Associate Editor Hananah Zaheer reflects on the social aspect of writing in this post from Dubai:
My writing day is not too different from that of many others. It is a lot of staring at the screen, scrolling through social networking sites, berating myself for wasting time, and then returning to the empty screen. I get it–writing is a solitary act.
And yes, to a certain extent, I am still bound by some romantic idealist notion of isolation as the gateway to creativity, and success, as a writer. Hemingway, lakes, cabins, etc etc etc.
But the truth is that as I look out the window of my office at the dry desert landscape of Dubai, the neighbors’ yards, set up for afternoon tea or a ladies’ lunch (depending on the day), I feel the distance between me and what I now call the Writing world intensely. Somewhere far away, across oceans, there is a thriving literary world and a scene that I catch glimpses of only through the internet. There are readings, events, workshops, conferences, retreats, and late night meet-ups where my friends meet and talk poetry and writing and where many joint projects have been birthed.
I can pretend that I, in my room, in front of my computer screen, am okay with this, that after all, books and a pen is all I need.
But the truth is this: There is no replacement for a writing community. I miss my writer friends, I miss attending readings, and I miss being part of a world where names of writers, poets, and books fly in an out of my ears. Yes, ultimately being a writer is about writing, about actually producing work. But realistically, to be isolated from a writing community means fewer (or no) opportunities to read your work anywhere, to have to work extra hard to be involved in a world that, let’s face it, is small and incestuous, and for expats like me, spending much of my summer running from conference to conference, which is both an exhilarating experience and a recipe for exhaustion-induced madness. And while I always come away from these with a sense of purpose, and a renewed drive, over the course of the year, I find that not being constantly in touch with a “literary” world except through the internet slows down the process.
It is much easier to be answerable only to yourself, to not have anyone to share, compare, and play with. I did not realize it then, but my days in the DC area were a blessing, writing wise. Had I not been around it, I would not have gotten involved with the Potomac Review, had opportunities to teach workshops at the F. Scott Fitzgerald conference, been pulled into writer groups, attended readings, panels, read my work at Politics and Prose. It is only now that I am in a desert, literal and figurative, that the importance of these things has become apparent.
In the interest of all honesty, I should probably tell you that I am not the kind of person who will show up at every single literary event (children and life often get in the way). Nor am I the kind of person who is very good at keeping in touch with people on a regular, say weekly, basis. Why, then, you ask, the fuss? Why this lamenting over a lack of a real writing community?
The answer to that would be that I suppose this is like much else in life—I want options. While life is busy happening, it helps to know that I could, theoretically, step out into the world and come into contact with someone of my kind, that we could sit down and over a cup of coffee, celebrate our rejections and question whether our stories have been accepted at worthy-enough journals.
And while I have tried all forms of alternative ways of forming a community online: Facebook groups, promises to exchange work over email, membership to websites and online communities, none of it has been an adequate replacement for the kind of support and inspiration that only comes from in-person contact with others who are involved in the same efforts as me. Creativity breeds creativity, and writers, it turns out, may be social animals as well. As for me, I just miss having someone to understand that my constant wrestling with words in not a “hobby,” but a urge that is very, very normal.