Since getting serious about writing fiction a little over two years ago I’ve noticed an interesting phenomenon: writers seem to form social bonds with each other very rapidly. There is a lot of rhetoric in the writing community about “finding your tribe”, which is–I suppose–meant to imply the discovery of an alchemical union among those of like minds who color outside the normal lines of society. I’ve always found the idea oddly cultish, but like so many things that worm their way into common vernacular, I’ve realized there is something to it.
Last weekend I attended a writing retreat in Dallas. It was lunchtime on the second day and a bunch of us were sitting around at Chipotle, just hanging out. It struck me that two years ago I knew none of these people, some I’d literally only met the day before, and even those I’d known longer I saw at most once a year or only online. And yet I exposed my vulnerable insides to them on a regular basis and trusted them not to eviscerate me (or, to know if they did it was out of love). Munching my tacos and pondering this, I though: “this is freaking amazing.” And it really is.
When I attended the Viable Paradise workshop in the Fall of 2009 I didn’t know any other writers. Because of the friendships I forged in that one short week on Martha’s Vineyard, today I am part of vibrant community of writers, many of whom I feel as close to as friends I’ve known for years. How can this happen in such a short time and on such short acquaintance? It sounds crazy.
It boils down, I believe, to the basic fact that sharing your writing and giving and receiving critiques is deeply, unavoidably personal. It cuts right through the delicate dance of “how much of myself should I show these people” that we usually engage in when we make new friends. You basically walk up to another writer (who may come from a different part of the country, have different political or religious views and a wholly divergent background from you) open up your chest, pull out your heart and say: “Here I am. What do you think?” You’ve found your tribe when they don’t run screaming.
All of this leads you to come to trust people whose lives you may know very little about or with whom you do not interact much beyond your shared love of writing and desire to improve that writing. It’s a broadening, life-expanding experience. As an anthropologist, I admit I find this fascinating. In some ways, the little tribes we writers form are nothing at all like real tribes, which are rooted in kinship. On the other hand, if we consider this term more broadly, writer’s tribes are totally rooted in kinship, just not the biological kind.
So, sitting there in the Dallas Chipotle, looking around at a circle of friends I acquired by most unconventional means and cherished all the more highly for it, I felt profoundly grateful. We may not see each other in person very often and our honesty with each other may sometimes bruise egos or rub up against prickly edges, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.