The true meaning of collegiality

By Caitlin Kelly

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Writing for a living can be lonely!

 

Many professional writers, as I do, live and/or earn our incomes in solitude, working freelance at home or in a cafe or library.

As a result, entire days, sometimes weeks, can go by without seeing another member of our industry face to face — people live far away, have long commutes or are simply too busy cranking out copy to have a long meal, or short coffee, with one another.

It’s a real loss.

 

We all need colleagues with whom to talk shop, gossip, hear about their latest project, cheer them when they win well-earned awards.

 

We need to give, and receive, fierce hugs and hear “Hey!” from across a crowded room.

And, yes, commiserate if it’s not been such a great year so far.

 

Last week reminded me how incredibly important it is so get into the same room with people whose work, and values, you like, respect, admire and hope to emulate.

 

I attended, along with 599 others, the annual meeting the of American Society of Journalists and Authors, held every spring in midtown Manhattan at the Roosevelt Hotel.

The ASJA is a member-only group, but Saturday is open to other writers at all levels; we focus on non-fiction and journalism.

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The writer and I have become Twitter friends — but have yet to meet in person. Terrific book!

After the sometimes shockingly filthy air of online-only communication — poisoned in so many groups by misunderstanding, grandstanding, rank amateurs and even bullying of those they deem unwelcome — being surrounded by smart, talented, proven professionals who actually know, like and respect one another’s work was truly a hit of pure oxygen.

The very first person I saw was a male tech writer, a friend of many years, who asked me about blogging.

Others asked how my work was going, or told me how much they enjoy my blog.

I met many new writers, and those with decades of work for every imaginable magazine, authors of multiple books, some of them New York Times best-sellers.

 

We’re all thirsty, at every level of experience, to learn more, to improve our skills.

 

On Saturday morning, I spoke on a panel with two other writers about coaching, a service I offer fellow writers. In the audience were two talented younger women I spoke to at length afterward — one from my hometown, Toronto, one from Alabama.

Here’s the full list of every panel, as they were all taped for late sale — you can order them! (Mine is S09 on May 21.)

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My first book, published in 2004. As someone who grew up with no exposure to guns, I was deeply intrigued by this most American of obsesssions

Such a pleasure to meet new people with thriving careers!

A group of us went out for lunch — women from Austin, Texas, New York, Boston, all of whom had never met. There’s an immediate, automatic comfort among fellow writers who know the real pressures of paying the rent/mortgage/health insurance from our writing, editing and teaching.

That afternoon, as other ASJA members do every year at the conference, I also mentored a young woman from (!) Sydney Australia; we mentor writers at the conference who pay a small additional fee and can ask us anything they want about the business of writing for a living.

It really is a meeting of peers and colleagues, not just idle chitchat.

We don’t just go to exchange business cards and polite pleasantries but, in a few more intimate conversations, to dig deep into the joys and challenges of what it means to still try to produce smart, thoughtful journalism in an age of listicles and clickbait.

How and where do you find true colleagues?

13 thoughts on “The true meaning of collegiality

  1. We are social creatures, and working in a vacuum is not good for us either physically or mentally. Sometimes we need to break our solitude seeking others. Despite the fact that I despise several (and likewise), some of my colleagues are great writing source material. I never fail to fill several pages of a notebook whenever I am around my colleagues with ideas. One of my particularly-loathsome colleagues has a habit of saying the most asinine one-liners, which are great fodder (with some editing, wouldn’t want to tip my hand where I get my ideas) for sleazy antagonists.

  2. You have hit on a very real issue and I appreciate your insights. I have signed up to attend a travel blogger’s conference this summer in Stockholm. I have been a little conflicted about going, since it will require a lot of travel on each end, but after reading your post I am committed! Community makes a huge difference and there is no substitute for person to person exchanges.

    1. It sounds like a great opportunity and I hope you enjoy it.

      A website called The Muse recently posted a useful link to how to make the most of a conference.

      I’d urge you to Google some of the people attending beforehand and see who might be a good fit for you. Bring lots of great business cards (Moo has lovely ones) and be sure to follow up afterward.

  3. This post is so timely for me. I’ve just finished working with two veteran editors from the magazine business. They were a joy to work with–old school in that they prefer picking up the phone to an email and hearing a real voice. Made me realize how very online most of my convos are nowadays. I have to admit to liking the creative freedom of solitude. But being able to wander down the hall to connect is nice every so often too . . .

    1. My husband is working with a young (20s) photographer — who only wants to work with people ages 35 and up.

      Too many people are trying to “manage” those when they have very little industry experience and have rarely worked in the same physical space with others.

      There is, as we know, a newsroom culture. πŸ™‚

      1. Bex vanKoot

        The problem is when “people who know what they’re talking about” becomes “people who tell me only what I want to hear.”

  4. You are right, they are so important. It sounds like a great conference, and i’m sure it was well worth your time. I find colleagues in the school where i teach, as well as at conferences, seminars, etc. I love the give and take of others who understand my job and I always learn from them. The experience is priceless.

  5. Pingback: [BLOG] Some Friday links | A Bit More Detail

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