it already established for me. But it’s also a unique gift, one I get to share with three other women who have become quick, beautiful, happy friends — the way friends you make in workshops or writing classes always are. We’re desperate for camaraderie and we grip onto it tightly. We learn each other’s work, how to identify language or images each other is prone to using, and we relish in the opportunity to see work half- or completely finished.

Community to writers is sustenance. What an emotionally hard, rarely gratifying lifeblood we have chosen to spend our days producing. When our emails are crowded with rejections, when our brain is telling us our book sucks, when local communities seem to forget you exist amongst the rubble, writers turn to each other. Build opportunities. Build networks. Support one another in words, in bylines, in finger snaps.

I’m not sure how quickly we’ll get there, but my tiny community and I are already on our way.


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