by Amy Shearn.
Like all young people who spend a lot of their time thinking about being creative, talking about being creative, and planning out their acceptance speeches for the awards given to outstanding creative artists, my high school writers’ group and I used to enthusiastically say things to each other like, “Some day everyone will think it was so amazing we knew each other way back when!” We were absolutely certain that we were the next Bloomsbury, or at the very least, Beats. (In the way of enthusiastic amateurs everywhere, we had not quite noticed our contemporaries. I had a strong and somewhat presumptuous sense that I was too busy reading the classics off the AP English Extra Reading list to buy books written by people currently alive.)
On a side note, I attended my first meeting of Writer’s Group barefoot.
The Writer’s Group has since dispersed. One of our prose writers has become an organic farmer; our poet-in-residence has changed her name to Astra Spider and become a life coach. As it turns out, we were not the next Literary Brat Pack, though we were sometimes bratty (it was one of the crowning achievements of my school career when my junior-year English teacher called me a literary snob.) But I still distinctly remember that thrill of feeling a part of something special, the brain-tingle of meeting, on a Sunday night after the homework was finished, in a suburban living room or corporate bookstore café, to discuss the writing we’d done, and, more significantly to me then, the writing we would some day do.
It’s that feeling that matters, that nourishing buzz of being excited about creating something, excited about what other people are creating. That moment when you’re brimming with ideas and energy because you’ve been talking to other people who are creating, too. It’s why even the most solitary of artists, even the most dedicated of nose-to-the-grindstone workers, need creative community.
The downsides of creative community are well-documented: competitiveness can be fostered; existing in an echo-chamber can be deadening. But that sense that you are not alone, that other people love what you love, that someone will be excited to see your etching or hear your composition – even if it’s only your handful of people – is what keeps creativity feeling relevant in our world, where there is so much trouble, so much work to be done, so little reward for sui generis creativity.
It’s lovely to be in a writer’s group, attend a conference, or enroll in an MFA program if you have the opportunity. Whatever creative community you have access to, nurture it. Give back to it – go to other people’s events when you can, support the art of artists you love. But if you don’t know other creative people, or live in some remote area where artists are as sparsely strewn as no-fee ATMs in Manhattan, lucky you – lucky all of us – to be living in the time of Twitter.
I know! It’s a controversial statement, but that’s it, I’ll say it: Twitter is nice.
For as much as we all love to complain about how Twitter and Facebook are time-sucks and “not for serious writers” (and be “we all” I mean Jonathan Franzen), they can also be lovely ways to connect. Even though I live in Brooklyn, which is lousy with other creative-types, I have recently found myself marooned by motherhood; all those readings and literary events I used to attend as a way to be a part of New York City’s lively, inspiring, “everyone-is-so-productive-and-successful-I-gotta-get-to-work” panic-attack-inducing community…they all seem to be scheduled to coincide precisely with little kid bedtime. And yet when my daily life is grinding me into a decidedly uncreative stupor, I can peek at my cracked, peanut-butter-smudged iPhone and get a little shot of the smart life from the feeds of @juliafierro or @readandbreathe or @publicroad. In a recent Twitter exchange @juliafierro and @pronounced_ing and I were discussing writers who aren’t on Twitter, and I wrote: “they probably just, like, read Proust and think really hard all day.” Celeste Ng (@pronounced_ing) replied, perfectly, “Let ’em. We have much more fun over here.”
So maybe I’m not part of the next Bloomsbury group. I can hardly manage to get my friends together for brunch. But I can still be a part of a creative community, and no matter where in the world you are, or who in the world you know, you can be too.
Amy Shearn is the author of two novels, including The Mermaid of Brooklyn [https://www.amazon.com/The-Mermaid-Brooklyn-A-Novel/dp/1451678282]. Her essays have appeared in the New York Times, Real Simple, Martha Stewart Living, The Millions, and elsewhere. She regularly writes for Oprah.com, and curates a reading series called Lit at Lark. Visit her atamyshearnwrites.com, facebook.com/amyshearnwrites, or on twitter @amyshearn.