Just last week I was listening to this podcast. The guest, Jeff Goins, spoke of the power of proximity for creatives. He specifically spoke about Ernest Hemingway joining the community of American expatriates living in France. “He just hung out with them … did whatever he could to be a part of the scene… And guess what happens when you do that? You form a network.” It was a timely reminder as I prepared to attend last weekend’s West Virginia Writers Summer Conference. It’s taken me years to build and fully appreciate this network in my own writing life. In fact, for me, powerful proximity meant the difference between a finished book and a stack of half-done manuscripts mildewing on my hard drive…
When a friend or aspiring writer wonders where to start, I always advise two action steps before any others: get mad, and get a community. Get mad because the anger will help you crash through any obstacles your (well-meaning) fear and doubt set up to slow you down. Like the getaway car on a made-for-tv movie, you’ll bust through those barriers and screech onward toward your goals. Get a community to keep you accountable, to put fuel in said getaway car, and to cheer you on, encouraging you to recklessly careen away from the haters. Your community will also help you discern between worthy gut-checks and your own insidious procrastination.
There’s something synergistic about being in a group of creative people; the friction from all the ideas causes sparks of inspiration to leap between people. Whether it’s a workshop, a critique group, a conference, or a Thursday night potluck of like-minded artists, it’s critical to be a part of a creative community.
Here’s how to cultivate powerful proximity in your creative life:
Seek Out Your ‘Scenius’
Austin Kleon writes about the importance of finding a ‘scenius’ in his best-selling Steal Like an Artist. In the mentioned podcast, Jeff Goins describes what it was like to join Nashville’s creative scene. It may feel like your hometown is a creative desert (Trust me, I get it…) but no matter where you live, you find find two or three other creatives. Creativity can’t be contained; they’re there, you just have to keep your eyes and ears open.
Also, if you live in a very small or remote place (Did I mention I live in WV and I get it?) you may need to cast a wider net. Instead of looking for writers in the same genre as you, be open to writers of all sorts. One of my local groups is made up of poets, a journalist, a western writer, and a couple of speculative fiction writers. At first, I wondered how it would work, but I love this group. The way those poets edit one another’s poems? Ah-may-zing. How? Teach me!
Maybe you’re having trouble finding even two other writers. Broaden your search to include artists, musicians, and filmmakers. There’s a lot of creative overlap in these disciplines, and you’ll be surprised how much you can learn from those outside your specialty. I do think it’s important, however, to find people who are aligned with your goal. Some groups just want a safe place to share their work, and that’s fantastic. But if you want a critique group that’s aimed toward getting your work ready for publication, you may end up frustrated. So look for like-minded creators who are bent on growth, and maybe living the creative life you’d like to live.
Find Somewhere to Help
Creative collaboration is every bit as much about what you bring as what you take away. If you’re having trouble finding a creative community, consider what you have to offer. Hemingway did a lot to help his ex-pat community in Paris–some practical things, some things that were just fun goofing off. Don’t underestimate what you have to add value to others’ lives, even if you think you can only contribute in tangential or unrelated ways. Think back to a time when you’ve enjoyed an unexpectedly worthwhile conversation. Did it ever begin with the topic you found so rewarding? No. It started with a jar of pickles in the grocery store, a complaint about the weather in a doctor’s waiting room, or a request for directions from a stranger.
Expectation affects outcome. If you expect to help people with their problems–even the small ones–you’ll build relationships easily. Doing this strategically will increase your success. Look for a group you’d like to join. What do you think you could do to help? What skills or talents can you offer? Respectfully and tactfully reach out. Your goal is to invest in relationships, not manipulate people to do you favors.
NOW YOU: Are you already a part of a creative community? How did you find it? If not, how can you take the first steps to create a powerful scene?
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