07 March 2014 ~ 7 Comments

The myth of the writing community

No writing community, just words. Jane's writing desk.

No writing community, just words. Jane’s writing desk.

One of the most dangerous beliefs of genre writers is that there is an overarching writing community that speaks for all writers. This is such a harmful myth that I think it has derailed careers and silenced talent. And the worst thing is, many writers accept the myth without realizing how much harm they are doing to themselves.

Only my spec-fic writing friends consider themselves part of a writing community, as part of a general consensus, in which the community is given its own voice and its own say. My musician friends belong to musician groups and songwriting groups, and they support each other, sure, but no one ever says they are in the musician’s community or anything like that. Or speak of “the musician’s community” as having a consensus voice.

Maybe I’m wrong about that. I’m not an Austin musician.

So why does the spec-fic writing community act as if it speaks with one voice? In fact, there are just a few very loud voices among s-f writers who pronounce judgment as if they speak for the rest of us, when in fact they are only screaming into the wilderness. I have heard pronouncements of where a writer should submit and not submit their work; I’ve even heard pronouncements on what a writer should write. On social media, I’ve seen a silverback writer insult an aspiring writer for daring to have a different opinion on a market.

There is no spec-fic writing community. There’s no consensus, and the rules of who gets support and who doesn’t are arbitrary and loose. Contorting one’s position and writing to fit into some arbitrary community notion (can’t write this, must write this, must be on Twitter, must support this and not that) takes a toll.

It took me a long time to figure that out, so if it’s not revelatory to anyone else, just consider me a slow learner. However, I know one writer whose career may have suffered because of their dependence upon the approval of the community for what they write or don’t write. Following the rules too slavishly has impacted a potentially singular voice from reaching a wider audience.

Now, this is not to say, everybody just shut up. Far from it (I love a screed as much as anyone) (Which is to say, I kind of don’t). But I put a caution out to writers not to get sucked in. Have your own opinion, posted or not, and go your own way. The community is a myth. We don’t have to think alike, and it’s not a fight to the death if we don’t. Some of us are friends, some of us aren’t, at best we are colleagues, and at worst — well, there is no worst. There’s just no connection.

I think the convention culture has contributed to this misconception. S-f writers are often fans first, and we hang out with our con friends and that might have helped give the writing community idea traction. But think about it — mystery and romance writers have conventions too, but they don’t seem to consider themselves members of the mystery writers community or the romance writers community.

I was a member of Sisters in Crime, but it was years ago, so I may be wrong about that.

I don’t know if this will help anyone else from making my mistake, in giving the s-f writing community far more weight than it really has. I do know that life is too short — and we only have one career — to waste it by adhering to meaningless strictures from other people who don’t have our best interests at heart. The writing community doesn’t care about your career. The loud voices have their own agenda, and it doesn’t include your success.

Here are a few good rules of thumb:

  • If the writing community consensus prevents you from submitting to a certain market, don’t listen.
  • If the writing community consensus says that some subject matter is not fit for writing about, and that’s what you write, don’t listen.
  • If the writing community consensus says that “this is good and wise, and you must think this,” look twice.
  • If the writing community consensus keeps you from reaching out to fans who might read your work, don’t listen.
  • BUT: If there is collective wisdom in the writing community that will enhance your career (contracts, publishing houses, certain editors, etc.) pay attention.

Ultimately, as writers, our only goal should be pleasing our fans, not other writers. No other voices matter.

So the next time I see you at a convention or around town or online, let’s just — talk. Not try to create a consensus view or force a common consensus when there doesn’t need to be one. You write sf? Cool. I write it too.

That’s all there needs to be.

7 Responses to “The myth of the writing community”

  1. Elze 7 March 2014 at 2:03 pm Permalink

    Given how cliquish, territorial, and rejecting of strangers as the writing community is, it’s ironic to hear that there is really no community. Well, maybe not ironic. Maybe cliquishness is the only thing that defines this community. In that case it’s not surprising that there is no “there” there.

  2. Patrice Sarath 7 March 2014 at 6:56 pm Permalink

    I think that’s the point though. You (the global you, not the personal you) aren’t being rejected by the writing community, because it doesn’t exist. You’re being rejected by a few people who are rude and ill-mannered. Is it easier looking at it that way? I think it is. There’s no monolithic bloc with rules you can’t understand or a secret handshake no one will teach you. It’s just a bunch of unkind jerks.

    Looking at it that way suddenly makes it very easy. You can find friends who write, and since there’s no writing community as such, you are free to behave in a very different way, in a way that benefits yourself much more directly.

  3. TheWriterInBlack 7 March 2014 at 8:46 pm Permalink

    Writing is about as solitary an occupation as it’s possible to have. You may talk to others about writing but in the end it comes down to you and whatever means you use to string words in a row.

  4. Patrice Sarath 7 March 2014 at 8:54 pm Permalink

    Agreed.

  5. Adrian Simmons 7 March 2014 at 9:08 pm Permalink

    I’ve often found that a person who talks a lot about “the community” tend to want to run “the community”.

  6. Patrice Sarath 7 March 2014 at 10:40 pm Permalink

    Heh. Right?

  7. V 8 March 2014 at 12:49 pm Permalink

    Communities (as alleged) are too much work. I want to write, and I want friends who understand writing and what that means. Around them, I want to have fun and relax. I’m my own worst task master, I don’t need it from other people. Except when I do, and that’s what alpha readers are for. It is a private and mutual agreement. This say-so is not for twitter or some magazine– the public face of a private vendetta. Have fun, I’ll write in my own sandbox. Fortunately, going Galt in this time and place is pretty easy. For now.


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