Something to Learn from Gertrude Stein

I often like to imagine what it would be like to walk through those wooden doors, hearing two voices debating the uses of certain words, perhaps pronouns or verbs, or maybe not words at all. Perhaps it’s two voices sharing a dialogue over colors and subject, either way, one of the voices is always a woman’s; Gertrude Stein’s. She was not only a wonderful writer (my favorite is Tender Buttons) but also a facilitator for the budding creativity of others. She opened her door in Paris, France to many creative minds, including Picasso, Hemingway, Pound, Matisse, and Fitzgerald, who all opened themselves to her critiques and suggestions.

The reason why I am going on and on about her is the fact that she, and all others involved, modeled an important element, or better yet, a necessity for all creative fields–community. It is true that writers need their time alone to retreat from the busy world and spend time creating the stories and scenes they have vowed to create by calling themselves writers, but there is another side that not many take into consideration: a need to be around other writers. If you think about it you can understand why. One does not tend to become exceptional at anything when left to their own devices, especially those involved in the arts. Yes, practice makes perfect but only if you’re practicing the right things and that is why having fellow writers and even beta readers at your side will make you the best writer you can be. An athlete doesn’t train by himself with a couple of good ideas of what kind of athlete he wants to be, he finds a coach and other athletes to spur him onward, to give him advice, and to pick him up when he can’t pick himself up. A writer, though not all of them will admit it, needs the same kind of support. That is why I am writing this. The need for others was a lesson I learned after my two semester long workshop back in college, which pulled my writing from the ditch and made it into something I never thought it could be.

Recently, I have been researching several articles and books on literary agents and writer conferences, and I can’t tell you how many times I have read suggestions on building up relationships with other writers. For example, in the 2014 Guide to Literary Agents (Writer’s Digest Books), Ricki Schultz, a young adult fiction writer and the coordinator for the online writing community, The Write-brained Network, wrote an exceptional article on conferences and all of the major benefits of attending them. One point that stuck out to me was when she was discussing networking as an important reason to attend a writers’ conference, “Although you might start out on a roll, you can also lose your flow in an instant. It’s during those times that writers most need the advice, ideas, and companionship of other writers…and critique partners are invaluable.” She strikes hard and true at an issue that, unfortunately, plagues a lot of new writers. We often become either protective over our ideas or self-conscious at the thought of receiving opinions on our work. Either way, if we indulge in such feelings we strip ourselves and the stories we have of any hope to flourish in the reading and writing world. We cannot afford to do that to ourselves.

I mentioned in my first post that in the writing life there exists a tension between solitude and community, a tension very much like the strings of an instrument. Music only comes from fine tuned instruments; harmonies expelled from tension. Every writer wishes to make music with their words, every writer needs that tension.

So where does one begin? First, you can try to look up different writer groups in your area, which can be very helpful. Also, think of people you already know who have shared with you an interest in writing. Talk to them more about it, read the same books, challenge each other, critique each other the best you can. Believe it or not, any support like that goes a long way. I have several people I email back and forth with, critiquing and discussing each other’s works, and we are better for it. I not only see a difference in my own writing, but also in theirs. Thirdly, look into going to a writers’ conference. There, you will find a plethora of writers in need of the same things as you. I feel like Schultz said it best, “If you’ve ever been rereading your manuscript and wished you had a friend who could give a critique, consider attending a conference because that is where you can meet such people…” I understand that a lot of this is easier said than done, it took me a long time to develop the connections I have now but it is achievable and that’s what counts.

It is important to note that writers are humans, and humans need each other to spur one another onward to better things and bigger accomplishments. If you think you’re better off as a lone wolf, then it is also worth noting that those wolves do not fare well in the wild. So I strongly encourage you to develop that community, not just for your sake but for others’ as well.

Gertrude Stein made it her passion to help these writers and artists in becoming the best they could be. A good deal of their skill could be credited to those nights they spent sitting in her parlor, discussing their latest work, and critiquing each other, shaping each other like metal upon metal. You also will come to learn that creativity begets creativity. You will benefit, for sure, but never forget in community, giving goes hand in hand with receiving.

I still long to one day have my own place  filled with different writers and artists, all of us being common pilgrims thrown onto the current, yet, in our own respective boats, shouting out direction or gently calling out correction,”Row faster, row harder, stay true.” Then, maybe by the end, we will be better for it.

 

If you feel like I have left out any important aspects of this extremely broad topic, or have other tangible suggestions for community feel free to share it in the comments section. Remember, community happens online every day so don’t be shy. Share your thoughts, connect with others, and spur each other on.

 

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