Writing is lonely! Solutions…



There are some great words in there somewhere!


By Caitlin Kelly

Sure, some people can write well in a noisy and crowded coffee shop.

Not me.

For truly focused, uninterrupted work, I need quiet, either at home alone or at a library.

Writing really means often wondering — does this sentence/paragraph/chapter even make sense?!

So I’m fascinated by two recent reports of writers meeting face to face to help one another thrive, one in Hollywood and many others more private.

The one in Hollywood is called Rideback.

From The New York Times:

Mr. Lin is betting that Rideback will strengthen and accelerate the creative process. It is a Hollywood twist on WeWork, the shared office space company. Mr. Lin said he was also inspired by Pixar’s “brain trust” sessions, in which directors and writers candidly critique one another’s work, and by “The Medici Effect,” Frans Johansson’s 2004 book about the ignition of the Renaissance.

“If you put a bunch of creative people from different backgrounds into one space, something magical will happen,” Mr. Lin said. “Studio lots used to be just that. You would walk around and everyone would be there. But studio lots aren’t as much fun anymore. They can feel corporate.”

Mr. Lin has 15 employees of his own. They work on the Rideback campus, where they are focused on finding a way forward for the “Lego” series, most likely with a new studio partner. (Universal is one option.) Other front-burner projects include an “Aladdin” sequel and a television spinoff; “Lethal Weapon 5,” with Mel Gibson and Danny Glover signed up to return; movies based on Cirque du Soleil shows; and a remake of the TV series “Walker, Texas Ranger.”



Writers also meet face to face with trusted peers:


Writing is often considered a solitary act, but some writers have figured out a way to make the process more collaborative even before editors, agents and other publishing professionals get involved. Zhang’s group, which includes Alice Sola Kim, Karan Mahajan and Tony Tulathimutte, has been meeting about every month since most of them were undergraduate students at Stanford University. Their sessions are highly structured, with deadlines for submitting drafts and detailed manuscript notes, while other groups gather more informally to talk about their careers, commiserate over deadlines or gossip about the publishing industry.

“You will feel like writing is very lonely and very difficult and very frustrating and that you don’t really know what you’re doing,” said the Chicago-based writer Mikki Kendall. But in a writing group, “you can talk to other people in that place and that are feeling their way out.”


I don’t belong to any such group, but I do belong to at least six on-line writers’ groups — and have done so online for many years, still close friends with a few people I only initially knew that way. One, a writer now living in California, and I shared a room at a Boston writing conference never having even met in person, launching a long and treasured friendship.

It really cuts the loneliness to be able to talk your ideas and challenges through with people at the same level of skill and experience and, if you’re lucky, those a few steps beyond you, willing to be generous.

One such group (many are private Facebook groups), is small — only 200 — and only those with a decade’s experience can join. I know, even if I don’t like the answers, I’ll get a quick and candid reply from someone else who’s been around the same block a few times.


malled cover LOW

Writing books makes me really happy — but also very nervous!


The challenge of all writers’ groups, in any form, is the classic writers’ combo of insecurity and ego. I’ve seen several such online groups explode in outrage and vicious bullying. It can get weird and ugly quickly.

And to share, let alone publish your work — poetry, fiction, non-fiction, essays, journalism — demands the courage to have a voice, to put it out there for comment, criticism and potential disagreement. That opens you up, de facto, to potential hurt.

So I have what I consider a bit of a brain trust; to gather feedback on a recent story of 5,000 words — my longest and most complex in a decade — I enlisted the fresh eyes and expertise of three people whose judgment I trust. One is a man half my age who’s very good; one is a woman my age whose writing I deeply admire and the third is a professional book editor. These “first readers” are so helpful and so important.

After revising your work over and over and over and over — you’re tired! You have blind spots. The material has become so familiar you’re likely to miss places that it’s still confusing to someone who has never read it at all. So these trusted peers are so valuable.

I’ve done this for others, of course, helping to review their stories and book manuscripts. I’m honored to do it.

If you’re lucky and talented and persistent, you will find a peer group and they will help steer you through.

12 thoughts on “Writing is lonely! Solutions…

  1. I know this is going to blow your mind, but I am not a very good collaborator. I can offer and receive input and criticism, but ultimately my vision is mine. Maybe that makes me a narcissist and maybe it makes me a genius. Either way I am in fine company.
    I’m starting to get a little overly expressive these days, you may have noticed, so I think I’m going to take the rest of the year off. I hope you, all of you, have a very happy holiday, whichever iteration of that you plan to enjoy.

  2. As you say, the key word is trust. Never in a million years would I share my work over the internet with strangers, even in a writer’s group. One becomes very possessive of their work. I send my chapters to one person only: my editor in London. She’s a published author and experienced book editor. By the way, I pay for her services, it’s not free.

    But it’s good that you can send your work to three people whose judgment you trust. I agree that after working and working – writing, rewriting and polishing – you can’t see any more. You’re too close to the work and you need a separate set of eyes.

    If you wish to send me your 5,000 words, I’d be happy to read it. I’m on vacation right now. If not, I understand. Good luck and Happy Christmas!

    1. Thanks. I am very, very cautious — especially as much of my reporting is competitive so I factor this into account.

      The story is now in fact-checking and copy-editing so it will be out January 8 online — and I will link to it here and explain it more.

  3. There is something about the creative buzz you get from just being around other creatives. But yes, can be hard, if someone is on fire with a project–completely inspired–while there you sit trying to find the Muse.

  4. this is vitally important to anyone working ‘solo,’ I imagine. as you described, it must be a challenge to find the balance of putting your work out there and preserving your privacy and creative property. I’m glad you have found places that feel safe to do so –

  5. I did an online writing course last year and the comments and feedback from the other students left me feeling quite confused. They offered constructive criticism and well-meaning advice but after revising my pieces several times I felt they were weaker, not stronger. They were too smoothed out.
    Funnily enough, I’ve always fancied myself as an editor but I’m not sure how one gets into that field. It’s not such a strange idea as I’ve previously worked as a film editor and my day job involves reconstructing long reports so that they make sense.

    1. I can see that happening quite easily….Editing and keeping the writer’s voice isn’t easy but it can and should be done!

      I was in a writing group many years ago, writing a medical thriller (!) and people hated that my main character, a woman, swore a lot. Get serious! They wanted her to be nicer, more likeable — totally missing the point.

      1. Margaret

        That’s funny. Probably not the market for your book anyway.
        I think it’s easy to lose confidence so it’s important to share your work with people who can be honest but not shake your belief in yourself. It also helps if they know what they are talking about!

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