Finding your writing tribe, and why it’s important – Jean E. Pendziwol

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By Jean E. Pendziwol

I think if there were a ranking of jobs for introverts, writer would top the list. Many of us tend to prefer the solitude of creating, tucked away with our laptops and a cup of tea, imagining worlds to life and populating them with characters that place no social demands on us. But it’s essential that we get out there and connect, preferably in person, but online if necessary.♥

I recently co-facilitated a workshop that explored the evolving business aspects of being a writer, and my partner and I opened the session with an icebreaker activity that involved the participants milling about and (gasp!) communicating with the other writers in the room. The tension was palpable. We did not only to ease into the material we were presenting, but also to facilitate interaction between people who were engaged in a shared experience – the art of writing.

In the past few years, as I focused more on my craft and my career began to take shape, I realized that connecting with other writers was an important part of being a writer.

I live in a relatively small community in northern Ontario bordering Lake Superior. This isolation can create wonderful opportunity and has served as inspiration for several of my books, but it can also limit networking with other writers. And while I’m fortunate that Thunder Bay has a strong artisanal culture and a vibrant arts community, including several writing groups, I mostly hovered on the periphery of these organizations. It wasn’t until I helped establish a small group of eclectic writers to meet on a regular basis that I really found my tribe.

Tolkien and Lewis had the Inklings. Woolf had the Bloomsbury Group. I have the Laughing Foxes. We all write in different genres – upmarket women’s fiction, YA, Sci-Fi Fantasy, poetry, literary fiction… It really doesn’t matter. What we have in common is a shared passion for creating with language. We don’t critique each other’s work – that’s not our objective. What we do is provide encouragement and support, celebrate accomplishments, commiserate over rejection letters (we’ve ALL been there!), console the recipient of a bad review, and hold other members accountable to their own goals.

Our group meets monthly at a coffee shop, sometimes with a topic for discussion, and sometimes we actually stick to the topic. More often than not, we find ourselves changing course wherever the winds of conversation blow. Once or twice a year, a group of us sneaks away to someone’s cottage for a weekend retreat – an opportunity to focus exclusively on our works-in-progress and to discuss all-things-writing over wine in front of a fire.

It was at one such retreat that I wrote the two most magical words in a writer’s dictionary – The End. I completed the first draft of The Lightkeeper’s Daughters looking out at Lake Superior, tucked under a wool blanket while four other laptops clicked away in the background. And months later, when I had relegated the manuscript to the sock drawer, those same laptop-clickers encouraged me to submit my novel to an agent and pursue publication (there may or may not have been threats involving banishment to the mosquito infested forest at future retreats if I didn’t.)

It is not their purpose to provide editorial feedback or writing advice, although that sometimes does happen. It is simply their purpose to BE writers sharing the same journey. Without my tribe, my novel may have never seen the outside of the sock drawer.

Jean E. Pendziwol is an award winning Canadian author of books for adults and children, including Once Upon a Northern Night, shortlisted for the Governor General’s Award. She lives in the shadow of the Nor’Wester Mountains near Lake Superior and draws inspiration for her stories from the rich history, culture and geography of northwestern Ontario, Canada. She has three adult children, a loveable mutt, and a coop of temperamental chickens, who sometimes lay eggs. Her debut adult novel, The Lightkeeper’s Daughters, is published by HarperCollins in US/Canada and W&N in the UK.

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