Writing: A team sport
I have long loved the myth of the grave, solitary writer who works tirelessly on his/her manuscript in an attic somewhere (admist empty bottles of Cutty Sark and poetically-slanting light coming from the one dusty window) until it is finally ready to be presented to the world. I love this myth because it makes me look smarter. I only wish I could be that tortured genius who emerges, blinking into the light, with a complete manuscript.
In reality, or perhaps just in my case, it takes a village to write a book. I started writing because Sheri Benning, poet extraordinaire, came to my house and broke a wine glass. She came by the next day and dropped off her first book, Earth After Rain, by way of apology. Her book hooked me on poetry, and she had the generosity to look at my first, terrible, poems. She pointed out what could be made stronger and praised the faint hints of originality or image in the stinkpile of what was the rest of my writing.
When I moved to a new city, I put up flyers for a writing group. I wanted a random assortment of experience and talent. What I got was a community of writers who were warm, intelligent, and deeply respectful of one another’s work. They also knew how to laugh. I’ve been a part of that writing group for 6 years now, and they edited just about every poem in my first collection, Sweet Devilry, as well as every poem in my upcoming collection, Status Update. We have learned together how to cut through the throat-clearing in our poems and get to the good stuff, how to find the essential core of greatness in any piece and polish it so that it shines.
Writing will likely always appear like a solitary endeavour because we have only one name front and centre on the book’s cover. Open a book to the back though, and you’ll always see a long list of the people without whom the book would not have been possible.
I have a theory that writers tend to be divided into two camps. Those who think that the resources are scarce and so all other writers are competitors, and those who think that the resources are scarce, and so all other writers are readers and a bolster to the community. It’s much easier to be in the latter of the two groups because you can celebrate in the victory of others rather than feel like their accomplishments diminish your own.
Members of my writing group have recently won several major awards. One member, who has to keep her success under wraps until it is officially announced, spilled the beans of her win at our last group meeting. Another member immediately stood up and shouted “Yay! We won!”
Being in this community of writers has made me feel like I’m a part of the success of the others in my group. There are plenty of writers out there who are in different stages of their career, and who would like to share, discuss, and edit work. Find your community, and reap the benefits that come with writing within a village.
Sarah Yi-Mei Tsiang is the author of Sweet Devilry (Oolichan Books), which won the Gerald Lampert Award. She is also the author of four children’s books, including A Flock of Shoes,and The Stone HatchlingsDesperately Seeking Susans, as well as the forthcoming anthology Tag: Canadian Poets at Play (Oolichan Books). Sarah’s work has been published and translated internationally, as well as named to the OLA Best Bets for Children 2010, Best Books for Kids & Teens 2011, and a Blue Spruce nominee.