Most people tend to agree that the writing life is a lonely one. As writers, we do weird things that most "normal" people don't understand. We argue with characters in the middle of supermarkets and hold bizarre sleep schedules and spend hours at a time living in our own little worlds. It ain't a spectator sport.
But it also doesn't have to be completely solitary.
I was in a Creative Writing program in college, so I spent a good 80% of my time around like-minded writers. We told bad literary jokes. We encouraged each other to finish one page. Then one chapter. Then one novel. We critiqued each other's work. A majority of my last two years in undergrad was spent in workshop-style classes where the goal was to produce some potentially publishable writing.
Imagine my surprise when I graduated and entered the "real world" and found myself, for the first time in at least four years, completely alone.
People are supportive, of course. My family cheers me on, even if they have no idea what I'm talking about half the time. I'm lucky to have a few friends who like writing too, but agents and query letters and publication aren't on any of their minds yet. The rest of my friends pretty much go with the flow and buy me helpful books and "like" my Facebook statuses when I need encouragement and keep me rooted somewhere in the realm of sanity. But it's still a little lonesome.
What's a writer to do?
I've only recently (finally) started figuring it out. Here's what I've learned.
1) Network. And I don't mean just so you can boost your career. Writers tend to be pretty supportive of each other and know the pain of the process, particularly writers who have actually gone through the publication process. I have a wonderful author friend, Michelle Zink, with whom I've been in close contact for a couple of years. Whenever I feel discouraged by the process, she almost always offers a few words of encouragement to keep me pushing through. Because she's been there and she knows.
2) Keep in touch. If you have some serious writing friends, keep in touch with them. It sounds simple, but even long-distance understanding and encouragement is better than going it completely alone. I've tried to keep in touch with a friend who graduated a couple years ahead of me from the same Creative Writing program. We got each other through NaNoWriMo this year and laughed when it was over. She's determined to get me to an MFA program. I'm just determined to read all the writing craft books she recommends for me.
3) Online communities. I recently joined the Litopia Writers Colony. There's something about having so many serious writers in one place that's uplifting. In just a few short weeks, I've seen so much support and so many thought-provoking discussions in there that it blows my mind. And somehow, the Litopians always manage to find the strangest news stories to share with each other.
4) Critique groups. This was the biggest step for me and the one piece I didn't realize I was missing. There's an immediacy and trust involved in critiquing each other's work face-to-face. I was used to it in college, but got away from it in the two years since. At our last writing group meeting, I got critiqued for the first time. It felt good to get back into that. Plus, writing groups give you several nearby people who can help hold you accountable. That's half the battle really--having people close by who truly understand this life.
And if we writers can't count on each other, then it's a lonely life indeed.