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  • Kristen Washburn

A Commune Would be Better, but Community is Good

The first thing we did was discuss how to rebuild Tawnya's garage into an apartment for Jenny and River. Later, FedEx dropped off Tawnya's new writing table, and symbolically and ceremoniously, we all helped unwrap and lift it into her ocean-facing window. When the drill is finished charging (writers aren't prepared for that sort of thing), we will put it together.


This is our crew. We met at the Santa Barbara Writer's Conference two years ago, all hopeful novices with partial manuscripts and a shared taste for tequila. I ended up disappointed in the conference as both a teacher and someone with a writing degree: Teachers have to plan lessons to engage and reach and meet the needs of every student in the room; at the conference, a session leader would pick one outgoing person's manuscript, and the room (all novice writers without enough credential to really be reviewing someone's work) would discuss it. I got much more out of my undergraduate classes, and my undergraduate classmates were better writers than the ones I met at SBWC.


There was a silver lining, though, and it came in the form of Jenny, Tawnya, Alyson, and River. We met at the cocktail party, where several very creepy men got us suspiciously drunk, and we left feeling a little tainted. The experience was bonding, however, and before I knew it, we were meeting weekly over Skype, discussing our projects and goals.


Before I met them, I had written a screenplay and turned it into a novel. Since knowing them, I have written another novel and two complete screenplays. I have read and edited their stories. I've set timelines and met them. I've griped about query letters and social media presences and all the parts of this process that aren't brainstorming and writing. But amid the griping, I have built a website and established a twitter and submitted some queries.


It sucks. A lot of this process sucks. I'm not a businesswoman, and I don't like the business side of writing. Having friends who are experiencing the same frustration makes it suck less. Watching them experience small successes, a chapter edited, an agent response, is encouraging and exciting.


Recently, there have been changes to the concept of Joseph Campbell's hero's journey. It's not a loan hero who embarks on the journey, people have realized, but a tribe. A hero and his friends defeat the enemy: Harry plus Ron and Hermione, Mulan plus Mushu and the cricket. If I were going this alone, who knows where I would be? I would have written less, for one. I would have queried less, two. And I would not have this baller website about which I'm rather proud.


I'm very grateful for my tribe, and I encourage any writer, no matter where they are in the process, to find theirs. It's a little unrealistic to think you can all move in together in a commune in one's backyard (and is so with our group), but Skype is a close second. Get writing, yes. But also, get the team of people who will make you a better, more consistent, goal-meeting writer.

The table and the tribe. And a bag of Cheetos only I seem to be eating.

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