Working on a full-length work of fiction or memoir can easily lead to a desert of self-doubt. Misgivings arise regarding the tremendous amount of time being invested because, inevitably, other things are not chosen for that time. In grand Imposter Syndrome, it can be easy to ask, Who am I that I should be one of the 300,000 pieces of fiction to be traditionally published next year? Usually, I’m at peace with my writing projects because of what writing gives me back: insight on the world and myself, and the pleasure of stringing words together in a way that captures something of this thing we call life. And I love the solitary nature of it—
Except sometimes, when it can feel lonely, like a kind of toiling away in a dark night of the soul. Even a story that’s ultimately inspiring goes through dark places and is often born of them. Revealing oneself—as writing invariably does—out loud amidst trusted sojourners can be powerfully uplifting.
I recently attended a four-day writing conference in which, when we were divided into groups loosely by genre, I landed with fourteen other women and a female leader. And though I’ve since returned home alone, I carry the memory of how it felt to fly in formation with them, of how that reduced the resistance for all, and provided uplift. That’s not to say that the experience wouldn’t have been awesome with men in it—and still, there was something that felt powerful about being in a group made up entirely of writing sisters.
For much of my life, I haven’t wanted to give energy to concerns about what divides women and men. Generally, I believe it’s better to focus on what people have in common rather than how they’re different. These days, though, I more deeply understand the value of the shared experiences of women. And few times have I felt this more potently than when I spent time with a group of women who have devoted weeks, months, and years to writing a story.
The writing in many cases comes from deep vulnerability, which is not an easy place to go, to begin with. Then there’s the courage it takes to work hard for the mere possibility of putting the work out into the world for others to share. Requiring still more bravery is the effort of sending queries and attending conferences to try and give it to the world. Knowing that publishing gatekeepers often have a limited purview and only a tiny number of manuscripts they can take on, what an amazing thing to pour your heart and soul out, facing rejection, or the effort of self-publishing, and in all likelihood, very limited reach. Of course, impacting just a handful of people, or even just one person, may be worth it. Something that’s never, ever published still reaches one person very importantly, and that’s the writer.
Probably, all of us at the conference went in with the biggest question in our minds, Can I land an agent? Now on the other side, what stands out most of all is the memory of being in that space, with those women, for those four days in the autumn of 2019, when we flew like a flock of wild geese, giving each other a break from the resistance, and wind beneath our wings.