the need for synergy

I’ve always thought that the Beatles were a perfect example of the process of synergy. That is, their whole was greater than the sum of their parts. Or put another way, the music they made together was far better (for the most part) than what they later made as individuals.

I think their creativity flourished in that collaborative environment in a way that it didn’t when they were on their own. They benefited from being with each other, bouncing ideas around, supplementing, adjusting, correcting, enhancing, revising, improving, perfecting. Being immersed in such a pool of talent must have been a beneficial challenge to each individual effort, even if overt contributions to a given song might not have been there (or at least not have been obvious). Writing lyrics or composing melody, while it might have been done alone in a quiet room, must have been nonetheless influenced by the knowledge that a group of musical geniuses were then going to take it and make it even better. Talent begat talent. The environment fostered best efforts. Kindred spirits fed creative spirits. I think it shows in the music they made together, and I think such a thing can foster the otherwise solitary act of creative writing as well.

I’m not talking about editing or workshopping or networking, though those can, undoubtedly, improve a piece of fiction in direct and overt ways. What I am trying to understand, rather, is something more like community, the idea that a solitary worker like a writer can benefit from having a group of like-minded colleagues who can influence and improve the writing merely by existing as colleagues. They might talk shop, or they might rigorously not talk shop, yet by being a community, they somehow foster or challenge or simply reassure each other to achieve something better than each could do alone in a garret in the wee small hours of the morning when the house is quiet and the ferment of ideas boiling in the brain is manageable.

Such an influence is intangible, but I think it can exist. I don’t know if it is the comfort of knowing you’re not alone in this crazy thing you’re trying to do. Or if it’s the knowledge that a group of people you respect (or maybe even just an individual you respect) will see what you do. Or if it is the feeling of being a peer in a creative swarm. Or the challenge to do better. Or the fear of failure. Or if there is some other subtle influence at work. But whatever it is, I suspect that being part of a culture of creativity can affect your own creativity for the better.

I think that’s part of why we read each other’s blogs (or why I do anyway). I don’t think I’m out there looking for writing tips or instructions. (In fact, when I come across such how-to blogs, I tend not to go back to them.) Rather, I think I’m just looking for kindred spirits, attempting to build and be part of a community of people who are also struggling in their own ways with words and ideas. I’m not trying to learn how to do it but more why to do it. Or why to keep doing it. Does that make sense? (Obviously I don’t have this fully figured out or I’d be expressing my point here better.)

I have tried to find such groups in my own town, groups that I could sit with once or twice a month and talk shop, or rigorously not talk shop. Groups in which I could immerse myself solely for the purpose of I-don’t-quite-know-what but that I think I want to have. Sadly, I haven’t found such a group, and I think the kind of thing I want (or need) isn’t going to advertise and would probably only exist spontaneously rather than in some organized and dedicated way.

Here in Kansas City we have an organization called The Writers Place. It “exists” in an old, castle-like mansion down in the city (I am adrift in the far suburbs), and it hosts readings and workshops and classes and suchlike and would seem to be exactly what I’m after. But it hasn’t worked out that way for me. I’ve dabbled in participation there but for a number of reasons it hasn’t been what I sought. I’ve enjoyed the readings I’ve attended there, but it’s a long drive each way for me, and the benefits of the socializing and ambience tend to dissipate from the “struggle” of getting to and fro. I’ve taken a couple of their classes, and while they have undoubtedly helped me in some way, I don’t think they’re the kind of synergy I’m after either. I’d love to go there with my laptop and sit in their well-stocked, nicely appointed library and just tap away at the keyboard, but, as I said, it’s an expedition to get there, and the place is in a “rough” part of town, so they can’t leave the door unlocked for such spontaneous visits. I’d have to go during open hours, which aren’t all that convenient for me. And so the bother of it all robs it of whatever intangible frisson I’m trying to capture.

I’ve also tried to find “organized and dedicated” writers groups in town, but I haven’t had much luck with that. To be sure, a few exist, but they seem to be more about writing instruction than about community. Some are genre specific; one I’ve found is focused on speculative fiction, another on romance writing, another on devotional writing. These are worthy endeavors, certainly, but they’re not my endeavors. A few seem to be comprised of hustlers or wannabes or (gag) “mentors,” and I admit there is a need for such groups. But that’s not my need. As I said, I suspect that if such a group as I’m seeking does exist, it’s casual and known only by word of mouth, and it may be ephemeral. Perhaps my ideal group dissolved last week and I missed out.

