I have a secret fear that I will never be really really good at writing because I’m an extrovert. I know very few other writers who are also extroverted (I did a very scientific Twitter survey that estimates maybe one or two in every ten writers, maybe less). I get my energy and inspiration from spending time with people. I have to be very disciplined to sit down by myself and write. I can’t spend long hours by myself, disconnected from the world—for this reason, I write in short bursts, an hour here or there, mostly at my kitchen table.
Part of this fear of failure stems from an interview I read with Marilynne Robinson, on the top of the list of writers I admire, who credited the amount of time she spent alone for her success. Me? I hate being alone. I crave human contact and interaction. I have to be alone to focus and write—although before kids, I preferred a coffee shop for the people-watching/eavesdropping—but for everything else, I prefer community.
The main reason I decided to pursue an MFA in Creative Writing (wait, wait, keep reading, I swear this isn’t going to be an essay about to MFA or not to MFA) was to become part of a literary community—a very, very expensive literary community, according to my student loan bills. Besides one undergraduate workshop, I’d never had a group of writers to support/inspire/critique my work. I wrote the stories for my MFA application entirely on my own, from scratch, in a matter of weeks before the deadline. My experience prior to that was my college sophomore workshop and a summer teacher’s seminar where we did some creative writing.
But I got in. And I was ecstatic. I cried tears of joy on my way home from the first orientation (oh, the naivety). I was so happy to have found people like me, and I fantasized about this perfect life of wine-drinking and literary salons and shared books and lifelong friends.
But…my MFA experience was a mixed bag, as most things involving humans tend to be. There was more of an emphasis on community than there was on writing and submitting. I didn’t write daily—I wrote when I had a story due for workshop. I didn’t cultivate a writing life, and my reading life was made up entirely of books from syllabi. Of course, the emphasis on supportive community didn’t bother me initially because I loved the social aspect, but in hindsight, it was a debt I could have lived without: I left graduate school with maybe two semi-publishable stories, a shitty thesis, a ton of burned bridges, and a less-than-positive feeling about MFA programs. And writing. And humanity.
I took a little writing hiatus. Stories were always floating around in the back of my mind, but life got a little intense (a divorce, an unplanned pregnancy, unemployment, oh my!), and there was no time or motivation to write. No deadlines, no readers. Once things settled down again, the writing itch came back with a vengeance, but I was living a whole new life, with a husband and a baby in the suburbs. I had a family, but I was once again without a writing community.
I tried using Tumblr as a place to post stories after I saw that I writer I loved had a Tumblr site. I wanted a space of my own. I wanted to know at least a handful of people were reading my work. I hoped for virtual encouragement or inspiration. But that was purely fantasy—Tumblr is full of amateur writers and a lot of insecure trolls. Tumblr was not the space for me to build my community (though I still keep my page as a place for inspirations and random things, until I one day feel legitimate enough to have my own author website).
I tried connecting with other writer friends and acquaintances around the country via email or Skype, but everyone is so busy, and I was so busy too. I was working two part-time jobs from home while raising two kids. I was often sad and frustrated and lonely and would lash out on my family like a caged animal over the smallest things. I had to find my way back to writing to keep from losing myself completely. I needed people to talk to about the struggle of creation. I needed people to remind me how much I loved words. I needed people to tell my stories to.
I created a personal Twitter around this time and started to follow some of my favorite literary journals and writers. I was reading online journals and writing daily and submitting and connecting with people. A few months later, I had my first story acceptance. A few months after that I had another. I shared stories that moved me and often fell in friend-love with their authors. Many of these authors enthusiastically (and genuinely) celebrated my work. Slowly, slowly, I found them: my tribe. The people who believe in my stories and champion me. The people who make me work to do the same for other emerging writers.
I started reaching out to more local writers. I made one of my best friends by stalking her online after I read one of her stories and saw in her bio that she lived nearby. I recently did my first public reading and found more of a supportive, engaged literary community than I expected. This tribe of writers has made me brave, has inspired me, has made me better at my craft by exposing me to their work.
A year after I became determined to surround myself with writing folk, I feel like I’m living an entirely different life. Some days I even feel successful, like I might eventually get to be a really, really good writer. And I relish being alone with myself and my words, because I know that out there in the big wide world, there are others like me toiling away in the quiet for so little fanfare. And I know that when the story does finally come to fruition, there will be people who cheer me up when it gets rejected and cheer me on when it finds the perfect home.
Amanda Miska lives and writes in Northern Virginia. Her work has been featured in or is forthcoming from Whiskey Paper, Buffalo Almanack, CHEAP POP, jmww, Cartagena, The Collapsar, Storychord, Five Quarterly, Cartridge Lit, Cactus Heart, Pea River Journal and Counterexample Poetics. She is the fiction curator at Luna Luna Magazine. You can find her on Twitter @akmiska.