There’s a long-standing stereotype that New Yorkers are a bunch of isolated urbanites with an allergy to strangers. As I approach my decade-anniversary of living here, I now can’t help but roll up my sleeves and go, “Hold my beer,” whenever I hear this. It’s not true, and yes I will die on this soapbox.
What may be true is that the infrastructure of the city invites loneliness. High rents, sanitation issues, negligent landlords, and a notoriously outdated transit system all send us the message that if you have a problem, deal with it yourself, because the line to get help is eight million people long and you’re at the back.
The truly infuriating thing is that New Yorkers aren’t the only people receiving this message. Rugged individualism is a widespread problem. And here’s where we come to you, dear author.
A similar message is sent to writers, especially novelists. Playwrights collaborate with actors and directors; screenwriters work in a writers’ room. But novelists, short story writers, even poets are faced with the expectation of perfection when they submit their work to publishing companies, hoping their manuscript will stand out among thousands of others. They, too, are told to go it alone and beat out the rest.
Compounded with this is the stereotype of the hermitted Auteur, happiest in the company of made-up people, a trope which encourages novelists to lock themselves away while they toil at their work-in-progress.
If there’s anything I’ve learned in my ten years as a New Yorker, it’s that wherever you find isolation and individualism, community is never far, and it changes everything. I’ve seen neighborhoods come together to build more gardens in response to a lack of green space or camp out on stoops to keep a resident from being evicted. I’ve seen an endless exchange of care among neighbors as we go through seasons of abundance and need.
In New York City and in writing circles, we get to choose how we handle our challenges. We can embrace the isolation, compete for security, and bootstrap our way to success. Or we can join the ranks of the helpers: the communities of people who reject individualism and choose collaboration over competition. The neighbors who check in on each other, the writing circles that root for all its members equally.
In our writing communities, which may at times feel highly individualistic, social media has made connection more accessible than ever. Writers, editors, and coaches are all over Instagram and TikTok waiting for that comment or DM. Facebook, despite its antiquity, still hosts writing and editing groups from all over the world. These online connections can even move in-person if you find a group that meets nearby.
For the introverts among you, I hear you holding your breath. I’m right there with you. I could keep myself busy for weeks with just my writing. I, too, often doubt whether that stranger really wants to hear from me. But each person I choose not to reach out to, even if our relationship ends with that DM, is a lost opportunity to get to know someone absolutely amazing. And a life of isolation, as much as I love my solo Netflix nights, ultimately lacks color, challenge, and growth. I want to exchange stories, not just dole them out. I want to feel that even when I’m by myself, I’m not alone.
For writers especially, who often deal with extremely personal content, a community of caring peers is underrated. Sometimes we need someone there to hold our hand as we write that difficult scene. And as we support others, we learn that we’re not alone in our struggles.
When we join writing groups, we get more comfortable sharing our own work. We learn how to receive feedback, how to critique the work of others to get better at critiquing our own.
I get it. It can be terrifying to make the first move. But what if we didn’t attach so much to every connection. When you move into a new apartment building, the first thing you do is learn your neighbors’ names. Eventually, if you vibe, you might ask for their number in case either of you ever need anything. Maybe later you offer to water their plants while they’re gone, or check in on them if they need help. Each step is an invitation.
It’s no different among writers. If you find someone you vibe with, introduce yourself. Let them know why you align with their work. If you’re feeling brave, ask to have a chat. No sale, no ulterior motive, just an offering. And if they say no or don’t respond, they weren’t for you anyway and that’s okay.
Whatever the emotional risk, the pay-off is too good to pass up, and it really does get easier with practice.
In the last year alone, I’ve met exceptional writers and editors, 100% virtually. I’ve learned from each of them, and made friends and colleagues all over the world.
Most importantly—and if you take one thing away from this, let it be this—the more I participate in mutual support, the quieter my own self critic becomes and the more joy I find in my work. I am better for it, as a writer and as a person.
Take this as your formal invitation to start expanding your writing community. Wherever you see isolation or competition, go find the helpers. They can’t wait to know you.
I'm a fiction book editor and writing coach. If you like my stories, I want to hear yours!
I help authors develop and polish their writing, so it's reading exactly the way it's meant to.
The world deserves to hear your story. Let's get it right.
Sign up below for access to monthly writing prompts, blog posts on story development, discounts, freebies, and workshop announcements.