Communication is what makes community: we create little satellite communities whenever we share a story; every time we offer our words and willing ears pick them up, a new one blooms into life. Empathy is the kernel from which this community grows. When we relate to what someone is saying we become motivated: whether it’s to write, to speak or to act – empathy gives us community; and community gives us power. Several voices are stronger than one after all, and it’s community which provides the impetus to create change. This can be on a personal level, a community level, or on a wider social level.
A community which is particularly important to me, is my writing community. Non-existent at the start of 2018, it has blossomed around me over the course of the year — and I have blossomed with it. I am a prime example of how community can create change. The beauty of community is that it’s a feedback loop; what goes around comes around, amplified.
At the beginning of this year, I knew that something in my life had to change, drastically. I had spent the previous year recovering from a breakdown, which saw me quitting my job, battling chronic fatigue for months, and trying to find a new lease of life through therapy and creativity. Through these things I identified that if I was ever going to get better, I’d have to focus on doing something that I really, really loved. I knew exactly what that was: writing.
I’d already been a reviewer for a couple of years, which I enjoyed, but I needed more creative flex. I had stories churning along inside me all the time, I just never had time to put them to paper with a clear mind. Now was my chance. Whilst rediscovering my creative self that summer, I penned ten-thousand words and an outline for a novel, which I couldn’t get out of my head. When January rolled around I was ready to take the leap. Having worked in publishing prior to my breakdown, it felt like something of a risk to try and put myself back out there, this time as a writer. But if you are ever going to succeed, you need a bit of risk – and that starts with sharing your idea.
I’d had enough of working on my own at home all the time: I was feeling lonely, isolated and daunted by the road that lay ahead. I knew I needed a community around me if I was to make any progress. I also knew that it was there; I just needed to tap in. And so, my co-working group was born — for writers and freelancers in the industry; a weekly meeting of like-minded folks, to sit and work, have a coffee, or spin ideas.
To begin with, I introduced myself as a writer, with a few excuses and apologies thrown in (how can I call myself a writer? I haven’t even written half of my book!) But I gradually dropped them, realising I was in a safe space. I write: therefore I’m a writer.
We’ve all made some genuine friendships, professional partnerships, and everyone supports the others in the group — whether it’s attending a long-awaited book launch, or solving a niggling plot problem. Most importantly, showing up every week is the biggest show of support. Everyone’s time is valuable — and the fact that we each give our own to support the others is not only validating — but empowering. We are in this together.
“This community of like-minded people gave me the courage to take leap after leap.”
There’s nothing like a cuppa and a few well-chosen words to kick the dreaded Impostor Syndrome safely to the kerb each time it threatens our progress. Each of us develops and improves our craft on some level on an almost weekly basis too. Indeed, sitting with a group of other writers is a bit like osmosis; you absorb the experiences and well-learnt lessons of those around you.
Many of us have fast-tracked our way through things that would otherwise have taken much longer; two heads are better than one, so they say, or in this case, several. An issue I had been struggling to tackle with my manuscript was solved in a ten-minute conversation — which ended up shaping the direction of the book. You just never know where a conversation will take you.
This community of like-minded people gave me the courage to take leap after leap and now I’m thrilled to have several articles published in-print and online. I also applied to several mentoring programmes and awards, because, why not? What do I actually stand to lose? Nothing. A fraction of my pride, perhaps. But that can be recovered.
At every setback, I dust myself off and try for the next opportunity. With my community cheering me on, it doesn’t matter if I succeed or fail: they will always be there to celebrate or commiserate with me. That’s the power of community: it’s transformative.
I am a reflection of my community. When you have people around you who can relate to you, empathise with you, and who believe in you — anything is possible. (My novel is now complete!) It’s the community who motivate me to keep moving forward and keep taking those risks. They are my impetus to make change within myself, little by little, every day. And it’s these little changes which keep me progressing.