For authors, finding community is vital to success.
It’s a strange business. Most of the time, writers sit alone in a room and make things up. We need to be perfectly fine with doing this for hours every day, for days on end. Then, when it comes time to sell what we’ve written, or talk to readers, or…you know…go to the grocery store, we’re expected to suddenly be at home in the world. And for most of us, being at home in the world is hard.
We have to go to dinner with our in-laws and talk about spaghetti recipes and why they like French wine and why neighborhood garbage pick-up was delayed this week. We have to talk about the weather with the dry cleaner. We have to go to parent’s night at school and make small talk and fit in and don’t make it weird.
Writers need friends. And we really, really need friends who share our quirks.
So I’ve spent most of my adult life hanging out with other writers. I met them in college or at conferences or online. I’ve had coffee and lunches, attended write-ins and retreats. It wasn’t easy to form these connections. An introvert befriending other introverts can be a slow, awkward process. But it’s so, so worth it.
Twice a week, I meet a friend for a quiet writing date. I also attend a weekly critique group, and have breakfast with my co-author every Sunday. I have monthly lunches with friends who feel like family.
That’s a lot of social interaction for a writer, but I don’t just like these groups. I need them. My writing buddy understands the daily grind. My critique group helps me pursue excellence. I bounce ideas off my co-author at Sunday breakfast and get marketing advice from my lunch group.
Without these friendships, I don’t know if I’d even call myself a writer. By sharing our troubles and triumphs, we’re reinforcing that identity. I look at my critique group or my friends or my writing partner and I see myself reflected clearly. We’re all doing this thing, and this is a good thing to do.
A writer alone is an oddity. A group of writers? That’s called the cool kids’ table.
I did it! I wrote over half a million words this year.
Back in January, I made a pact with my brother. We each committed to doing 2017 of something in the year 2017. For him, it was running 2017 kilometers. For me, it was writing 2017 pages (504,250 words).
My brother won the challenge. So did I. In fact, we both finished a week early! I finished my 2017th page on the 24th and he got his last steps in on Christmas day. We are proud of each other. And proud of ourselves. And really, really tired.
I’ve had a lot of people ask me about the challenge, so I’ll answer as many questions as I can here.
You: how did you keep track of how many words/pages you wrote? Did you count each one?
Me: At the end of each writing session, I did a quick word count and jotted down the total in a spreadsheet. I also kept track of what time I started and how long I wrote.
You: Did you learn anything from these spreadsheets?
Me: I learned that I average 1000 words an hour of rough draft. (That does not count editing/proofreading/publishing.)
I also learned that I was wildly inconsistent in the first three quarters of the year, with no set time of day to write. I put words on the page 6 or 7 days a week, which was good, but lacking a routine is how I fell behind in quarter three.
You: If you were behind in quarter three, how did you catch up and also write so much you finished a week early?
Me: In November, I took a class taught by the incomparable Becca Syme. The class changed my life. It sounds like an exaggeration, but I’m serious. This class changed my life.
The class was called “Write Better, Faster,” but really it should have been “learn how your brain works so you can get out of your own way.” It was the most gentle of instruction, but it kicked my ass into gear like nothing else. I learned how look honestly at my own process, know my strengths, and figure out what could be changed and what couldn’t. At the end of November I had a workable action plan, and the moment I started implementing it, the words started pouring out. This past month has been the most productive of my entire career and I’m happier too–probably because I’m working with my natural tendencies instead of against them.
You: So you took a nice class and you got your priorities in order, but readers only care about the finished product. Did you publish anything this quarter?
You: Anything else?
Me: Blog posts, book reviews, classroom materials for the workshop I teach and a monthly newsletter for readers. My co-author and I also wrote a fun short story exclusively for our newsletter subscribers.
You: How many words in this blog post?
Me: 568 words. Combined with the other words I wrote this week, it brings my total to over 509,000 words (2037 pages) for the year.
You: Awesome! What’s next?
Me: Well, today is my birthday. I think I’ll celebrate it by taking a nap.
It was a long, hard, necessary journey.
Last weekend I wore my pink hat and joined 500,000 of my new best friends at the Women’s March on Washington.
It wasn’t easy to even get there. At the very last minute, our bus company canceled some of the contracted buses. They left eighty people behind. Our bus seats were the narrowest ones I’ve ever seen, and the bus lacked things like power outlets and temperature control. The door wouldn’t fully close, so we froze up front, while the back of the bus quickly warmed to ninety degrees. Nobody complained, since we considered ourselves lucky to get on a bus at all. We left Ann Arbor at 10:00 Friday, planning to drive through the night and arrive in DC early the next day.
At 3:30 in the morning, our driver pulled to the side of the road and we glided to a soft stop. “I don’t want to scare you,” she said. “But we don’t have any brakes.” We were somewhere in Pennsylvania and the GPS showed no towns for miles. The fog was so thick we couldn’t see the next mile marker.
I called our bus company and spoke to someone who sounded like a college intern on her first day. She didn’t know where we were and didn’t know how to help. Luckily, our bus driver was a miracle worker and somehow found a mechanic to drive to our location in the middle of the night to fix our bus right there by the side of the road. We got going again, but we were two hours behind. So we took a vote: stop for breakfast, or drive straight through to DC? We overwhelmingly chose to drive straight through. We gave up sleep, food, and coffee in order to get there on time. This is how much we wanted our voices heard.
