Unlike drinking, writing is something people expect you to do alone. When I started paying attention to author bios and acknowledgment pages, I saw many authors credit their writing groups with helping them finish the book. “Whatever,” I thought, “That is totally not my style.” But then I went to the Iceland Writers Retreat.
I expected to learn a lot from the sessions with my heroes, like Geraldine Brooks and Susan Orlean – and I did. What I did not expect was the thrill that came from hanging out with other writers. Writers attending the conference came from all over the world. They included novelists, short story writers, travel journalists, memoirists, local historians, poets, and bloggers. Some of them were published, others were just beginning. Some had agents and publishers, others had drawers full of unread manuscripts, others had only ideas or the hope for inspiration.
But what we all had was a love of the written word. Dinner napkins were covered with book recommendations, and Joseph Boyden’s fluid verb tenses was acceptable cocktail conversation. At one dinner I was the only person at the table who hadn’t read Michael Ondaatje. I thought I was well-versed in obscure Nordic literature (I’ve read an excerpt of Knausgaard’s My Struggle) until I met someone who has read the whole first volume. I was honored to personally meet Iceland’s president, but simply being in the same room as Sjón had me blushing like a teenager bumping into Macklemore – and everyone around me felt the same way.
When I got back from Iceland, I kept in touch with some of the writers from the retreat. I connected with a couple of local writers whose interests overlap mine. At first we met for coffee to talk about writing. Those conversations always fanned the spark, and I returned to my laptop with enthusiasm. But it’s hard to block out time for personal projects when work deadlines loom, laundry piles topple, and homework battles need to be fought.
So once the kids were back in school, we met to write. After catching up on the summer’s news, we powered up our laptops and powered through our projects. We broke for lunch and talked about whatever knots we were trying to untie in our stories and then wrote some more. By the end of a school day we both had accomplished so much we immediately scheduled three more days over the next month. Now I’ve made a writing date with another friend to work on a different project.
Forming groups is not my style, but now I understand why writers need writing groups. Writing partners give you permission to prioritize your passion projects and hold you accountable to your commitment to write. Being around other writers generates energy, and a buzz is always better with friends.