By MELISSA D. SULLIVAN
For Montclair Local
“All Write Now” reflects the writing life. Melissa D. Sullivan is an attorney by day, writer by night, mother of two, and a 2019 Pushcart Prize nominee. Melissa’s most recent short story can be found in “The Jersey Devil: A Collection of Utter Speculation,” released in March. She splits her time between Montclair and Bucks County, Pa. You can learn more at melissadsullivan.wordpress.com and follow her on Twitter @MelDSullivan.
Let’s face it. Most writers are practically hermits. Left to our own devices, most of us would rather be curled up with a book, our cat and a cup of tea than be out in the world dealing with (ick) people.
But that’s not me. I thrive on social interaction, and being around others actually gives me energy. Even those terrible networking events in cavernous hotel banquet halls can make me so giddy that I can’t fall asleep for hours afterwards.
So, three months of social distancing and stay-at-home requirements, while completely sensible, has me struggling. And it’s not only because I can’t be with family or friends, which is terrible for all of us, but also because I can’t connect with my writing community the way I used to.
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I can’t have eggs Benedict with my writing colleagues in Jersey diners and discuss their latest short stories. I can’t meet my new writer friends in dive bars screening the “Antiques Roadshow” and complain about the querying process. I can’t go see authors talk about their new books at my local bookstore and hope desperately that I will one day do the same.
Aside from supporting my raging procrastination habit, all of these interactions have a particular purpose in my writing. Like many artists, my work is something that is done in a solitary setting. These communal experiences — the critiques, the book events, the communal complaining — allow me to connect with others who are also trying to create something. And when I am stuck on a project and asking myself whether all of this angst is a good use of my limited time on this earth, interactions with my community remind me why I love to write, even when it feels like the very last thing I want to do.
Suffice to say, on top of every terrible other thing going on, it’s been hard for me to write these days.
But then something strange happened. All across the internet, I kept seeing new opportunities for connection. They still involved me sitting in my office and the cocktails weren’t as good, but suddenly I was interacting with my community in new ways, and though it didn’t always feel as satisfying as the in-person interactions I was used to, they definitely brought some of that energy back that keeps me going when times are tough.
To the extent you are struggling as well, I urge you to try one or more of the ideas below. And maybe, by the time this is all over, we will all have some great writing to share or, and maybe more importantly, just some new great friends.
Set up online writing dates: Using Zoom or Skype or Google hangouts, meet up with a few friends to do writing sprints. There’s also a pretty active community on Twitter, and I’ve even done a few writing sprints with some pretty major authors, with whom I never would have had the guts to interact with in person.
Attend an online writing conference: Many large conferences have canceled, but others have adopted online formats that start at much lower price points. As a bonus, you’ll be funding organizations that support writers and may be otherwise struggling.
Support your local bookstore: I miss my local bookstore, and I am determined that they will be there when we get back. So I am doing all of book buying through them, either by curbside pickup or direct shipping. If your local bookstore isn’t taking orders, you can shop at www.bookshop.org, which supports independent bookstores all across the country.
Seek out virtual author tours: With the limitations on travel, almost all of the authors are doing online talks. This is an opportunity to see someone awesome without arranging for a baby sitter or needing to be in an urban area.
Become more active in online writing groups: Facebook, Discord and lots of others have online groups for every kind of genre. I’ve met many other writers who are willing to exchange pages or entire novels to do critiques. And what else are you going to do with your time anyway?