As hungry and tired as we were, just being in DC lifted our spirits. Everyone we talked to had a story. We met two senior citizens who’d been protesting since the Civil Rights Movement and the Vietnam war. They’d each had three hip replacements, and yet were willing to be on their feet all day for this. We gave our granola bars to a trio of college kids from North Carolina who’d decided to drive up at the very last minute, not stopping to pack food. We met someone who’d come from Colorado and was at the march alone.
We were all different, and all united by one thing—the determination to grab our country back. Our bus driver gritted her teeth and guided our rickety bus through the DC traffic. “If you’re on my bus, I’m going to get you there,” she said. The women with the artificial hips knew they would be in incredible pain the next day, but endured the trip anyway. The person from Colorado, with no support from family or friends, still made the trip.
Husbands marched with wives. Sometimes three generations marched together. Moms brought their kids.
Cell towers were overloaded and none of us were getting news or social media. We had no idea how big our march was, or that demonstrations were happening across the country and around the world. We didn’t get the scope of it until later. Cheers broke out on the bus ride home as people pulled up aerial photos of DC, Chicago and Denver. We all looked up our hometowns. “They had six thousand in Ann Arbor,” someone said, passing around a cell phone. “They marched in Copper Harbor!” someone else cried, showing us the picture.
Back in Michigan, I removed my shoes and peeled my sticky socks off my feet. I napped and showered and went out to get groceries. My pink “pussyhat” had become a natural part of my wardrobe by then, and I wanted to keep wearing it. As I filled my cart, five people stopped me in the store to tell me they loved my hat. I couldn’t stop smiling. For the first time in two months, I felt proud of my country.
As I was checking out, the cashier asked me about my hat. “I saw them on the news,” she said. “But where did you all get them?” I told her that my best friend had knit mine. I explained that the hats were all homemade. Every single one.
“That’s amazing!” The cashier held out her arm. “Look! I have goosebumps.”
I knew the feeling. I got goosebumps several times at the Women’s March. I’m not kidding myself into thinking it was perfect. It wasn’t. It was very white and very straight. Parts of it were amateurish since this kind of political action is new to most of us. Some people will pat themselves on the back and not do anything else to fight this dangerous administration.
So what? It didn’t have to be perfect. It had to be done. This isn’t the end. This is the beginning. And with a new pair of socks on my feet, a bright pink hat on my head, and goosebumps on my arms, I’m ready to march again.
Words to remember. Words to live by.
My dearest friend Chris bought me this bracelet. I love it (and her) so much that it finds its way onto my wrist nearly every day.
It’s a simple aluminum cuff stamped with the words “We Are Not Things,” which is one of the taglines from my favorite movie: Mad Max Fury Road.
“We Are Not Things” is a cry of liberation from desperate women fleeing across the wasteland in search of a better life. But truly, it applies to every character in the film, including Mad Max himself.
And it applies to me. And to you. And to everyone I meet.
We are not things.
I always wear it on my right wrist, with the words facing me.
I catch glimpses of it at odd times during the day. When I’m cooking. When I’m putting on chaptstick, and especially when I’m at the computer. I spend most of my time alone so usually I’m the only one who sees it.
But I’m the one who needs to see it. Because in this internet age, where wit is social currency, I sometimes forget that there’s another human being on the other end of the computer.
As a writer, I put a lot of stock in words. I know what words mean. I know how to use them. I know how to combine them to achieve exactly the effect I’m hoping for. The problem comes when I’m on social media, having fun with my snarky friends, trying to top one joke with another. On social media—especially Twitter—many times the effect I’m hoping for is “making myself look good at the expense of others.”
Most of the time this is okay. Even hilarious. Nobody is hurt when I mock Comcast for their poor service or make a joke about the latest political debate. But there have been times when I’ve let it get more personal, and more nasty, than that. Once, I trusted my words far too much.
I made some observations about a friend I’ll call Stephanie (not her real name). Then, I used those observations to talk about my own shortcomings. I thought it was okay to use Stephanie as a platform because ultimately, I was the butt of my own joke.
Just typing those words make me cringe. I thought it was okay to use my friend as a platform. I thought it would be funny.
It wasn’t funny. Stephanie didn’t care that the joke was on me. She cared that I’d used her to get a laugh. I’d treated her like a thing. She took me to task for it and has not yet forgiven me. Nor have I forgiven myself.
I never want that to happen again. So I wear my bracelet, and I remind myself that we are not things. And I stop and think before I tweet.
Chris has never met Stephanie. She didn’t know any of this when she gave me the bracelet. She simply wanted to give me a memento of a movie I love, a reminder of my own liberation, a token of our friendship, and a pretty piece of jewelry to wear.
But she also gave me a beautiful reminder to take care with my words, because I am not, you are not, and we are not things.
About the author: Alex Kourvo has recently switched from writing science fiction short stories and novels to writing romance. Nowadays, she channels her snark into her characters instead of onto the internet.