Today, for what might be the first time since Girl Scouts, I took a pledge. It involves the simple promise to join other writers in supporting each other. A given, right? Not necessarily.
I think you have to be a little naïve to pursue the writing life. Continuous rejection and disappointment are the norm. Writing calls for an inordinate amount of time alone and on the days when the words refuse to come, or come, but not in any way you can cheer, it’s not long before the insecurity, doubts and sense of failure roll in.
Some writers get by with the help of other writers. They support, encourage, offer constructive (hopefully) criticism and generally refuse to let you quit. That is — and I know how harsh this is going to sound — as long as everyone is experiencing rejection together. Success has a way of changing the dynamic, of opening the door to that green-eyed partner we’ve all courted. I’m no different. I remember when a friend found an agent and then a publisher, and oh, the envy. But I was happy for her, too. She did it. She managed what the rest of us had not, and didn’t that also mean there was hope? For all of us?
After “Wander” found a home, I was overwhelmed by the genuine happiness for me. But I was also sucker punched by those who claimed to share my joy, but soon bowed out of my life. One friend, someone with whom I’ve shared decades of writing woes and joys, no longer responds to my emails; another has stopped inviting me to the gatherings we once regularly shared. And a third very dear friend of 20-odd years was genuinely thrilled for me, but recently admitted — not unkindly, but simply honestly — that she feared she’d lost her zest for writing due to the envy she felt over my success. It stung, not because there was any ill intent, but because I wanted her along for the ride and I wanted her to continue to believe it would happen for her. But the truth is, perseverance in a world of rejection and disappointment can feel like an impossible task.
So when Laura Stanfill, former editor of Lincoln City newspaper The News Guard and founder of Forest Avenue Press, mentioned she was forming the Main Street Writers Movement to encourage other writers to support each other, I got it. As a publisher and novelist herself, Stanfill has seen what can happen to writers when the community lets them down.
“Part of my drive to connect writers is how many misconceptions are out there about what it means to be a success in the literary world,” says Stanfill. “What is initially a private, solitary occupation becomes a public one the moment a book hits the shelves, and that’s where art smashes up against commerce. Comparison can be really useful in terms of trying to understand the market, and why a particular book did well and what ‘well’ even means, but it can also be devastating for writers who have their souls wrapped up in their work and feel like their souls aren’t as important, or aren’t as good, as their friends’ souls. And that’s dangerous and devastating, and that’s part of why I started the Main Street Writers Movement, to encourage writers to celebrate each other instead of competing. It’s a different way of looking at it — feeding into the joy instead of feeding on the ‘why not me?’ sore feelings.”
Stanfill launched the movement barely a month ago, but already she’s seeing the impact. When a publisher and an author, both from Ann Arbor, separately contacted Stanfill, she connected them. They are now friends and supporters of each other’s work. She’s had people take the pledge from all over the country and even as far away as London, and naturally, has a strong base here in Oregon, where Main Street Writers is based.
“What I want to do is encourage writers to celebrate each other and to honor each other’s successes and efforts, so we’re all stronger and less lonely,” she said. “By talking about the market and sharing stories, writers start to feel better about themselves. We are better and happier when we are allies for each other.”
Likewise, I believe we are bigger and better people when we surround ourselves with the same. You don’t have to be a writer to take the pledge. So come, go to forestavenue.com, and sign up. Writers everywhere will thank you.
And so will I.
Lori Tobias is the author of the novel “Wander” and a journalist of many years. Follow her at loritobias.com.