It is not a coincidence that one of the greatest pieces of literature ever written, was written on a mountaintop. Of course, Moses had some assistance. But if he’d stayed in his air-conditioned condo, with the kids and the phone and the television, it’s doubtful that the Ten Commandments would have ever been penned.
Writing is a lonely profession. For most of us, our best work is done behind closed doors. We bring our laptop to the mountaintop, for it’s there that we find inspiration. Seldom do the muses visit amidst the haste and bustle of everyday. “Writing is a solitary occupation,” said Jessamyn West. “Family, friends, and society are the natural enemies of the writer. He must be alone, uninterrupted, and slightly savage if he is to sustain and complete an undertaking.”
I’ve been feeling “slightly savage” recently. This composition is evidence. If only my wife and children could get it into their thick heads that they are my “natural enemies,” then maybe I could get more accomplished.
But writing has two sides. While we create in isolation, we advance in community. Good writing accomplishes one objective: it engages, communicates. To communicate is to commune, to interact with other intellects. A writer cannot truly “succeed” unless he/she has readers, someone who will “commune” with their material. What we forge in silence, must be broadcast. We compose in solitude, then shout it from the rooftops. Without the eyes and ears of others, our work is incomplete.
These two sides of writing— the “alone-ness” and the “together-ness”—are equally important, and I think, becoming a good writer means cultivating both halves. We need a quiet place to develop our skills and sift ideas, but we also need people who will read what we have written, encourage, correct and provoke, and ultimately send us back into our writing quarters with renewed vision and vigor.
Donald Joy is Professor of Human Development at Asbury Theological Seminary. He's wrote numerous books on human relationships. The first chapter of his book, “Bonding,” is entitled, "Who is Holding Your Trampoline?" The basic concept is this: If you were trapped on the third floor of a burning building and only your closest friends—your most intimate, genuine relationships—could gather below to catch you, who would be there with the safety net? How many real friends and supporters do you have? Who's holding your trampoline?
Some of us have nurtured a broad, healthy network of relationships. During times of crisis or need, dozens of people would rise to our assistance. “Jump!” they say. “We'll catch you!" And we know they will. But for others, that network is much smaller, and for a few, there is no one.
I think writers have a unique need for “trampoline holders”—people who will understand our quirks and passions, read our material and bring insight, get our creative juices flowing, prod us forward and guide us through the complex world of publishing.
I’m convinced that learning to interact with a community of writers, build bridges, receive critique and humbly give it, is one of the most important elements of a writer’s life.
One of the most significant events in my young writing career was my inclusion into an online Christian critique group. Penwrights is a wonderful collection of authors, all plugging away in various stages of the craft, with a genuine goal to help each other become the best they can be. The highlight of many of my days is logging on to see the exchange of ideas, the laughter, the wisdom and the grace amongst this small community of writers. I love my time alone, but I need the fellowship of others. Penwrights has become a part of that.
Sure, “writing is a solitary occupation.” But, I’m beginning to see, it’s only half of it. God never calls us, without resourcing us. Yes, He gives us talents, abilities and insights – tools of the trade. But these aren’t the only resources. He’s given me Ane and Jessica, Gina and Maxx, Eunice and the newbian Kelly. I’m a better writer, because I’m not alone.
Someday, you will need another writer: someone to share your last rejection with and celebrate your new contract, someone to massage your brain and rekindle your passion, someone to point out passives and tranquilize untamed adjectives; someone to be a sounding board, a voice of reason or just a listening ear. When that hour arrives, when the building’s teetering and it’s time to leap, who’s holding your trampoline?