Years ago, I thought I would like to start a neighborhood writing group. I thought anyone interested in writing could gather once a month and share some of their writing. We could talk about it and help each other work toward our writing goals.
With a little trepidation (writing and sharing writing is, I admit, a scary thing), I wrote an invitation letter to all my neighbors. I explained that this was a very non-judgmental undertaking, that it would be a good inducement for us all to write a little more regularly, and that we would work together in a very safe place to improve our writing.
I learned three things. First, not everyone wants to write. Not everyone even thinks they “should” write. This came as a surprise to me. I know many people don’t feel confident writing; however, I thought there were universal remnants from our common schooling experience in America that left all of us with a feeling that writing, even if it is personal writing, should be done by everyone. Not true. Many people really do not want to write and feel no sense of obligation.
Second I learned that there are some who may write privately, but for them there is no such thing as a safe enough place for them to share their own writing. These same people are willingly part of book groups. They share their opinions and discuss other people’s writing but would die before sharing their opinions or creative vision via their own written word. This wasn’t as big of a surprise to me. There is something so incredibly intimate about placing your thoughts on paper. I don’t know why this is so, but it is. It takes either a supreme act of courage or a supreme amount of trust (or a deadline in a class) to induce a writer to share.
The third thing I learned was what I hoped and believed was true. In spite of the fear, (or maybe in part because of it?), sharing writing with others can be therapeutic. You learn things about yourself and your experiences, in writing, that you don’t learn just from living. Any writing, even fiction, creates connections and meaning, or opens your eyes to see them. Putting that new understanding “out there,” hearing other people’s response deepens that learning. It also builds a quality of relationship that I’m not sure can be built in any other way. I moved from this neighborhood years ago. I seldom see the other members of our writing group, but I know these people, and I feel like they understand me in a different way.
So, I am writing a novel. It is difficult, but I’m admitting it publicly. (More fears arise: What if I never finish it? What if, when I finish it, it’s so bad that I’m mortified? What if someone tells me it is that bad?). From my writer’s group I have learned that this long private desire is not everyone’s dream. I realize that it’s okay that I am often terrified, mostly of just being bad at it, but also of sharing it and getting feedback. Hopefully, overcoming the fear will bring rewards again as it did with my writer’s group all those years ago.