Writing can feel like a solitary pursuit at times. As scribes, we often hole ourselves up for hours on end with just our imaginations and computer screens for company. It can all seem terribly unhealthy.
But it doesn't have to be, not these days.
The internet has given writers the chance to communicate quickly and easily with other writers. Connect with real people who go through the same creative process and share the same hopes and fears.
Through blogs, groups and forums, we can log on and find comfort in the experience and knowledge of others. We are lucky.
You scratch my blog, I'll scratch yours
Of course, I'm new to most of this. My background is in creative writing and copywriting. I've been part of a number of wonderful writing communities, but blogging is something different. Or so I thought.
I was interested to see that much of the discussion focused on the idea of building communities and showing a willingness to contribute. You know, be helpful to others and they'll be helpful right back.
The conversation was extremely helpful, but one thing struck me: blogging is just like being part of every other writing community I've ever known.
It's a simple formula. You surround yourself with other writers. They read your work and give you feedback. Then you read their work and give them feedback.
The process is invaluable. It's rewarding. It works.
But, and I'm sorry to say this, there comes a point when all writers have to say 'No.'
Take responsibility for your writing
I don't think I would ever have completed my novel without the help of specific people giving up their time to advise me. But that's all they could do.
The truth is, when it comes down to it, it's your writing that matters. Writing communities and social networks can provide a fantastic service, but they won't write your blog, poem or press release for you.
Being part of a community is a two-way process. You can't expect someone to proofread several pages of work for you and then tell them you're too busy whenever they ask you to return the favour. That's just not cricket.
However, your writing is your responsibility. It doesn't matter how helpful you want to be, if by helping others you are jeopardising your own work, you need to use the magic word.
When is it time to say no?
All writers will have a different breaking point.
You might be a time-management machine and have the ability to juggle your various projects easily. Or, like I used to be, you might be a time-management mess who barely knows what day it is.
It doesn't matter. There will come a time when someone asks you a favour, and you simply have to decline.
Please don't feel bad about it.
Your writing is your passion. Your dream. Your income, maybe. It takes time and consideration to provide good quality feedback on someone's writing. You're allowed to say no.
For me, it's time to say no when:
- you're struggling to meet deadlines
- the quality of your writing is suffering
- your workload is affecting your real-life relationships.
If any of these things are happening to you as a result of too much time spent helping others, you need to start saying no and focus on your own writing.
Exceptions to the rule
There are, as with most things in life, exceptions to the rule.
If your eight-year old daughter wanders into your office and asks you to help her with her homework, don't slam the door in her face.
If your boss tells you the company may go under and asks you to work late to help out, don't blow a raspberry and skip your way through the fire exit.
Of course, I'm not advising you to be rude to people or abandon your writing community, whether it's on or offline. They are wonderful places filled with wonderful people, as I'm currently finding out all over again.
Sometimes, though, it pays to be selfish.
No, that's the wrong word. It's not selfish of you to put your writing first. In fact, it's an occasional necessity. Always feel free to say no.
Have you got the give-take balance right in your writing community? Has your writing ever been compromised by your desire to help others? Do you have the ability to say no?