We tend to think of writing as a solitary activity. We have this vision of the angsty poet, the shy novelist, or the anarchist academic sitting alone in a tiny dormered apartment or alone in the English country side struggling through their latest opus – utterly alone. We have this silly notion that writing happens in a vacuum.
Every good writer I know uses workshops, asks for feedback, forwards drafts to peers, or at the very least talks through ideas with colleagues. While the first step of writing might happen alone, a lot of good writing happens in community. Creative writing courses are almost exclusively set up at workshops where students share writing and provide regular feedback to their peers.
Any graduate student who had good friends and a good director can tell you how awesome it was to write with support. And yet, once we finish our dissertations and get that job (we hope), we’re often left utterly alone. The network of friends are gone. The mentor has moved on to other needy graduate students. For young faculty, asking their new peers for help is akin to admitting they don’t have the chops for this job. Ironically, it’s at these early stages that we expect faculty to produce the most writing – we rip away the supports and ask people to stand alone.
Note, that I’m not addressing all of the added stresses – increased teaching load, family obligations, making new friends, committee work, and mentoring students.Not to mention a perceived need to make an impact in a new place. The Professor Is In suggests being selfish!
So, what are we to do? I’m going to start a faculty writing group like those found at Macalester College or the Duke University Faculty Writing Group. Study after study has shown that faculty writing groups work. They help faculty protect their time for writing, especially women. They develop a sense of scholarly community, which filters down to students. They increase publication rates. In other words, the recreate that community writers need to succeed.