Imagine with me, a sports team. Pick your favorite athletic competition, it doesn’t matter which. Now, imagine the coach. See the older man or woman, face lined with consternation, possibly wearing a headset or carrying a clipboard. Picture the players, young and determined, their forms athletic, their eyes concentrated. How do you imagine they interact with one another? During practice? During a game? See them side-by-side. If this was fifty years ago, you might imagine a lot of whistle-blowing and shouting. Whether you interpret this yelling as tough love or emotional abuse likely has a lot to do with your life experience. Or, perhaps, you imagine what they call a “player’s coach”. Perhaps they are closer to the players’ ages, and offer instructions with an arm around their shoulder and a physical demonstration. That coach earns respect because their players know they care.
I’ve been on writer social media (particularly, Twitter) for about 7 months now. It’s a great place to find things every creative person needs. Encouragement. Shop-talk. A safe space for airing shared woes. Few things are more heartening than wondering if you are the only writer who struggles with X, only to see 1,000 of your peers confess to the same shortcoming. Every day, a dozen writers find their agent or get their deal and post about it to a hearty “well done!” from their peers. If you are the type of person who can play The Game well and make the algorithm work for you, social media can be a great place to network. I see writers find everything from alpha readers to editors to agents (rare, but it does happen) every day. Especially if you don’t know many other writers in your life, social media can be exactly what it claims to be: a community.
What social media is not, and cannot be, is accountability. A kick in the pants, a push out the door. I see some people try to use it that way. They post word-counts. They ironically Tweet to ask people to tell them to get off Twitter (that’s always a crowd favorite). But, at least from my perspective, in the end, nobody cares about your word count. Ultimately, there is a limit to how much you can care when a stranger – a name and an icon, a history of likes – tells you to do something.
The danger of an endless sea of like-minded folks who generally share the same goals and struggles but live at a distance from your specifics, is this: It is validating. Enabling. Mollifying.
For every question “Should I do X?,” dozens will say “yes”, dozens “no”, dozens “maybe/it depends,” and hundreds will tell you to “follow your heart.” The asker is free to do what they always wanted to do in the first place, accepting the advice they like, disregarding what they don’t. How could anyone do otherwise faced with a ready tap or contradicting opinions? Turn the left knob for agreement, the right for opposition.
I see a pattern emerge when people confess that they struggle with X or, especially, that they haven’t written for a while. The Writing Community (capital “W,” capital “C”) shows up to confirm 1) they feel the same way 2) they haven’t written in a while either, and 3) it’s all ok, take your time!
I’m not calling for change. Honestly, the Writing Community is probably one of the more wholesome, encouraging corners of the internet. I’m grateful to have found it. I’ve learned a ton from industry professionals and seasoned writers who share their knowledge freely. If it was a deluge of negativity, I certainly wouldn’t stay. No, this post is not a call for revolution. This article is me exploring the limitations of supportive community.
Unquestionably supportive community cannot provide accountability. It cannot offer tough love.
The one recurring theme, the only unifying advice from every instructor from my year of Masterclass, is that successful, professional writers – stick with me now – write. They do it. They don’t just talk about it, think about it, or post about it. They do it. When generic encouragement crosses a certain fuzzy, invisible line, it normalizes inaction, enables laziness, and justifies procrastination.
There are some exceptions, but for the most part I haven’t written on my main project (manuscript number 3) for 6 weeks, and haven’t sent out a new query for manuscript number 2 for nearly 3 months. That’s well beyond the limits of a funk or “self-care.” At some point, I have to just do the thing. Write. Perhaps I need to revisit my own words from last year about one root of so-called writer’s block.
If you’ve stuck with me so far, take all of this arm-chair psychology with a grain of salt. These musings are all passed through my experience, circumstances, and personality. Let me know what you think in the comments if your experience differs.
Happy reading, and happy writing.