I loved pretty much everything about graduate school. I went to Colorado State University to study creative writing after getting a BA in vocal music from Brigham Young University (so, um, I was clearly concerned with making tons of money in this life). Anyway, I loved grad school. I learned so much from my teachers and my peers. I loved the classes, the writing workshops, the reading assignments, the writing assignments. I loved the criticisms given to me by teachers and peers. I loved the critical thinking and discussions. I loved having people read my work and then tear it up and tell me what needed to be improved. I loved dreaming about being published and the resources presented to me about that.
I believe that going to graduate school improved my craft, gave me a group of mentors to lead me along, and inspired me to be a writer.
After grad school when my husband and I moved to California, I was ready to jump into a new group of writer/critiquer/friends. I was still writing, after all, and wanted to continue my learning. I remember that I went to a writer’s group at Barnes and Noble. They exchanged manuscripts they’d been working on, so that the others could critique and comment. It was a nice group. I fit in there. I had a manuscript I’d been working on–a novel in fact. Surely it could use some input.
Then I went home and never went back. Walking out of the bookstore that night I realized that I didn’t want to be in another writer’s group. Not right now. I’d spent the last three years with lots of good and helpful voices in my head–shaping my craft, guiding me along. But now I needed time to write for a while in silence, to find my own voice, my own interests, my own way.
Both of those choices–the choice to open myself up in grad school and the choice to close off afterwards–were some of the best decisions I’ve made as a writer.
For years after graduate school, I wrote alone. Occasionally, I would ask a friend for some input, but generally I holed up by myself and wrote.
And then one day, almost ten years later, I had another completed(ish) novel in hand. It was a YA fantasy, which I’m not sure I ever would have found if I’d let too many literary voices into my head. And I was proud of it. But it was time, I realized, for another shift, a new step.
Once again, I looked up my local book store to see if they had a writer’s group. They didn’t exactly, but they had a writer’s guild–a group of writers–who came together once a month to discuss different aspects of writing and publishing. It was time again to step away from my desk in a corner, and get to know some other writers, expand my circle. I haven’t regretted it.
So when is it time to open yourself up–to critiques, to networking, to whatever? And when is it time to step away and write in the quiet corners of your life?
I’m not sure I’ve really got an answer for that. But I will say that there is a place, a very important place, for both in your life. And you should exert a little effort to find them. They don’t necessarily have to come in big chunks like mine did. And you should never feel guilty or like you’re doing something wrong for utilizing either avenue. You should never feel weak for asking for help or guidance, should never feel like less of a writer for exploring networking and marketing. On the flip side, you should never feel guilty for stepping away from the crowds and critiques for a while, for finding your writerly self in the quiet times and dark corners of your life.
Sometimes as a writer you need to hide in the darkness (or, heck, sit in a sunny bright drawing room) and get to know yourself. Other times, it’s important to open up and let others in to critique, guide, and help you. Find those times. And enjoy them.