Some of you know that I’ve had a story accepted by The Little Patuxent Review, based in Maryland. I’m proud of the story and of the caliber of the publication. There will be a launch party later this month for the edition I’m in, and I anguished over attending. I was invited to go to Maryland and do a reading then discuss it with the guests at the party, and I thought that such hob-knobbing would be both gratifying and good for me in the synergistic sense I’m babbling about here. But, again, the time and trouble and expense of doing so have thwarted me. I’d have to take off work (which is appealing, of course), purchase plane tickets (not cheap), find a place to stay (I have a few friends in Maryland), buy a new tweed jacket (all serious writers have tweed jackets), and screw up the courage to actually read in public and try to hold forth as an intelligent, creative person (when deep inside I feel like a fraud). And then the event would be over, and I would fly back to the Midwest, likely never to see or talk to these people again, and the community I want to find would be gone (for it never would have developed). So that avenue will go unexplored.

I keep trying to find this elusive, synergistic group. I tell myself that I would benefit from it, and I tell myself that it must exist out there. But I also doubt both propositions. I am, in the end, a very private person. Perhaps that has to do with some insecurity. Or perhaps it’s the result of growing up in a very large family where privacy didn’t seem to exist. So I wonder if I would mesh with such a group if ever I could find it. Would I rise to the challenge I think I want it to provide? Or would I be intimidated by my peers? Or would I respect my peers? Or would I really want the bother of committing to being part of a group? I’m in a book discussion group (we’re embarking on a four-month discussion of The Sound and the Fury next month), and after each session I vow I’m never returning; the level of discussion is way over my head. I feel as though I’m the town idiot who is allowed in as some sort of community service project. And I wonder if a writing group would leave me feeling the same way. Though on reflection, maybe I need to feel that way to improve my writing.

So I stumble along, writing alone in the wee small hours of the morning in my repurposed spare bedroom, with the dogs scratching at the closed door and the life outside of my writing mind waiting, sometimes impatiently, for my return while I go round and round trying to grab the brass ring.

Your advice, suggestions, tips, and commiserations are most welcome.

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4 Comments on “the need for synergy”

  1. Annam Says:

    Your post really resonated with me because I have felt like that too, and I have yet to find a group of writers that feels like “home.” I don’t think it’s because you’re a fraud or that you’re the town idiot. It’s not just about the writing. Writing is so much a part of who we are, on a deep molecular level, that in order to find such a group you have to find people who get you on all counts. I don’t have a community of writers, but I do have a community of people who help me as a person, which in turn informs my writing. They don’t all know each other, but every little bit of interaction is beneficial. Some read my work, some have nothing to do with my writing. Perhaps it is about looking at it from a completely different perspective.

  2. Sonje Says:

    I’ve also never been able to find an in-person writing group, although to be honest, I haven’t looked that hard because I don’t like sharing excerpts of writing that I’m working on, particularly not novels, and if you’re not doing that, what are you doing for that hour? I know many people do share excerpts, but I don’t understand the point of it. I want my novel to work as a whole, and whether or not one piece works outside of that whole is immaterial to me. Well, anyway, there are many other reasons that in-person groups aren’t for me, but I do feel like I am part of a community of writers online, and that fills my need completely. I read their blog posts and offer my encouragement. They read mine and do the same. It doesn’t matter that we’re not writing about the same things or for the same audiences. We’re all writing, and that’s all that matters.

    One last thing. I think there’s also something perfect about a community of writers that interacts through writing (mostly blog posts and comments). I find that *talking* with other writers about writing feels less authentic somehow!


  3. For quite a few years, I was in a writing group with two friends. It was small, and more times than not, it was good. But I’ve never liked larger writing groups.

    I started out writing comic books, and there was that constant buzz of excitement in being around other writers and — especially — artists. I find that there are only certain kinds of writers I really enjoy being around. Those who speak of muses and the pain of writing and how they can’t NOT write…to each their own, but I never found comfort around those kinds of people.

    I find that synergy around different kinds of writers, artists, musicians, and other creative people. Not necessarily even discussing craft, but just being around them and seeing how they look at the world.

    I like Sonje’s point about blog posts and comments vs. talking. When I’m going through my blog reader, I’m in the mood to discuss writing, and I love it. But other times, I just want to hang out with other creative people chatting about whatever comes up — not exclusively talking about writing.


  4. […] Paul Lamble recently chatted on his blog about craving fellowship with like-minded writers. […]


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