Last week I listened to the Saturday morning Dharma Talk from the SF Zen Center by Rosalie Curtis. The subject of her talk was sangha, which in its simplest form means “community.” Curtis mentioned that her favorite definition of sangha is “a community of people who come together to do something good,” which I really liked. It resonated with me because the moment I started thinking about community, I started thinking about writers. Specifically, I thought about how I meet with my own little sangha of writers on Thursday nights, but also how I’ve recently joined larger sanghas of writers online in the past few months.
I think that more than any other type of artist, writers tend to feel alone. This might be because of the pervasive myths in our culture that there is only enough room for so many books, and for so many writers. Or that you have to be a master before expecting anyone to ever read your stuff. Or the hero worship of writers like Hemingway or Stephen King. Honestly, I’m not quite sure what is behind it, but I am sure of this: Most writers feel very much alone in this whole writing thing.
When Rosalie Curtis talked about sangha she said, “Sangha is not something you are born into or choose to join, but something that you are challenged to create.” And that’s exactly the way I think writers should think about sangha. It’s not about you coming into a writing group and hoping to meet their approval, or jumping through hoops to be accepted. It’s about you showing up as yourself, as the unique and beautiful creative being that you are, to bring your little piece of the writing puzzle to others. You have a responsibility in that way to create the community, moment by moment.
When we compare ourselves to others, or we try to be something we think we should be instead of what we are, we feel like not enough. We feel separate. And after enough comparing, judging, fear and shame, the whole thing turns into a vicious cycle. If you’re a writer who is writing in isolation, with no other writers around to pat you on the back, or listen when you need to talk, or express interest in your work, this painful cycle is all too easy to fall into.
However, if you put yourself out there and make writer friends, you get the support, love, friendship, and encouragement you need as an artist. Even if it’s just someone sending you an email every week or so to check in on how your projects are going, it makes a huge difference. And yes, your family and friends care about you, but it’s not the same as a writing community you can call your very own. Other writers get you on a level that is difficult for others to grasp. That “getting it” vibe is invaluable.
So how do you create your writing sangha? Well, here’s the scary part. You reach out to others. Friend other writers on Facebook, follow other writers on Twitter, put an ad out on Craigslist for a writing partner—choose a few different avenues and go for it. You might get more responses than you can handle, or you might get only one. What’s important is that you focus on quality over quantity.
When you meet another writer who is a sure fit for your writing sangha, you will know it. You’ll know because you will feel good talking to them. You’ll feel safe, respected, and included. You will feel that your contributions are valued, and that you are valued for who you are and comfortable with yourself. In contrast, if you meet another writer and end up feeling judged, not good enough, or just vaguely off-center, then that’s your intuition telling you this person is not a good fit for your circle.
Creating your own writing sangha takes patience and trust. You need patience to wait for the right people to show up, and trust to take the risks involved in showing up as your real self, a vulnerable being. But once you forge genuine connection within your writing sangha, you will grow as a writer in ways you never dreamt were possible. My writing sangha has pushed me to conquer my fear of public speaking, put my writing out there for others to read, and tell the world I’m a writer loud and proud. I did not think these things were possible for me a few years ago. But my writing group has become something like a second family for me and they have supported me every step of the way.
If you already have a writing sangha of your own, who are the other writers in it? Send them an email or text today to tell them how much you value them and appreciate their support. And if you’re a writer who feels all alone, it’s time to change that. Put yourself out there and ask for what you need, authentic connections with true writer friends.
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